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Weather changes 'loading the dice' for bushfire risk

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Climate change and drier weather conditions are “loading the dice” as Australia’s bushfire risk increases, a Bureau of Meteorology scientist told the Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements today.

Head of Client Monitoring Karl Braganza said the interplay of background climate trends and natural variability is favouring drier conditions.

The country is experiencing hotter droughts, lower rainfall in the southeast cooler months and fire seasons that are becoming longer across Australia, leading to greater overlap between regions.

“What we are looking at here is an intensification of the fire weather into the future,” he said.

The impact of changing climate on rising bushfires risks was also highlighted earlier today by the CSIRO in the first day of royal commission hearings.

IAG EM Natural Perils Team Mark Leplastrier also highlighted IAG research that showed the changing patterns of cyclones, hailstorms and bushfires and the impacts that are often not captured in broader regional data.

“This is our best interpretation of how we think the risk will change, and we encourage feedback from the scientific community,” he said.

IAG has called for improved Government mitigation funding and the introduction of a national rating system for all bushfire-prone communities, properties and structures in a submission to the bushfires royal commission.

The National Bushfire Risk Rating (NBRR) system is proposed in an IAG-commissioned Menzies Research Centre study into strengthening resilience in the wake of the past summer’s bushfires.

“An NBRR will provide consistency when measuring risk, which will be useful to insurers pricing risk and provide a benchmark for individuals, businesses and communities that take steps to reduce risk,” the Menzies proposal says.

The royal commission earlier highlighted the impacts of the coronavirus on the recovery from the summer bushfires.

“The ongoing impact of the global coronavirus pandemic has been profound,” Senior Council Dominique Hogan-Doran said in introductory comments.

“As the evidence will show, the recovery from the devastating impacts of the 2019/2020 bushfire season has been slowed and fragmented. Planning for future seasons appears to have been interrupted.”

The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements’ first two-week block of hearings will run until June 5. The commission is due to deliver a final report by the end of August.