The climate crisis made Australia's wildfires at least 30% more likely, study finds

Updated 2058 GMT (0458 HKT) March 4, 2020

(CNN)The devastating wildfires that burned across Australia last year and into 2020 were made far more likely and intense by the climate crisis, a new analysis shows.

Scientists found that the chances of the kind of extreme weather that triggered the blazes have increased by more than 30% since 1900, and that fire conditions like this are at least four times more likely than they were at the start of the 20th century.
However, the authors say that this is likely a conservative estimate, and that the risk of fires may have grown by far more than 30% due to the climate models' underestimations of the actual increases in extreme temperatures and heatwaves.
"We found that climate models struggle to reproduce these extreme events and their trends realistically," Dr. Geert Jan van Oldenborgh of the Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute who contributed to this analysis said in a statement.
Panicked horses flee a bushfire near Canberra, Australia, on February 1, 2020. A new study finds that the recent fire that swept through the country were made far more likely by the climate crisis.
The analysis was conducted by World Weather Attribution (WWA), a coalition of academic and government scientists from around the globe that investigates how the climate crisis is influencing extreme weather events. Past WWA studies have looked at the role the climate crisis played in Europe's sweltering June 2019 heatwave and the massive amounts of rain Tropical Storm Imelda dumped on Texas last year.
"Here for the first time, we have quantified how climate change has affected the risk of bushfires in the region of Southeastern Australia that has just experienced very severe fires," said Dr. Friederike Otto, the acting director of the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford and a co-investigator involved in this study.
The group found that human-caused climate change has loaded the dice in favor of these catastrophic fires, and that more fire seasons like this one are likely in the future.
If the world's governments are unable to hold global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius, then fire conditions like those experienced this summer could be four times more likely in the coming years.
However, the planet is currently on track to warm by more than 2 degrees Celsius, meaning future fire seasons could be even more extreme.