Emissions from Australian summer bushfires released
Friday 24 Apr 2020Devastating 2019-20 fires estimated to have released 830m tonnes of carbon dioxide, more than all bar five countries in the world
Australia’s devastating bushfire season is likely to have released 830m tonnes of carbon dioxide, far more than the country’s annual greenhouse gas pollution, according to a government estimate. If compared with international emissions, it suggests the Australian temperate forest bushfires between September and February would rank sixth on a list of polluting nations, behind only China, the US, India, Russia and Japan.
The federal government analysis of the fires says temperate forests usually eventually recover from bushfire and they were expected to reabsorb most of the released carbon dioxide in the years ahead.
It cites the example of the 2003 fires that overran the Australian Capital Territory. It is estimated 96% of the carbon dioxide released then had been absorbed in regrowth by 2019. But the report notes rising climate change impacts, including droughts or more frequent and intense fires, could affect the ability of forests to recover.
Other scientists have been less optimistic about the capacity of Australian forests to reabsorb all emissions released during bushfires, warning under normal conditions it could take decades for enough regrowth to occur and the climate crisis was increasing the risk of repeat fires within shorter timeframes.
By 11 February, the 2019-20 fires had burned 7.4m hectares of temperate forest, mostly in New South Wales and Victoria. The report makes clear the area affected is unprecedented. More than 40% of the area burned, an estimated 3.14m hectares, lies within national parks. Another 1.86m hectares is labelled “other conservation and natural environments”. About 1.8m hectares is described as “production native forests” – state forests available for logging by the timber industry.
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