Australia’s government is sticking firmly to a position that there is no direct link between climate change and the country’s devastating bushfires, despite public anger, the anguish of victims and warnings from scientists.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Australian Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction Angus Taylor have said that Australia does not need to cut carbon emissions more aggressively to limit global warming, even after a three-year drought and unprecedented bushfires.
Instead they have said that Australia, which contributes 1.3 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, but is the second-largest emitter per capita behind the US, should be rewarded for beating its emissions reduction targets for this year.
“When it comes to reducing global emissions, Australia must and is doing its bit, but bushfires are a time when communities must unite, not divide,” Taylor said in e-mailed comments to reporters yesterday, while he was busy at bushfire relief centers in his constituency in New South Wales.
Stepping up efforts to reduce emissions would harm the economy, especially if they hurt Australia’s exports of coal and gas, the government has said.
The country last year overtook Qatar as the world’s top exporter of liquefied natural gas.
“In most countries it isn’t acceptable to pursue emission-reduction policies that add substantially to the cost of living, destroy jobs, reduce incomes and impede growth,” Taylor wrote in the Australian newspaper on Tuesday last week.
“That’s why we won’t adopt [opposition] Labor’s uncosted, reckless, economy-destroying targets that will always result in a tax on energy, whether it is called that or not,” he added.
Taylor did not detail exactly how cutting emissions would raise the cost of living.
Australians have complained that due to a lack of energy policy, power prices have risen substantially in the past several years, placing a heavy burden on household incomes, even as energy producers are gradually shifting to cheaper renewable sources of energy.
Taylor’s comments came after criticism Australia faced at the UN climate summit in Madrid for blocking ambitious action to cut carbon emissions.
Environmental groups have said that Australia would only meet its emissions targets by including old carbon credits the government wants to count from the 1992 Kyoto Protocol.
Scientists have said that climate change is a key factor in the destructive wildfires.
“One of the key drivers of fire intensity, fire spread rates and fire area is temperature, and in Australia we’ve just experienced record-high temperatures,” Australian National University Climate Change Institute director Mark Howden said.
The burning forests are a double whammy for the environment, as they add to carbon emissions while also removing carbon sinks, which would take decades to grow back, Monash University Climate Change Communication Research Hub director David Holmes said.
Australia’s bushfires have since September last year emitted about 350 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, equal to two-thirds of the country’s annual emissions from artificial sources, Global Carbon Project director Pep Canadell said, citing data from NASA satellites.
To others, from the opposition Labor Party and film star Russell Crowe, who skipped the Golden Globes awards to fight bushfires in Australia, to US Senator Bernie Sanders, the link is clear between climate change and Australia’s fires, which have killed 25 people, destroyed thousands of homes and razed more than 8 million hectares of land since September.
“I say to those who are delaying action on climate change: look at the blood-red sky and unbreathable air in Australia because of raging forest fires,” Sanders said on social media last week.
Amid an outbreak of fires in several states in November, Labor leader Anthony Albanese urged Morrison to boost resources to prepare for, fight and prevent disasters.
“The fire season is starting earlier and finishing later, and emergency leaders agree that extreme weather events in Australia will only increase in severity and frequency, due to climate change,” Albanese wrote in the Nov. 22 letter, which he posted on social media.
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