Australian bushfires drive up global emissions as economic costs mount | RenewEconomy

Australian bushfires drive up global emissions as economic costs mount

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Australian bushfires to drive global greenhouse gas concentrations to new records, as more than half of Australians report experiencing bushfire impacts.

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Satellite imagery from the European Space Agency of bushfires on Australia's east coast.
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As Australia continues to tabulate the economic costs of a destructive, climate change fuelled summer, a new forecast from leading weather agency, the UK Met Office predicts emissions from the bushfires will help drive global greenhouse gas concentrations to new record levels.

The assessment from the UK Met Office estimates that the impacts of changing weather patterns around the world will push the annual increase in global greenhouse gas concentrations higher by as much as ten per cent.

The UK Met Office estimates that the Australian bushfires alone are expected to represent up to one-fifth of this growth in the weather pattern related emissions increases, having emitted between 400 and 700 million tonnes of carbon dioxide.

The forecast shows global carbon dioxide concentrations are expected to peak at 417 parts per million in 2020, with an average level of 414.2 parts per million when seasonal effects are accounted for.

It represents a rise of 2.74 parts per million in 2020, which is likely to rank amongst the largest increases since measurements began in 1958, with the UK Met office reaffirming that “anthropogenic emissions are still the overall driver of the long-term rise in concentrations.”

The expected increase in global greenhouse gas concentrations is a bleak outcome at a time when scientists have ramped up warnings about the need to reduce emissions to avoid a worsening climate crisis

“Climate change continues to bring increasing temperatures, we can already expect the risk of heatwaves and other extreme weather events to increase in the future,” the UK Met Office said.

News of Australian bushfires driving up global emissions comes as new research from progressive think tank The Australia Institute has shown that more than half of Australians have been impacted by bushfires in some manner, with residents in New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT the most likely to be impacted.

According to polling commissioned by The Australia Institute, around one-third of respondents saying that they had changed their regular daily routine as a result of bushfires or the resultant smoke, including reductions in the amount of exercise and other activities undertaken outside.

Source: The Australia Institute

Around a third of New South Wales and Victorian residents reported experiencing health impacts as a result of the bushfires, with more than five million people across Australia having been impacted by hazardous smoke levels across the summer so far.

Nine per cent of respondents, made up of 17% of full-time workers and 8% of part-time workers, representing up to 1.8 million Australians, said that the health effects were so severe that it had caused them to miss work.

The Australia Institute estimated that this alone could cost the Australian economy as much as $1.3 billion, with the prospect of higher economic losses if people missed multiple days of work.

Even the estimate of lost productivity is small compared to the overall impacts of the bushfire crisis that has impacted Australia over the current summer.

“Australia is in the grip of a national climate disaster. The social, economic and medical impacts are vast and only just starting to become clear,” senior researcher at the Australia Institute Tom Swann said.

“Our research shows that it’s likely more than 5 million Australian adults, along with many children, have suffered negative health impacts as a result of the fires and at least 1.5 million have missed work.”

Market analyst firm Moodys said that it was likely that the total economic impacts of the current bushfire season would exceed the $4.4 billion economic costs of the 2009’s Black Saturday fires in Victoria.

The firm also suggested that the largest cost burden is still to come, as governments will need to plan for increasing ongoing recovery costs into the future as climate change amplifies the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

“The more material costs for the general government will be related to recurring financial support to the states as climate change leads to more frequent and severe natural disasters,” Moodys said.

It has been a damaging summer for Australia, with the bushfires having been followed by destructive hailstorms and dust storms across regions already impacted by drought and bushfire.

Insurance companies have issued a flurry of earnings write-downs as a result of liabilities related to severe hailstorms that delivered carnage across New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT. This includes the Insurance Australia Group, whose share price took a hit after it revealed a $160 million cost to cover payouts on hail damage. Total losses from the hailstorm event are expected to exceed $320 million.

The poll also found that 15 per cent of respondents had changed their summer holiday travel plans as a result of the bushfires. This has been exacerbated by international visitors changing or cancelling their plans to visit Australia over the summer, leading to a 40 per cent drop in visitor numbers and is expected to cost the Australian tourism industry as much as $4.5 billion in lost earnings.

The Australia Institute has led calls for a levy to be placed on the sale of coal and gas in Australia, with the proceeds to be funnelled into a proposed national climate disaster fund to help cover the costs of recovery from climate-fuelled disasters.

The think tank estimated that a $1 per tonne levy placed on emissions created from all coal, gas and oil produced in Australia would raise around $1.5 billion each year.

“Putting a levy on fossil fuel producers and establishing a National Climate Disaster Fund would move some of the financial burden of these events from the households, businesses and taxpayers that are currently forced to pick up the tab,” Swann said.

Just one-third of respondents to The Australia Institute’s commissioned poll said that they thought the federal Coalition government has done a good job managing the climate crisis.

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