Over the summer of 2018/19 huge fires burnt across Tasmania. An independent review of Tasmania’s management of the summer bushfires was released in August 2019. It found inadequacies in the response to the fire burning near Geeveston, and revealed that crews withdrew from the Gell River fire in Tasmania’s south–west in the mistaken belief it was out. The fire then expanded again and became out of control.
Now, a comprehensive study examining the 2018/19 and the experience of authorities and affected groups by Insurance Group Zurich has found that the state has entered a ‘new era of bushfire risk’.
“Since the turn of the millennium, climate change and land use change have converged to bring about a new fire regime in Tasmania,” Zurich’s first Australian Post-Event Review Capability (PERC) report said.
More than two thousand dry lightning strikes hit the state during that summer, igniting 70 fires that formed into four massive fire complexes. Over 95,000 hectares of protected land was burnt.
Reporting in The Tasmanian Times notes that:
The insurer says a focus on firefighting response has put too little attention on community and business resilience before, during and after bushfire.
“There is much to learn from this event for Tasmania and other jurisdictions who will likely face similar events,” the report said.
After consultation with emergency services personnel, foresters, municipal authorities, community and experts, it identifies opportunities to build resilience globally as climate change increases the frequency and severity of extreme fire, and as drying increases fuel loads.
Zurich Resilience Solutions Head in Australia and New Zealand Mervyn Rea says that as climate change and shifting weather patterns impact bushfire severity around the globe, learning lessons from past events is critical.
“The recommendations in this report are particularly important given the 2019/20 Australian mainland bushfires that followed, gaining global attention for the sheer scale and severity,” he said
The report’s recommendations, made in collaboration with the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre and the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis, include the following:
– Create an adaptive bushfire risk management plan with a high-quality model of bushfire risk.
– Communities should be at the centre of resilience and preparedness programs. All potential impacts should be considered including smoke pollution.
– Prescribed burning in wilderness areas should be complemented with fuel breaks to protect assets and valuable ecosystems.
– Working relationships between fire agencies, landowners and conservationists should be reinvigorated.
– Define when environmental assets should take priority over infrastructure.
– Embrace that there is no single solution to ‘solve’ the problem, and the approach requires comprehensive resolutions.
– Clarify and codify the role of the community sector in emergencies and resolution processes.
– Regularly review the strategy for making best use of emergency volunteers.
– Governments need to adopt stringent CO2 emission reduction targets as part of long-term adaptation.
It also notes that we need to do everything we can to reduce the impacts of future climate change:
Adopt stringent CO2 emissions reduction targets.
A key driver behind the devastation of this and other recent bushfires is climate change. While Tasmania’s contribution to global emissions is small, it has a responsibility to contribute to the global effort. The Tasmanian Government can also play a significant role in contributing to Australia’s commitment to emissions reductions, which could have a more significant impact on the global stage.