Controversial commentator Bjorn Lomborg's bushfire claim debunked

Photograph: Getty Images Dr Bjorn Lomborg
10 February 2020

A controversial climate commentator who has questioned the link between this summer's bushfire season and climate change was set to speak in Canberra on Monday night, but a world-leading expert says Bjorn Lomborg's claims are based on misleading statistics.

Dr Lomborg, a Danish political scientist, argues that while climate change is happening, it's not an emergency and governments should not panic when developing policies.

In his current speaking tour in Australia, Dr Lomborg has argued that this summer's bushfires can't be attributed to climate change, as the total area of Australia burned across Australia has not increased.

Canberra was set to be included on the tour but the event was cancelled due to weather on Monday.

On the eve of this tour, Dr Lomborg wrote in The Australian that across Australia, the number of hectares lost to fires between 1997 and 2018 declined by a third.

"That's why I think we need to be very careful to not say that this was due to global warming," Dr Lomborg said to The Canberra Times, arguing that while temperate forests have burnt more, other land types have burnt less.

Director of the Climate Change Institute at the Australian National University Mark Howden has countered the argument, saying claims based on the total area of Australia burnt is "in a sense deceptive".

"The true comparison is actually looking at the forest area burning in the South East and comparing with previous years of forest area burning in the South East," Professor Howden said. 

"And so when you do that, what the various commentators, including the fire services, say is that this was unprecedented."

Professor Howden, who is also vice-chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says others factors including the intensity of the fires and dryness of the bush are also relevant when discussing climate change and bushfires.

Read the full article in The Canberra Times, including commentary by Prof Mark Howden