With catastrophic losses of lives, property and nature mounting, it is no longer possible to deny the reality of climate change and this must be the moment when politicians take action.
This year a record 74 local government areas commenced their fire season before the official 1 October start because of the impacts of climate change on the conditions across NSW. At the same time the NSW government has slashed the budget for the RFS from $617 million last year to just $541 million in the 2019/20 budget.
The increased fire season significantly reduced the period in which hazard reduction fires could be undertaken, as a direct result of climate change.
Greens MP David Shoebridge said: “As a direct result of climate change this year’s fire season started early in a record number of local councils across NSW. “The formal start of the fire season in NSW is 1 October 2019. Performing hazard reduction work after the start of the fire season is particularly problematic because of the elevated risk that fires will get out of control.
“This year a record 21 local council areas started their season in August and a further 53 started their fire season in September as a direct result of climate change impacts.
“This is how climate change is making it harder than ever to conduct scheduled hazard reduction burns.
“We know that First Nations peoples have tens of thousands of years of knowledge in how to manage fire in the landscape and this knowledge needs to be respected and implemented.
“It’s an uncomfortable fact that these dreadful fires are being fuelled by decades of inaction on climate change.
“It’s a dreadful thought that, as NSW came into its most catastrophic fire season on record, the Coalition decided this was the time to look for budget cuts.
“It’s a fact that last financial year the RFS received $617 million in state government funding and that has been slashed back to $541 million this year.
“Now more than ever we need to stand in solidarity with those communities under threat and those emergency service workers responding to these devastating fires and take all necessary steps to ensure that “catastrophic” is not the new norm in NSW.
“One way to do this would be to reject the NSW Government’s new laws to remove consideration of climate change for new coal mines and gas-fields that will be before Parliament tomorrow,” Mr Shoebridge said.
At a recent budget estimates hearing in the NSW Parliament the Rural Fire Commissioner Fitzsimons confirmed that climate change is driving the increased fire season:
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: Is it an indication that so many local government areas starting their bushfire danger period prior to 1 October is an indication that we are now facing-or your members in particular, your employees and members are facing-the impacts of climate change right now?
Commissioner FITZSIMMONS: We have been monitoring seasonal activity for decades now, and particularly in the last decade or so we have noticed a trend to fire seasons starting earlier, not just in northern New South Wales, which is traditionally the case-
Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE: I know some local government areas in the very south of the State commenced last month.
Commissioner FITZSIMMONS: Correct, but also in the south of the State. The other thing we are also seeing is in a number of areas the fire season is extending beyond the end of March. We also see though that many local government areas will finish their fire season early subject to the seasonal activity. What we do have to keep in mind, and not only are we absolutely conscious of longer fire seasons and therefore shorter windows of opportunity for mitigation programs and prescribed burning and those sorts of things, is we are seeing that ignitions are invariably human activity related.
When asked about climate change Fire and Rescue Commissioner Baxter said:
Commissioner BAXTER: To a degree, the SES as well. Obviously it impacts on us; we have a large bushfire responsibility as well where we work very closely with the RFS. What I can say is that we are noticing more frequent and more severe weather-related events, which are a result of the change in climate. So, particularly from a Fire and Rescue point of view, we are heavily involved in supporting the operations of both RFS and the SES, and that obviously has an impact on our services in terms of supporting those activities. I think the structure of the three agencies works really well together because primarily we are a paid or career service, so we have some advantages in terms of our speed of response to be able to assist both SES and RFS in the early stages of those events and both SES, and particularly RFS, have a huge weight of response which they can bring in over a longer term. The upshot is that the change of climate has affected our operations, and continues to.