'Focus on the response'

| 13th January 2020
Emergency services
Bruce Detorres, Flickr
Australian Prime Minister's response to fires is reactionary, short-term, and lacking in vision.

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Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison responded to criticisms concerning the handling of the disastrous ravaging Australia by saying: "Now is the time to focus on the response that is being made.”

He pointed to deployment of the army, navy ships, and new planes and helicopters. But he has fundamentally missed the point. 

This is the climate emergency – and the losses are too great, the wound too deep, to be dealt merely with numbers of deployed aircrafts, breathing masks or compensation to the victims. 

Right response

While emergency response is crucial, the response is far from sufficient. It is reactionary, short-term, and lacking in vision. 

Australia, along with all nations, must make the right response by stepping up its fight against climate change.  

For a country whose top export in 2018 is coal, the right response should be to phase out coal production, now, with a complete closure of the industry by 2030. 

Rather than approving the development of new coal mines, it should revoke the 2019 approval to build the Carmichael mine in Queensland and reintroduce its repealed carbon tax plan, because polluters, especially major carbon polluters, must pay. 

Will this be painful? Yes, a mere blip in time compared to the devastating impacts Australians will be subject to if its government and governments globally fail to ditch their addiction to carbon. 

It is high time that Australia works towards zero-net carbon economy by 2030. Instead of seeking to count past carbon-cut achievements (carry-over carbon credits) Australia should commit to an ambitious target to cut carbon emissions ahead of this year’s COP26.

Urgency 

The scale and impact of the bushfires' devastation shows just how urgent the right response is. 

The fires turned the sky orange and red in south Australia. Its smoke made a summer day look like dusk, its ash washed up on white-sandy shores of New South Wales.

In places fires were so great (reaching 70-metres tall) that they generated thunderstorms and lightning. At least 6.3 million hectares of land have reportedly been burned – nearly half the size of England or more than seven times the size of land burned in the Amazon in 2019. 

New record highs, 40.9C on 17 December and then 41.9C the following day, are making it harder to suppress fires.

conservative estimate says almost half a billion animals may have perished. Officials said at least 25,000 koalas, or 30% of the population of Australia’s iconic animal, had been lost. Experts fear that some species may have been wiped out.  

Climate refugees

Even in one of the world's wealthiest, most developed countries we can see how global heating is creating climate refugees.  

1,300 houses turned to ashes in the worst-hit New South Wales. Thousands took refuge. We need an internationally binding agreement to ensure the rights of these people, whether they are in Bangladesh or Australia. 

Although it is the poorest nations that are suffering first and worst from the ravages of climate change, these fires demonstrate that the crisis is coming for everyone – wealthy, developed nations are not immune 

Greta Thunberg told politicians in 2019: “I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” 

Tragically, Scott Morrison’s country is on fire. Now he needs to act like it.

This Author

Steve Trent is executive director of the Environmental Justice Foundation. 

Image: Dean Lewins/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock, via Flickr.

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