“My starting position in the discussion tomorrow will be that the climate has changed and it continues to change,” Ms Andrews said. “We need to focus on the steps to adapt and mitigate the impact of those changes.”
The Wednesday roundtable meeting will include scientists from the CSIRO, Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, the Bushfire Co-operative Research Centre and Science & Technology Australia.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has come under increased pressure during the bushfire crisis from scientists and business leaders to take further action on reducing emissions, flagged a focus on resilience and adaptation to the changing climate.
“The longer, drier and warmer seasons that we’re seeing are a reality and so while you take your actions as part of a global effort on emissions reduction, the practical thing that actually can most keep you safe during the next fire or the next flood or the next cyclone are the things that most benefit people here and now,” he told reporters in Canberra.
“People have said it’s not just about emissions reduction, it’s about hazard reduction. That’s true. Hazard reduction is climate resilience and ensuring that you’re able to successfully pursue those programs is very important.
“So climate resilience, climate adaptation, the fact that over the next 10 years, it’s a fact that we’ve got longer, hotter, drier summers means we have to prepare practically as we have been and need to do so more in the future.”
Ms Andrews said she would focus the roundtable discussions on practical measures, asking the question “what can we do immediately, and what can we do in the medium and long term?”
Former Australian chief scientist, Australian National University Adjunct Professor Penny Sackett said the science community would need a funding boost to complete the “herculean task” of documenting the causes and impacts of this summer’s bushfires.
“That data collection is important to not just Australia but indeed the world. These conditions are so unlike what we have experienced, it’s likely to touch almost every area of life we can think of,” Professor Sackett said.
She said the fires had created risks to a range of factors critical to human survival, wreaking havoc on pollinator species such as bees that are required by agriculture to propagate a wide range of crops, burning significant urban catchments, threatening water security, and creating unprecedented risks to infrastructure.
“Imagine trying to answer the question about what has happened to all the species in the millions of hectares that have burnt, and not just for the species which have perished, but on the future of species that survived,” Professor Sackett said.
“We have the expertise needed in Australia for most of the questions we need answered, but the magnitude of the task will demand a lot of capacity building and a large injection of funding.”
University of Tasmania Professor of pyrogeography and fire science David Bowman said the fires represented a permanent shift in fire risk, spurred by climate change.
“The primary question among the science community was: did the fires show that we are approaching a tipping point? Or are we going through it? Or have we crashed through the other side?” Professor Bowman said.
Mike is the climate and energy correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.