Extreme weather to put strain on disaster services
The mercury hit 45.7 degrees on Friday at Sydney?s Big Day Out. Photo: Edwina Pickles
THE capacity of fire and emergency services to respond to natural disasters will need to be increased if extreme weather events intensify because of climate change, the council representing Australia's emergency services has warned.
The Australasian Fire and Emergency Service Authorities Council (AFAC), which represents bodies including the Country Fire Authority and the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, says any increases in extreme weather events will have implications for funding of staff and infrastructure.
In a submission to a Senate committee investigation into extreme weather events, the council said a trend to larger emergencies would also require more extensive ''surge capacity'' to deal with the worst events.
It said this would include greater co-operation between state emergency services, and significant volunteer capacity on hand if interstate counterparts were unable to help out because of their own emergencies.
In a separate submission, scientists at the Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science said there was high confidence in scientific models asserting there will be more hotter days and heatwaves with climate change. There is lower confidence in changes to rainfall, the group said, but studies show a trend towards greater frequency of drought and days of heavy rainfall. The hotter, drier conditions will lead to increased days of extreme fire danger, the submission states.
AFAC's manager of operations, Paul Considine, said it had sought scientific advice in 2009 on the impacts of climate change on extreme weather. ''We've been careful; we are not climate science experts. Our position is the science is there, we have accepted the science that has been presented to us, and if it is correct, we can predict these certain results,'' he said.
''Fire and emergency services are funded and established to meet a certain amount of workload. We are saying if that goes up dramatically you have to resource for whatever comes our way.'' The council also says attention needs to be given to what disaster-prone land is used for, and people who chose to live in those areas should be made aware of the risks.
The submission comes as firefighters battled a blaze in Victoria's east on Friday that destroyed and threatened homes in several small towns. This week, the chairman of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, told Fairfax Media work by the group had found some extreme weather events, including heatwaves, had become more frequent since 1950. But he cautioned against linking a single weather event to climate change, saying instead the focus should be on long-term trends.
Professor John McAneney, of research centre Risk Frontiers, said studies to date had not shown a correlation between climate change and increased insurance losses due to extreme weather.
He said the increased losses were the result of socio-economic factors such as changes to where people live.