Bushfires and Climate ChangeOpinion
There is no doubt Australia’s drought and bushfires are unprecedented in scale and intensity. The devastation has been overwhelming.
We have just experienced the hottest decade in our recorded history. Human-induced climate change is occurring rapidly and this warming is the significant contributor to these bushfires. Tragically, this 2020 catastrophe was predicted by Professor Ross Garnaut in his 2008 report for the then Labor Government.
Australia faces a terrible new normal and we must adapt. However, to establish effective strategies not only do we need to acknowledge climate change, we must also understand and agree on where we are in the climate change cycle and what’s to come. And we need to act urgently.
The Liberal Coalition is full of climate deniers attempting to divert attention and avoid talking about the consequences of their inaction. Shockingly as recently as last week Senator Molan questioned the existence of human-induced climate change, but said he did not rely on evidence for his view. In September, the then Minister for Drought, Natural Disaster and Emergency Management said he wasn’t sure the bushfires were related to climate change. The divisions that exist in the Coalition on climate change are growing!
Scott Morrison keeps talking up coal, despite renewables now being much cheaper to build. Now he’s raising fuel-load reduction as a key cause and management focus for bushfires.
Of course, it is important to reduce fuel loads as a precautionary measure, especially around populated areas. However, fire experts have dismissed assertions that a lack of fuel reduction is the main cause of the fires. NSW and Victorian fire chiefs and researchers have confirmed there was little or no difference in the fire intensity between areas subject to fuel reduction in the last few years and those areas without managed burns. Moreover, while we can fuel-reduce limited areas, we can’t burn the whole nation - the risks to health and environment are just too great. The increased warming also means the window for managed burns is shortened.
The Government says we don’t need to waste time talking about climate change; that we just need to get on and adapt to the changes.
Yes, we do need new strategies to adapt, but adapting isn’t enough. The hundreds of letters I have received in my office have called for stronger government action to address climate change and drastically reduce carbon emissions because it is the root cause of the bushfire crisis. Australians want strong action and I’m standing with them.
The Coalition’s record is appalling. They boast Australia will meet its emissions reductions targets and Paris Agreement commitments.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The Coalition’s carbon emissions reduction target of 26-28% by 2030 is wholly inadequate to meet our Paris commitment to keep warming well under 2 degrees. The United Nations says we need net zero emissions by 2050 and a 45% reduction by 2030. But even to achieve their miserable target the Coalition is relying on carbon credits carried over from Kyoto and not actual emissions reductions.
The New Climate Institute’s 2020 Climate Change Performance Index Results ranked Australia 56 out of 61 countries on climate change action and last on climate policy. If the Coalition needs an ideologically aligned example of how to do better they can look to the UK. The Conservative government is ranked 7th overall – largely because they have actually legislated for zero net carbon emissions by 2050.
The Coalition needs to swallow its pride and urgently increase its emission reduction targets. Morrison should legislate for zero net emissions by 2050. He should rule out new coal fired power stations and move to transition out of thermal coal, while developing a comprehensive jobs and infrastructure package for affected regions. That is what Germany has done in phasing out coal.
The PM should provide policy certainty to the renewables sector – large-scale solar and wind investment has collapsed by 60% in the last year because of the Coalition’s lack of policy. He should invest heavily in green hydrogen and mandate stringent new vehicle emission standards and ambitious electric vehicle targets. The PM should do all this and much more.
Not only are such initiatives good for the environment, they are good for the economy, our health and wellbeing and will drive new technologies and jobs.
What about my own party, the Labor Party? I’m delighted that Anthony Albanese has said Labor will continue to have strong climate change policies, not because of polling but because it is the right and responsible thing to do. We know the problems and we know the solutions. In our process of review I’ll fight to retain and improve Labor’s strong and ambitious commitments from the last election - on carbon emissions targets, renewables targets, green hydrogen and electric vehicles.
However, Labor isn’t in government, the Coalition is.
For the sake of the nation, our environment and jobs, they must confront these issues and make some hard decisions. MPs have to show leadership – regardless of whether, like me, they have a 1% margin or they occupy a safe seat.
Ideally our national response to the bushfires and climate change should be developed in a bipartisan way. Unfortunately, that is unlikely given the tensions within the Coalition on this issue.
That is why I am calling on every Australian voter to make it abundantly clear to Scott Morrison that business as usual is not an option.