“Climate change is real. It is happening right now…” these were the words spoken by renowned actor, producer and environmentalist Leonardo Dicaprio at the Oscars in 2016. This is evident even today as fires rage in the bushlands of Australia in what is recorded as one of the worst wildfires in the country. These massive bushfires were a result of a period of a long drought and record-breaking temperatures that worsened the annual “fire season”. This event has repercussions across the community, environment, and economy and is a sustainability issue that requires urgent attention, awareness, and action. Businesses and governments understanding the gravity of the situation are seen to align themselves with the Paris Climate Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)- with a commitment to take action on the interdisciplinary global issues facing us today. It is important to address the impacts on an immediate basis and ultimately the source, i.e, the role of climate change in intensifying such occurrences across the globe
SDGs 13 and 15, “Climate Action” and “Life on Land” call for the protection of natural environment, trees and biodiversity on land and urge us to take action on climate change. Increasingly trees are being adversely affected by human activity and extreme weather. According to the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), over 18 million hectares of forests have been burned, destroying over 2,800 homes amongst other structures, leading to human fatalities and killing over a million animals as a direct result of these devastating fires in Australia. Consequences of the fire include large areas of lost habitat, adversely affecting wildlife, exacerbating the global situation of declining wildlife species. The smoke and air pollution from these bushfires have affected the air quality across neighborhoods and cities near affected areas in Australia, affecting the health of residents. The economic impact on the country from such incidents ranges from health costs, infrastructure damage and impact on industries such as farming and tourism. Moreover, UNEP highlights that the bushfires have emitted 400 tons of carbon dioxide, equivalent to the annual emissions of Australia in just over 3 months. This will augment the already increasing issue of climate change, cited as the source of these bushfires in the first place.
Climate Change’s Role
Research by the World Economic Forum indicates that the raising high temperatures in Australia can be accounted for by global warming as, within the past century, this increasing trend has led to higher frequency and intensity of such fires. While over a century ago, the temperatures within most parts of Australia fluctuated within 1°C above average, in recent times the temperature in certain states touched highs of above 3°C above average. Additionally, over time the fires have been appearing earlier and stronger than the usual ”fire season”. The annual fires are due to a combination of the drying of the forests and woodlands from the summer sun and ignited by lightning strikes, accident or deliberate initiation from arson. Such incidents and climate change impacts are not exclusive to affecting only certain parts of the globe.
Australia has not been the only victim to such an incident, in 2019, the Brazilian Amazon saw an 80% increase in fires from the previous year with over 76,000 fires burning across the forest as per a National Geographic report. The fires in the Amazon have also shown a direct correlation to the mass deforestation and a yearlong drought observed in the area. With increasing temperatures predicted under business as usual, scientists predict more extreme fire behavioral patterns in the times to come. With repeat of a similar Amazon fire pattern in Australia, there is a strong movement for individuals, civil society, corporates and the government to consider the impact of climate change and take action towards mitigation.
Australia’s Action on Climate Change
Australia is one of the 187 Parties which has ratified the Paris Climate Agreement with a commitment to take action on climate change. The Department of Agriculture, Water and Environment reports that Australia has set a target to make a 26-28% reduction in its emissions compared with 2005 levels by 2030 as per its commitment to the Paris Climate Agreement. According to the Department’s report, this calls for a 50-52 % reduction in emissions per capita between 2005 and 2030. With a long-term commitment by the country to mitigate climate change, it is integral to understand and respond to the urgent need for climate change and its impact such as the bushfires with political, corporate and individual action.
The impacts from climate change are environmental, social and economic as the impact includes physical and natural capital disruption. Climate risks have the capability to affect a range of socio-economic factors such as disruption to livability and workability; food production; physical assets and infrastructure and natural capital. It is therefore integral for us as individuals to move towards a more sustainable lifestyle: by choosing sustainable travel methods, making conscious purchase decisions, buying more local food and demanding businesses for sustainable products. Businesses of tomorrow are also required to adopt sustainable business models and work towards the SDGs. Governments are required to lead the change through legislation and subsidies for renewable energy and fossil fuel alternatives to make real progress in achieving the Paris Climate Agreement target of limiting global temperatures increase to within 2°C of pre-industrial levels by 2030. Overall, a collective action is required in order to ensure our planet is protected from the climate risks affecting us today and in the future.