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Climate Basics Explained: How hot is too hot?

Today the world’s average temperature is just under one degree Celsius above what it was in pre-industrial times. Some scientists are saying that with the current level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, a two degree rise is locked in unless we can reduce emissions to almost zero and actively remove carbon from the atmosphere. It is also likely that on current emissions trajectories, we will reach a six degree rise by 2100.

The Australian Federal Government and most governments around the world have yet to officially set what temperature rise they believe is adequately safe. Many unofficially subscribe to the aim of keeping temperature rise to two degrees or below. However, the most recent science indicates that this may be too high and trigger feedback loops that result in more temperature rises outside of humanity’s control.

So what do these temperature rises mean in reality?

The following summary has been taken from two sources. Mark Lynas’ article in The Guardian and David Spratt’s presentation at the Moreland Climate Group‘s recent climate debate. We will count down from six to one.

Six Degrees and Above
Danger of “runaway warming”, perhaps spurred by the release of oceanic methane hydrates. Could the surface of the Earth become like Venus, entirely uninhabitable? Most sea life is dead. Human refuges are now confined entirely to highland areas and the polar regions. The human population is drastically reduced. Perhaps 90% of species become extinct, rivalling the worst mass extinctions in the Earth’s 4.5 billion-year history.

Five Degrees
Global average temperatures are now hotter than for 50 million years. At this time breadfruit trees grew on the coast of Greenland, while the Arctic Ocean saw water temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius. There was no ice at either pole (today that means a 70-metre sea-level rise), and much of the world would have been desertified.

At five degrees, most of the topics, sub-tropics and even lower mid-latitudes are too hot to be inhabitable. Sea level rise is now sufficiently rapid that coastal cities across the world are largely abandoned.

Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnuhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute and adviser to the European Union and to the German Chancellor, told the Copenhagen science conference in March that a rise to 5–6 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels would reduce “the carrying capacity of the planet (to) below 1 billion people”.

Four Degrees
A tipping point sees massive amounts of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – released by melting Siberian permafrost, further boosting global warming and making further human action to mitigate emissions futile. Much human habitation in southern Europe, north Africa, the Middle East and other sub-tropical areas is rendered unviable due to excessive heat and drought. Deserts are spreading in Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey. The focus of civilisation moves towards the poles, where temperatures remain cool enough for crops, and rainfall – albeit with severe floods – persists. All sea ice is gone from both poles; mountain glaciers are gone from the Andes, Alps and Rockies, with severe water supply implications for these areas.

Three Degrees
3 degrees Celsius is the cap effectively being advocated by Australia’s Labor government. Labor policy is a 60 per cent reduction in Australian emissions by 2050. Sir Nicholas Stern says explicitly that for developed nations this is a 3 degrees Celsius target, telling the National Press Club in Canberra it would be “a very good idea if all rich countries, including Australia, set themselves a target for 2050 of at least 60 per cent emissions reductions” and this would leave us with “roughly a ?fty-?fty chance of being either side of 3 degrees above pre-industrial times”.

This is the target that both Stern and Garnaut advocated, but Stern now says that “We haven’t seen 3 degrees Celsius for a few million years, and we don’t know what that looks like”. But from the Pliocene 3 million years ago we know what a 3 degrees Celsius world would likely be: a northern hemisphere free of glaciers and icesheets, where beech trees grew in the Transantarctic mountains, sea levels were 25 metres higher, and probably permanent El Nino conditions.

Glacier and snow-melt in the world’s mountain chains will deplete freshwater flows to downstream cities and agricultural land. Most affected are California, Peru, Pakistan and China. Global food production is under threat as key breadbaskets in Europe, Asia and the United States suffer drought, and heatwaves outstrip the tolerance of crops. The Gulf Stream current declines significantly. Cooling in Europe is unlikely due to global warming, but oceanic changes alter weather patterns and lead to higher than average sea level rise in the eastern US and UK.

NASA climate chief Dr James Hansen has warned that a 3 degrees Celsius warming “threatens even greater calamity, because it could unleash positive feedbacks such as melting of frozen methane in the Arctic, as occurred 55 million years ago, when more than 90 per cent of species on Earth went extinct”. Hitting three degrees may mean that we are not able to stop there.

Two Degrees
2 degrees Celsius has been a target of convenience in international negotiations, but is now losing consensus as the politicians head to 3 and 4 degrees Celsius, and the scientists towards zero.

To have a 2 in 3 chance of holding to 2 degrees Celsius, atmospheric carbon needs to be held to 400ppm CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) and that requires a global reduction is emissions of 80% by 2050 (over 1990) and negative emissions after 2070. For Australia, a 2 degrees Celsius target means a more than 95% cut by 2050.

A rise of 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial temperatures will initiate large climate feedbacks in the oceans, on ice-sheets, and on the tundra, taking the Earth well past signi?cant tipping points. Likely impacts include large-scale disintegration of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice-sheet; the extinction of an estimated 15– 40 per cent of plant and animal species; dangerous ocean acidi?cation; increasing methane release; substantial soil and ocean carbon-cycle feedbacks; and widespread drought and deserti?cation in Africa, Australia, Mediterranean Europe, and the western USA.

Hansen told the US Congress last year that: “We have reached a point of planetary emergency… climate is nearing dangerous tipping points. Elements of a perfect storm, a global cataclysm, are assembled… the oft-stated goal to keep global warming less than +2 degrees Celsius is a recipe for global disaster, not salvation.”

Summer heatwaves such as that in Europe in 2003, which killed 30,000 people, become annual events. Extreme heat sees temperatures reaching the low 40s Celsius in southern England. Amazon rainforest crosses a “tipping point” where extreme heat and lower rainfall makes the forest unviable – much of it burns and is replaced by desert and savannah. Dissolved CO2 turns the oceans increasingly acidic, destroying remaining coral reefs and wiping out many species of plankton which are the basis of the marine food chain. Several metres of sea level rise is now inevitable.

One Degree
Today at just less than 1 degree Celsius of global warming we are witnessing of the destruction of the Arctic ecosystem. Eight million square kilometres of sea ice is disappearing fast each summer and may be entirely gone within a few years. Already 80% by volume of summer sea-ice has been lost, and regional warming of up to 5 degrees Celsius may have already pushed the Greenland ice-sheet (eventual sea-level rise of 7 metres) past its tipping point.

At less than 1 degree Celsius there is more frequent and intense heatwaves, ongoing drought around the Mediterranean and in Australia, sub-Saharan Africa and the western US, and the swift retreat of river-feeding mountain glaciers. The eastern Amazon is drying (some tributaries ran dry in the 2005 drought), low-lying island states are on the edge of a precipice, as are coral reefs. Britain’s Hadley Centre calculates that warming of just 1C would eliminate fresh water from a third of the world’s land surface by 2100.

It is obvious from these predictions that we need to reduce emissions and draw down carbon from the atmosphere, to get warming back down to as close to zero as possible. We need to make politically possible what is scientifically necessary.

Climate Basics Explained: How hot is too hot?

Today the world’s average temperature is just under one degree Celsius above what it was in pre-industrial times. Some scientists are saying that with the current level of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, a two degree rise is locked in unless we can reduce emissions to almost zero and actively remove carbon from the atmosphere. It is also likely that on current emissions trajectories, we will reach a six degree rise by 2100.

The Australian Federal Government and most governments around the world have yet to officially set what temperature rise they believe is adequately safe. Many unofficially subscribe to the aim of keeping temperature rise to two degrees or below. However, the most recent science indicates that this may be too high and trigger feedback loops that result in more temperature rises outside of humanity’s control.

So what do these temperature rises mean in reality?

The following summary has been taken from two sources. Mark Lynas’ article in The Guardian and David Spratt’s presentation at the Moreland Climate Group‘s recent climate debate. We will count down from six to one.

Six Degrees and Above
Danger of “runaway warming”, perhaps spurred by the release of oceanic methane hydrates. Could the surface of the Earth become like Venus, entirely uninhabitable? Most sea life is dead. Human refuges are now confined entirely to highland areas and the polar regions. The human population is drastically reduced. Perhaps 90% of species become extinct, rivalling the worst mass extinctions in the Earth’s 4.5 billion-year history.

Five Degrees
Global average temperatures are now hotter than for 50 million years. At this time breadfruit trees grew on the coast of Greenland, while the Arctic Ocean saw water temperatures of 20 degrees Celsius. There was no ice at either pole (today that means a 70-metre sea-level rise), and much of the world would have been desertified.

At five degrees, most of the topics, sub-tropics and even lower mid-latitudes are too hot to be inhabitable. Sea level rise is now sufficiently rapid that coastal cities across the world are largely abandoned.

Prof. Hans Joachim Schellnuhuber, Director of the Potsdam Institute and adviser to the European Union and to the German Chancellor, told the Copenhagen science conference in March that a rise to 5–6 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels would reduce “the carrying capacity of the planet (to) below 1 billion people”.

Four Degrees
A tipping point sees massive amounts of methane – a potent greenhouse gas – released by melting Siberian permafrost, further boosting global warming and making further human action to mitigate emissions futile. Much human habitation in southern Europe, north Africa, the Middle East and other sub-tropical areas is rendered unviable due to excessive heat and drought. Deserts are spreading in Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey. The focus of civilisation moves towards the poles, where temperatures remain cool enough for crops, and rainfall – albeit with severe floods – persists. All sea ice is gone from both poles; mountain glaciers are gone from the Andes, Alps and Rockies, with severe water supply implications for these areas.

Three Degrees
3 degrees Celsius is the cap effectively being advocated by Australia’s Labor government. Labor policy is a 60 per cent reduction in Australian emissions by 2050. Sir Nicholas Stern says explicitly that for developed nations this is a 3 degrees Celsius target, telling the National Press Club in Canberra it would be “a very good idea if all rich countries, including Australia, set themselves a target for 2050 of at least 60 per cent emissions reductions” and this would leave us with “roughly a ?fty-?fty chance of being either side of 3 degrees above pre-industrial times”.

This is the target that both Stern and Garnaut advocated, but Stern now says that “We haven’t seen 3 degrees Celsius for a few million years, and we don’t know what that looks like”. But from the Pliocene 3 million years ago we know what a 3 degrees Celsius world would likely be: a northern hemisphere free of glaciers and icesheets, where beech trees grew in the Transantarctic mountains, sea levels were 25 metres higher, and probably permanent El Nino conditions.

Glacier and snow-melt in the world’s mountain chains will deplete freshwater flows to downstream cities and agricultural land. Most affected are California, Peru, Pakistan and China. Global food production is under threat as key breadbaskets in Europe, Asia and the United States suffer drought, and heatwaves outstrip the tolerance of crops. The Gulf Stream current declines significantly. Cooling in Europe is unlikely due to global warming, but oceanic changes alter weather patterns and lead to higher than average sea level rise in the eastern US and UK.

NASA climate chief Dr James Hansen has warned that a 3 degrees Celsius warming “threatens even greater calamity, because it could unleash positive feedbacks such as melting of frozen methane in the Arctic, as occurred 55 million years ago, when more than 90 per cent of species on Earth went extinct”. Hitting three degrees may mean that we are not able to stop there.

Two Degrees
2 degrees Celsius has been a target of convenience in international negotiations, but is now losing consensus as the politicians head to 3 and 4 degrees Celsius, and the scientists towards zero.

To have a 2 in 3 chance of holding to 2 degrees Celsius, atmospheric carbon needs to be held to 400ppm CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent) and that requires a global reduction is emissions of 80% by 2050 (over 1990) and negative emissions after 2070. For Australia, a 2 degrees Celsius target means a more than 95% cut by 2050.

A rise of 2 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial temperatures will initiate large climate feedbacks in the oceans, on ice-sheets, and on the tundra, taking the Earth well past signi?cant tipping points. Likely impacts include large-scale disintegration of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice-sheet; the extinction of an estimated 15– 40 per cent of plant and animal species; dangerous ocean acidi?cation; increasing methane release; substantial soil and ocean carbon-cycle feedbacks; and widespread drought and deserti?cation in Africa, Australia, Mediterranean Europe, and the western USA.

Hansen told the US Congress last year that: “We have reached a point of planetary emergency… climate is nearing dangerous tipping points. Elements of a perfect storm, a global cataclysm, are assembled… the oft-stated goal to keep global warming less than +2 degrees Celsius is a recipe for global disaster, not salvation.”

Summer heatwaves such as that in Europe in 2003, which killed 30,000 people, become annual events. Extreme heat sees temperatures reaching the low 40s Celsius in southern England. Amazon rainforest crosses a “tipping point” where extreme heat and lower rainfall makes the forest unviable – much of it burns and is replaced by desert and savannah. Dissolved CO2 turns the oceans increasingly acidic, destroying remaining coral reefs and wiping out many species of plankton which are the basis of the marine food chain. Several metres of sea level rise is now inevitable.

One Degree
Today at just less than 1 degree Celsius of global warming we are witnessing of the destruction of the Arctic ecosystem. Eight million square kilometres of sea ice is disappearing fast each summer and may be entirely gone within a few years. Already 80% by volume of summer sea-ice has been lost, and regional warming of up to 5 degrees Celsius may have already pushed the Greenland ice-sheet (eventual sea-level rise of 7 metres) past its tipping point.

At less than 1 degree Celsius there is more frequent and intense heatwaves, ongoing drought around the Mediterranean and in Australia, sub-Saharan Africa and the western US, and the swift retreat of river-feeding mountain glaciers. The eastern Amazon is drying (some tributaries ran dry in the 2005 drought), low-lying island states are on the edge of a precipice, as are coral reefs. Britain’s Hadley Centre calculates that warming of just 1C would eliminate fresh water from a third of the world’s land surface by 2100.

It is obvious from these predictions that we need to reduce emissions and draw down carbon from the atmosphere, to get warming back down to as close to zero as possible. We need to make politically possible what is scientifically necessary.

Climate Basics Explained – carbon levels in the atmosphere

The debate around climate change solutions contains a lot of numbers that can be confusing to those not literate in climate science. Here we give a brief explanation of the measures of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

The make-up of the atmosphere is measured in parts per million (ppm). This represents the number of molecules of a certain gas in one million molecules of air. The levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are measured in ppm of carbon dioxide (CO2), or in ppm of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e).

The measure of carbon dioxide equivalent represents all the greenhouse gases, converted into their equivalent amount of carbon dioxide. The Kyoto protocol lists six greenhouse gases (or types of gases) that cause global warming, these are CO2, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons and perfluorocarbons. All of these have different warming effects. For example, one molecule of methane has 25 times the warming effect of one molecule of CO2 over 100 years.

For the last 650,000 years, CO2 levels have ranged from 190-280ppm. In the last 10,000 years up until the industrial revolution, the CO2 concentration was 280ppm.

Currently, due to human activity such as the burning of fossil fuels, intensive agriculture, and land clearing, the CO2 level is just under 390ppm, and the CO2-e level is around 455ppm. Both measures are continuing to rise rapidly. These are significant increases from pre-industrial levels at speeds not seen in natural systems.

So what level of CO2 should we aim for in order to avoid runaway climate change and the subsequent catastrophic collapse of the global ecology, economy and society?

A report released in April 2008 by 9 climate scientists from around the world including James Hansen from NASA, argued that to stabilise the global climate, the arctic sea ice must re-form to levels like those 25 years ago, and for this to happen, CO2 levels have to return to 300-325ppm from the 390ppm they are at today. Also, Professor John Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany said in September 2008 that 330ppm CO2 and above was unlikely to be safe and that 270-320ppm CO2 was probably a safe concentration.

Due to this scientific evidence and opinion, Yarra Climate Action Now, together with 150 other climate action groups from across Australia are demanding that the world set a long-term stabilisation target of 300ppm CO2 in the atmosphere, in order to reduce the risk of runaway climate change. This is well below current levels, which will mean not only de-carbonising our economy, but also actively removing carbon from the atmosphere. The science is not yet clear as to how fast this target needs to be reached.

Unfortunately, the Australian Government’s policy is still lagging well behind the climate science. The 5-15% emissions reductions by 2020 on 2000 levels set out in the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme if adopted globally would set the world on a course towards 550ppm CO2-e with unimaginable consequences for humanity.

Even the preferred option of 450ppm CO2-e, recommended by the Garnaut Review and accepted by the Rudd Government (associated with a 25% emissions reduction by 2020) would, (according to Garnaut himself!!) only give us a 46% chance of avoiding 2 degrees of warming and thereby runaway climate change (some scientists say that even 2 degrees of warming could set off feedback loops that result in runaway climate change).

If we want a safe climate future, then we must aim towards 300ppm CO2. To aim for anything more places the lives of current and future generations at an unacceptable risk.

…meanwhile in Copenhagen

Last week, Copenhagen was the set for an extraordinary event. Several thousand scientists gathered for a climate change conference. This isn’t extraordinary in itself, but what made this conference different was that one of the purposes was to influence government policy.

While this doesn’t sound like much, it is almost unprecedented in the history of science. Scientists traditionally shy away from commenting on policy or calling on governments to act a certain way. They believe it is their job to state facts. However, they have become so concerned and disgusted with government failure to act on the climate emergency that they are now overtly engaging in politics.

The conference also updated the current climate science since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report in 2007.

Key messages from the Conference: click here or see below

Media coverage from the conference on:
General messages
Sea level rise
Rainforests
Warming temperatures
Drought in Europe
Ocean acidification

All Scientific Papers and Abstracts available here

Key Messages from the Congress
12 March 2009

Copenhagen, Denmark: Following a successful International Scientific Congress Climate Change: Global Risks, Challenges & Decisions attended by more than 2,500 delegates from nearly 80 countries, preliminary messages from the findings were delivered by the Congress’ Scientific Writing Team. The conclusions will be published into a full synthesis report June 2009. The conclusions were handed over to the Danish Prime Minister Mr. Anders Fogh Rasmussen today. The Danish Government will host the UN Climate Change Conference in December 2009 and will hand over the conclusions to the decision makers ahead of the Conference.

The six preliminary key messages are:

Key Message 1: Climatic Trends
Recent observations confirm that, given high rates of observed emissions, the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised. For many key parameters, the climate system is already moving beyond the patterns of natural variability within which our society and economy have developed and thrived. These parameters include global mean surface temperature, sea-level rise, ocean and ice sheet dynamics, ocean acidification, and extreme climatic events. There is a significant risk that many of the trends will accelerate, leading to an increasing risk of abrupt or irreversible climatic shifts.

Key Message 2: Social disruption
The research community is providing much more information to support discussions on “dangerous climate change”. Recent observations show that societies are highly vulnerable to even modest levels of climate change, with poor nations and communities particularly at risk. Temperature rises above 2C will be very difficult for contemporary societies to cope with, and will increase the level of climate disruption through the rest of the century.

Key Message 3: Long-Term Strategy
Rapid, sustained, and effective mitigation based on coordinated global and regional action is required to avoid “dangerous climate change” regardless of how it is defined. Weaker targets for 2020 increase the risk of crossing tipping points and make the task of meeting 2050 targets more difficult. Delay in initiating effective mitigation actions increases significantly the long-term social and economic costs of both adaptation and mitigation.

Key Message 4 – Equity Dimensions
Climate change is having, and will have, strongly differential effects on people within and between countries and regions, on this generation and future generations, and on human societies and the natural world. An effective, well-funded adaptation safety net is required for those people least capable of coping with climate change impacts, and a common but differentiated mitigation strategy is needed to protect the poor and most vulnerable.

Key Message 5: Inaction is Inexcusable
There is no excuse for inaction. We already have many tools and approaches ? economic, technological, behavioural, management ? to deal effectively with the climate change challenge. But they must be vigorously and widely implemented to achieve the societal transformation required to decarbonise economies. A wide range of benefits will flow from a concerted effort to alter our energy economy now, including sustainable energy job growth, reductions in the health and economic costs of climate change, and the restoration of ecosystems and revitalisation of ecosystem services.

Key Message 6: Meeting the Challenge
To achieve the societal transformation required to meet the climate change challenge, we must overcome a number of significant constraints and seize critical opportunities. These include reducing inertia in social and economic systems; building on a growing public desire for governments to act on climate change; removing implicit and explicit subsidies; reducing the influence of vested interests that increase emissions and reduce resilience; enabling the shifts from ineffective governance and weak institutions to innovative leadership in government, the private sector and civil society; and engaging society in the transition to norms and practices that foster sustainability.

Bushfire

The horrific fires that have occurred here in Victoria have killed hundreds of people and destroyed over 1800 homes. They are Australia’s largest peacetime natural disaster and much work needs to be done to help those that have lost loved ones and property. Beyond the immediate issues of how to put the fires out and provide adequate aid to those affected, debate is raging over what made them so particularly fierce, and how to avoid so many fatalities in future fires.

One of the issues being debated is the role of climate change. While no single event can ever be attributed to climate change, it is very likely that climate change had a hand in creating the conditions that allowed the fires to spread so quickly and burn at such high temperatures.

Since the fires started, many scientists have been discussing this issue in the media. Below is a selection of their comments.

David Jones, from the Bureau of Meteorology in the Sydney Morning Herald

Melbourne reached 46.4 degrees on Saturday, the highest in 154 years of record-keeping, overshooting the previous high set on Black Friday – January 13, 1939 – by 0.8 degrees and far exceeding the temperature on Ash Wednesday in 1983, which was 43.2 degrees.
“We’ve never seen anything like this in Victoria’s history,” David Jones, from the bureau’s National Climate Centre, said yesterday. “You don’t usually break records by much. You might beat it by point one of a degree or point two.”
“Records being broken by that much are just unheard of,” Mr Jones said. “You just don’t break records with that kind of margin in a stable climate. It’s an extraordinary event, this one.”

ANU climate scientist Dr Andrew Glikson in the Canberra Times

…Australia [is] now in a ”hell to high water state”, with the Victorian bushfires and Queensland floods offering a glimpse into a future where ”extreme events hit hard and fast”.
”It has long been predicted that global warming will manifest itself through a series of extreme weather events, the result of high energy cyclones generated over warming ocean water, rising air plumes over land and increasing temperature contrasts between evaporating water surfaces, cloud masses and warm land air currents.
”Close connections are documented between global warming trends and the increased frequency of heat waves.”

Professor Neville Nicholls in The Age

Monash University’s Professor Neville Nicholls, who has spent 35 years researching climate, said the scene for Black Saturday was set with the “chronic drying” of the environment due to the 12-year drought. Then came the January heatwave which, in terms of temperatures – with record-breaking jumps of more than two degrees in places – was so extraordinary Nicholls describes it as “mind-boggling”.
“The really crucial thing linking this to climate change is the three-day heatwave rather than the really hot temperatures on the day of the fires. By then, the situation was already primed . . .
“I think it is beyond reasonable doubt that global warming and the enhanced greenhouse effect has exacerbated the severity of this tragedy,” said Nicholls, who for decades worked at the Bureau of Meteorology as a senior principal research scientist.

CSIRO’s Kevin Hennessy on The World Today

[there has been a] “radical increase in the fire weather risk since about the year 2000. And we’ve looked at records back to 1973. So it does appear to be unusual. And it is coincident with a very strong decrease in rainfall that we’ve seen over the last 12 years in south eastern Australia.”

Professor David Karoly, Victoria’s Chief Climate Change Advisor on Lateline

“it is not possible to attribute any single event to climate change. However, climate change … has loaded the dice and has increased the probability of these sorts of events occurring.

“So what we’re seeing is a shift in the climate that allows these sorts of severe fire weather events to occur much more commonly. And unfortunately, the changes that are in train already mean that they’ll become much more common over the next 10 and 20 years in addition to what we’ve seen in the last 10 years.”

Professor David Karoly again writing in Realclimate

Of course, the impacts of anthropogenic climate change on bushfires in southeast Australia or elsewhere in the world are not new or unexpected. In 2007, the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report WGII chapter “Australia and New Zealand” concluded.
An increase in fire danger in Australia is likely to be associated with a reduced interval between fires, increased fire intensity, a decrease in fire extinguishments and faster fire spread. In south-east Australia, the frequency of very high and extreme fire danger days is likely to rise 4-25% by 2020 and 15-70% by 2050.
…it is clear that climate change is increasing the likelihood of environmental conditions associated with extreme fire danger in south-east Australia and a number of other parts of the world.

It is obvious from the comments above (which have also been reflected in comments by the United Firefighters Union and Tim Flannery) that our Federal Government needs to reassess its climate change policies. These fires have opened a window from which we can glimpse our future. It is a frightening view. Five per cent emissions cuts are not enough, and playing a spoiler role in international negotiations is only going to make matters worse. If we are clever we will learn from this tragedy and act to prevent it becoming a common occurrence.