Statement regarding Australian bushfires

January 10, 2020
Academy President Professor John Shine

The Australian Academy of Science acknowledges the devastating impact the Australian bushfires are having—and will continue to have—on people, our environment and our economy.

The scale of these bushfires is unprecedented anywhere in the world.

The Academy extends its support and sympathy to all those who have lost loved ones and whose lives are directly and indirectly impacted. We thank the many volunteers, individuals, leaders and foreign nations for their efforts and contributions.

As an independent and authoritative scientific adviser to the parliament and to the nation, the Academy draws on the scientific expertise of Australia’s leading scientists—the Fellows of the Academy.

The scientific evidence base shows that as the world warms due to human induced climate change, we experience an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events.

As a nation, we must deal with extreme weather events more effectively than we currently do. As such events become more frequent and severe, we must adapt Australia and Australians accordingly, as well as strengthen mitigation efforts.

Bushfires, along with other weather and climate challenges, pose complex and wide-ranging problems. Population growth, climate change, temperature extremes, droughts, storms, wind and floods are intersecting in ways that are difficult to untangle and address.

The good news is that there is already abundant evidence available to help us understand the environment we live in and to design and build the future we want for Australia. There has never been a more important time to draw on that scientific evidence base to help guide Australia’s short- and long-term responses to the devastating bushfires ravaging our nation and that are causing uncertainty about our future.

The Academy’s Fellows are contributing and will continue to contribute their scientific expertise to government and other decision makers in the interest of advancing our nation.

The Academy is resolute that the response to the bushfires must extend beyond the immediate and essential need to rebuild and recover.

Everything, including urban planning; building standards; habitat restoration; biodiversity and species preservation; and land, water and wildlife management will need careful and measured consideration.

We must further improve our ability to forecast changing environmental threats and continually improve climate modelling predictions. We must improve our understanding of fire behaviour and other adverse weather events, and we must continually develop new technologies, practices and behaviours to assist our nation to respond and adapt to, manage, and mitigate against such extreme events.

All the while, Australia must take stronger action as its part of the worldwide commitment to limit global warming to 1.5° C above the long-term average to reduce the worst impacts of climate change.

To have the best chance of succeeding, we must draw on all the available evidence and knowledge, including working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and undertaking further research where it will have the most benefit.

The Academy is aware that Australians are looking for trustworthy information and answers about the links between climate change and the bushfires. With much misinformation in the public domain about the cause and impacts of the bushfires, we urge Australians to continue to consult reputable sources of evidence-based information such as the Australian Academy of Science, CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology.

In this context, visits to the Academy's website are up 30 per cent compared to the same period last year, and the top visited page is What is Climate Change? Viewing and sharing of the Academy’s video series on this matter published across social media platforms are rapidly rising.

Professor John Shine AC PresAA
Australian Academy of Science.

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