Bushfires spewed 900m tonnes of CO2 into air

An aerial image of a bushfire in the Yuraygir National Park in Queensland. (Photo: European Space Agency/Flickr)

The Australian bushfire disaster expelled over 900 million tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, equalling the annual amount of emissions from air travel worldwide, a new report from the Climate Council has found.

In the worst bushfire season in Australian history, 33 people lost their lives, including six firefighters, 5.4 million hectares of forest burned and 2,500 homes were lost. It was further estimated up to a billion native animals and birds died.

The Summer of Crisis report, released by the Climate Council today at NSW Parliament, assesses the environmental impacts as well as the human and economic costs of the deadly bushfires Australians experienced this summer.

Climate Councillor Professor Will Steffen said the report was the first comprehensive overview of the bushfire season and its lasting effects.

“What this study finds is that over the bushfire season, 900 million tonnes of CO2 was spewed into the atmosphere, that’s smoke from fires, that compares to annual emission in Australia of 530,000 million tonnes, and equals all air travel over 12 months across the world,” he said.

“That ranks us 14th or 15th out of 200 countries around the world. When you look at the fires they omit, on average, 900 million tonnes – that’s moving towards double Australia’s emissions. These are large globally significant emissions.”

The key findings of the report showed extremely hot, dry conditions, underpinned by years of reduced rainfall and a severe drought, set the scene for this summer’s unprecedented fires. Climate change fuelled Australia’s devastating Black Summer of which 80 per cent of all Australians were either directly or indirectly effected.

Climate councillor and former commissioner of Fire and Rescue NSW Greg Mullins, who has been fighting fires for nearly 50 years, said the economic costs and effects on tourism were massive.

“We saw unprecedented fires across South East Queensland, NSW, Kangaroo Island, and Gippsland, the effect of that to the tourism industry is $4.5 billion estimated to have gone out of our economy,” he said.

“Every day that Sydney was smoke-logged, it was $12-$50 million in losses.”

Mr Mullins said the clear link that climate change is driving the intensity of fires was undeniable.

“It is a very clear link. What we need is urgent action on emissions, we can’t sit back any longer and say this is a problem for future generations to solve,” he said.

“Those few people in positions of power, which cling to denialism, need to step aside and allow the thinking people in the Coalition government to take the action that needs to be taken.”

Main image creative commons licence: The European Space Agency/Flickr.

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Student Journalist - Macleay College