Australia may be the most fire-prone continent on earth, but scientists say the ferocity of the recent forest fires is likely linked to climate change. The temperature has been rising steadily since the 1950s, and is expected to increase by 3 degrees Celcius by 2050. Scientists say the hot, dry conditions will worsen the intensity and frequency of wildfires. This week’s blazes occurred after a record heatwave and hot, dry winds in southern Victoria state. The fires have swept nearly 200,000 hectares. At least 170 people have been killed in the disaster, and more than 3,000 people have been displaced.
Australia currently has fairly weak climate change targets: Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has set a target to cut overall greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent by 2020. Further cuts, to about 15 percent, are contingent on widespread international agreement on stronger action, he says. However, since the fires, there is mounting political pressure to toughen these targets. Green groups want Australia to cut emissions by 25 per cent by 2002 as an example to India and China about the need for firm action.