Australia’s Prime Minister on Thursday denied his climate change policies had caused unprecedented bushfires ravaging the country and insisted his government was doing enough to tackle global warming.
As blazes that have left six dead and scorched swathes of countryside sprang up in new locations, and Sydney was again cloaked in hazardous smoke, Scott Morrison defended his conservative government’s climate record, saying Australia was “doing our bit”.
His comments followed weeks spent refusing to speak about the link between climate change and the fires described by emergency services as unprecedented in number and scale for the early bushfire season.
“The suggestion that in any way shape or form that Australia – accounting for 1.3 percent of the world’s emissions – are impacting directly on specific fire events, whether it is here or anywhere else in the world, that doesn’t bear up to credible scientific evidence,” he told ABC radio.
Firefighters have followed the crisis across four states as extreme temperatures and high winds sparked fires in new areas.
On Thursday, it was Victoria’s turn, with dozens of fires burning across the state by early afternoon.
Authorities warned residents in towns about 50 kilometres (31.1 miles) north of Ballarat, the state’s third-largest city, that it was too late for them to evacuate safely. The authorities issued a “Code Red”, the state’s highest fire warning, for the first time in a decade.
“What that means is that if we see fires in those areas they will be fast-moving, they will be unpredictable, they will be uncontrollable,” emergency management commissioner Andrew Crisp said.
A Total Fire Ban (TFB) has been declared for the state of Victoria today with extreme weather conditions forecast throughout the day. Check the TFB status on the @CFA_Updates website for more information https://t.co/2chw3IIMHo. pic.twitter.com/jdwNW8NOpB
— MFB (@MFB_NEWS) November 20, 2019
The fire danger was also elevated to “severe” and a total fire ban declared in the island state of Tasmania off the southeastern coast of mainland Australia.
In Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, the hazardous pollution caused by the smoke, again forced schoolchildren to stay inside, but Morrison dismissed mounting calls for action.
Australia, he said, was “doing our bit as part of the response to climate change” and sought to frame the issue as a global concern.
Scientists, former fire chiefs and residents touched by bushfires have all drawn the link between this season’s more intense fires and climate change.
Drought, unseasonably hot, dry and windy conditions have fuelled the unprecedented blazes. Scientists believe many of those factors are made worse by rising global temperatures.
Morrison is facing calls to cut greenhouse gas emissions and move the country quickly towards renewable energy – a sensitive debate in light of Australia’s lucrative fossil fuels industry.
Australia has committed to globally agreed climate targets to help limit warming, but its emissions continue to rise and targets are only being met with the use of some creative carbon accounting – using credits gained in past decades.
More than 110 fires are still burning in worst-hit New South Wales and neighbouring Queensland, while in South Australia more than 40 fires broke out during catastrophic fire conditions on Wednesday. The state capital, Adelaide, has also been shrouded in choking smoke haze.