Insights into Editorial: Amidst a tragedy, an opportunity
The writer David Horne once described Australia as “the lucky country”, with its abundance of natural resources, good weather, and its relative geographical isolation from the turbulence of the world.
Today, with wildfires burning more than 12 million hectares of land, destroying native flora, killing thousands of wild animals, including endangered species, and displacing residents and tourists, Australia is confronted with a dystopian vision, where “apocalypse becomes the new normal”.
- Scientists have long warned that a hotter, drier climate will contribute to fires becoming more frequent and more intense.
- Many parts of Australia have been in drought conditions, some for years, which has made it easier for the fires to spread and grow.
- Data shows that Australia has warmed overall by slightly more than one degree Celsius since 1910, with most of the heating occurring since 1950, the Bureau of Meteorology says.
- Although Australia has always had bushfires, this season has been a lot worse than normal.
- Australia broke its all-time temperature record twice in December. An average maximum of 40.9C was recorded on 17 December, broken a day later by 41.9C, both beating 2013’s record of 40.3C.
- Once fires have started, other areas are at risk, with embers blown by the wind causing blazes to spread to new areas.
- Bush fires themselves can also drive thunderstorms, increasing the risk of lightning strikes and further fires.
A climate phenomenon is causing the heatwave:
The main climate driver behind the heat has been a positive Indian Ocean Dipole (IOD), an event where sea surface temperatures are warmer in the western half of the ocean, cooler in the east.
The difference between the two temperatures is currently the strongest in 60 years.
As a result, there has been higher-than-average rainfall and floods in eastern Africa and droughts in south-east Asia and Australia.
The key culprit of our current and expected conditions is one of the strongest positive Indian Ocean dipole events on record.
A positive IOD means we have cooler than average water pooling off Indonesia, and this means we see less rain-bearing weather systems, and warmer than average temperatures for large parts of the country.
These bushfires triggering thunderstorm:
During a fire, heat and moisture from the plants are released, even when the fuel is relatively dry.
Warm air is less dense than cold air so it rises, releasing the moisture and forming a cloud that lifts and ends up a thunderstorm started by fire.
The science around climate change is complex.
It happens from time to time in Australia and other parts of the world, including Canada. It’s an explosive storm called pyrocumulonimbus and it can inject particles as high as 10 miles into the air. These can be deadly, dangerous, erratic and unpredictable.
Australia today is ground zero for the climate catastrophe:
As evidence, he pointed out that the Great Barrier Reef “is dying”, the “world-heritage rain forests are burning”, giant kelp forests have disappeared, “numerous towns have run out of water or are about to, and now the vast continent is burning on a scale never before seen.”
India with Australia: An important partner:
- At this moment of crisis, and while the tragedy of the bushfires is still unfolding, New Delhi and Canberra have a rare opportunity: to translate their rapidly converging interests and coalescing of values into a formidable partnership for the 21st century.
- The breadth and depth of the relationship was evident, as was the scope for the future in diverse areas, including the grand challenges facing our planet.
- Clearly, as a consequence of the bushfires, the debate on global warming, climate change and fossil fuels is going to intensify in the weeks ahead, even while scientists grapple with the new evidence.
- As two economies with a great stake holding in fossil fuels, it is critical for India and Australia to ensure that their dialogue on energy acquires momentum.
- This will require a joint scientific task force to disinter the latest evidence linking climate change and extreme climatic events with fossil fuels and to study the promise and potential of “clean” coal technology.
- Both countries must simultaneously strengthen the International Solar Alliance and the search for other alternative green fuels.
- The Leadership Dialogue also recognised that we are living through a period of immense turbulence, disruption and even subversion.
- For instance, the near overwhelming presence of an illiberal, totalitarian China, increasingly unilateralist, interventionist and mercantilist and willing to write its own rules, is the single biggest challenge to our two countries.
- India is the 5th largest trade partner of Australia with trade in goods and services at Australian $ 29 billion representing 3.6% share of the total Australian trade in 2017-18, with export at Australian $ 8 billion and import at Australian $ 21 billion.
- India and Australia have a strong track record of collaborating in research and innovation. The $84 million Australia-India Strategic Research Fund (AISRF) is Australia’s largest.
- Australia recognises India’s critical role in supporting security, stability and prosperity of the Indian Ocean region.
- Australia and India are committed to working together to enhance maritime cooperation and has a formal bilateral naval exercise (AUSINDEX) since 2015.
- In New Delhi there is a near consensus within the political leadership and the strategic community that the Australia-India relationship is an idea whose time has well and truly come.
- From water management to trauma research to skills and higher education, from maritime and cybersecurity to counterterrorism, a world of opportunities awaits the two countries if they can work in coordination.
While Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who postponed his visit to India because of the bushfires, will be missed at the Raisina Dialogue, one hopes that one immediate decision that be will take by New Delhi and Canberra is to elevate the ‘two plus two’ format for talks from the secretary level to the level of foreign and defence ministers.
That should signal that New Delhi recognises Canberra as important a partner as Washington and Tokyo.
In coming years, the overall relationship between India and Australia will continue to grow and has the potential to assume greater prominence.
The prospects for bilateral relationship are recognised in both countries as strategically useful, economically productive and aligned with each other’s new agenda.