In the midst of this piece on bungling Gerry Brownlee’s ill-timed criticism of the Port Hills fire emergency response, came this little gem from Bill English:
English said no one could have anticipated the large-scale fire on the Port Hills.
That’s not exactly true is it. I don’t know how far back the predictions and warnings go, but this NIWA Fire Research Report from 2005 said:
Results from this study indicate that New Zealand is likely to experience more severe fire weather and fire danger, especially in the Bay of Plenty, east of both islands and the central (Wellington/Nelson) regions.
Production from agriculture and forestry is projected to decline by 2030 over parts of eastern New Zealand due to increased drought and fire.
…fragmented native forests of drier lowland areas (Northland, Waikato, Manawatu) and in the east (from East Cape to Southland) are likely to be most vulnerable to drying and changes in fire regimes.
The Ministry of the Environment in 2008 warns of:
…increased fire risk in drier eastern areas
In addition, the probable increased occurrence of droughts and high temperatures will lead to elevated fire risk. … Frequency, intensity and length of the fire season may all increase. … The risk of wild fires also is projected to increase.
New Zealand is already experiencing, for example, more frequent floods, storms and droughts, scrub and forest fires causing damage to the environment and people’s livelihoods.
The Ministry of the Environment again, in 2016, in the section on Canterbury:
Fire risk – Strong winds, combined with high temperatures, low humidity and seasonal drought may result in an increased fire risk in some areas (such as Christchurch, Kaikoura, and Darfield). The length of the fire season is expected to increase.
I could go on and on, but you get the picture. It’s not the case that “no one could have anticipated the large-scale fire on the Port Hills”. Just about every relevant organisation could and did predict it. Most of the other predictions relating to climate change will come true too. We need a government that is prepared to think ahead and act, not one with its head stuck way up where the sun don’t shine.