NSW fires linked to climate change, report says

THE rising frequency and intensity of Australia's bushfires, including the current New South Wales fires, is linked to climate change, an interim report released today shows.

In the report, the Climate Council writes there is a clear link between climate change and bushfires.

The interim report was released early after Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Environment Minister Greg Hunt claimed the current bushfires were not linked to climate change.

Professor Will Steffen said climate change was influencing both the frequency and intensity of extreme heat in Australia, and may be affecting the long-term "drying trend in the south-east".

"This increases the risk of bushfires by increasing extreme fire weather," he said.

Prof Steffen said it was clear climate change was making days hotter, and heatwaves more frequent and severe.

"Australia has always had bushfires. However, climate change is increasing the probability of extreme fire weather days and is lengthening the fire season," he said.

The council has made the rare foray into the political debate on climate change after Mr Abbott's comments that bushfires were simply part of Australian life.

It also follows Mr Hunt's heated BBC interview on Thursday, in which he denied the link between increasing bushfire conditions and climate change.

Climate Councillor Professor Lesley Hughes said the more frequent hot days and lower rainfall were both consistent with climate change science and increased the likelihood of "extreme fire weather".

"The fires in NSW are being influenced by these conditions," she said.

"It's not uncommon for bushfires in October, but bushfires of this scale, scope and intensity are indeed uncommon.

"To deny the influence of climate change on extreme fire weather, and not take appropriate action to prepare for these changed conditions, places people and property at unnecessarily high risk."

While not directly attacking the Coalition Government, Prof Hughes encouraged "all participants in the current debate" to base their views on peer-reviewed science.

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