Australian bush fires

How long can Aussies live with climate denial policies



February 5, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

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Australia’s bushfire this year has burned over six million hectares of land, and pushed many species towards extinction

Will the unprecedented bushfires in Australia force the government and people to face the fact of hazards that climate change can inflict on them and others?

Tragic as it is, it has become a routine affair. Each summer, Australia, like various other parts of the world, is hit with extreme temperatures and by bushfires. And like all other countries, each year, the temperatures set a new record while the fires become more ferocious and uncontrollable. This year’s fires that Australia has been battling, with little success for nearly a month, fits the pattern.

Australian government and notably Prime Minister Scott Morrison have been caught entirely unprepared in their response to the fires and it is not only due to the fact that the fires have been extra severe this year. Their lack of preparedness is perhaps also due to the fact that Morrison and his Conservative Party have been repudiating climate change and have played the role of an obstructionist not just in setting their domestic policies for mitigation of climate change and to cut Australian carbon emissions, but also blocking any real progress in the global discussions on implementation of the Paris Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

For over a decade, Australia has been living in climate denial. At COP 21, held in Paris in 2015, Australia, very nearly managed to derail reaching an agreement through its obstructionist policies. Since then, the government has been very vocal in its criticism of the Paris Agreement and has tried to minimise any link between the rise in frequency and severity of natural catastrophes and climate change, pretty much like the United States’ President Donald Trump. At the recently concluded COP 25 meeting in Madrid, Australia repeated its stance and insisted on using an accounting loophole on carbon credits, a stance that has been called out as plain cheating. Australia was also one of the handful of countries that actually blocked reaching any agreement on all nations enhancing their targets for cutting carbon emissions. Its stance earned it scathing comments from various small and developing nations, including its closest neighbours — the Pacific Ocean islands.

Rather befittingly, the 2020 Climate Change Performance Index, prepared by a group of think tanks, ranked Australia at the bottom of the list of 57 countries, based on the national climate action plan on emissions, renewable energy, policy and energy mix. The report also criticised the Australian government for being a regressive force internationally, notably for blocking the agreement on carbon trading during Cop 25 as well as for dismissing mountains of scientific data on the seriousness of the situation.

But it is not just Morrison and his Conservatives that have refused to take climate change seriously and implement the measures necessary to protect not only its forests, rivers and lakes, but also the famous Great Barrier Reef, a coral formation that is key to not only protecting marine life in the entire Indian Ocean, but also acts as a shield to protect Australia from vagaries of the sea. A lot of Australian citizens, too, are guilty of disregarding the hazards of climate change and the obligation of the entire world to move rapidly and protect the environment.

With the summer of 2018 having been the hottest summer ever recorded in Australia, until the current season, and accompanied by severe drought and vast forest fires, it was expected that the national elections, held in May 2019, would be all about climate change and that the voters would eject the Conservative government and bring back the Labour party, which had fought the elections with promise of drastic measures to cut emissions, notably coal and fossil fuels. However, Morrison and his party were able to convince the voters that the steps already taken by the government were adequate and that imposing tighter emission norms would hurt Australian industry and lead to job losses. In a surprise result, the voters ended up buying the Conservative propaganda and re-elected the government for yet another term, this despite the fact that many people, especially in New South Wales and Victoria, were badly impacted by the climate change impacts such as drought and wildfires.

Currently, too, even though the government has been caught entirely unprepared to deal with the worst-ever wildfires, Morrison has again ruled out changing the environmental policy and he continues to insist he is doing enough to cut emissions. One would have thought that a decade of worsening wildfires, continuous drought and drying up of various water bodies would be enough as a wake up call for a nation and its rulers that maintaining status quo on their emissions and other harmful actions that are killing the Australian biosphere will only lead to a bigger disaster and could be severely damaging for the people, economy and the environment. The ongoing wildfires, now in their fourth month have so far killed over a billion animals, destroyed thousands of acres of forests destroyed and forced tens of thousands of people to flee their homes.

Despite this, the government remains in denial. In November last year, Morrison’s number two, deputy prime minister said all those linking the fires with climate change were ‘inner city raving lunatics’. And now, over four months after the outbreak of the fires, Morrison has refused to review his policies. And beyond the government, the response from the people has been muted, except those directly in the line of fire, literally. There are hardly any calls, except from the Greens and Labour parties, for a radical shift in gear. But the Australian people can not afford to play ostrich vis-à-vis climate change anymore. Nature’s response their inaction will only get more severe with each passing year.

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