The Heat Is Online

Australia's Howard, a Longtime Skeptic, Embraces Climate Reality

Extremes of weather here to stay: Howard

The Age (Aus.), Dec. 14, 2006


Prime Minister John Howard has embraced a key climate change forecast, warning Australians to prepare for more extreme weather events such as the current bushfires.


At the end of a day-long tour of fire-hit communities in Victoria and Tasmania, Mr. Howard was asked whether he accepted scientists' predictions on extreme weather. "Let me put it this way," he said. "I think the country should prepare for a continuation of what we are now experiencing."


"In the long term, over a period of years?" he was asked.


"Well, I think the likelihood of this going on is very strong."


The statement adds to recent signs of a reassessment by Mr. Howard on climate change from his initially sceptical stance.


It came as firefighters continued the battle to contain huge blazes ahead of the return of hot weather today. Concern in Victoria centred on a fire near the Thomson dam, Melbourne's biggest water storage, which risks contamination if the catchment area burns.


Mr. Howard, visiting the north-east Tasmanian town of St Helens, repeatedly made the point with officials that the region was not normally associated with bushfires, and that they were not usually so common early in the summer.


He agreed that more infrastructure would be needed to deal with weather-related disasters, but also said much better access on fire trails was needed into national parks.


And he warned people to brace themselves for more fires through the coming summer.


In recent years there has been an almost global increase in extreme high maximum temperatures and extreme rain, according to the Australian Greenhouse Office.


By 2030, most of the country is expected to have 10 to 50 per cent more days over 35 degrees and fewer frosts.


CSIRO models show that in many places global warming is likely to increase the frequency and duration of extreme events such as heavy rains, droughts and floods.


Global warming has already started to produce more severe bushfires, and much of the east coast and southern states can expect more frequent and intense fires, according to the Federal Government's Bushfire Research Centre.


Mr. Howard said more emergency services infrastructure was one answer, but after touring Victoria he emphasised the need to "get the balance right" in national parks.


"I hear people say that they couldn't get access to some of the national park areas because some of the fire trails were blocked off."

It was possible to properly protect and preserve the values of the parks but still allow access, he said. "If a bushfire runs through a national park, you don't have the national park."