Australian Politics: after NSW Fire; Australia’s Climate Change Policy Comes under Fire

By @sunnypeter on

As the New South Wales fire rages on, with some relief to firefighting efforts due to the weather conditions, the Australian government's climate change policy seems to have come under intense fire. In an interview with CNN, the United Nations (UN) Climate Chief Christiana Figueres said that NSW bushfires were absolutely linked to climate change. She noted that the Tony Abbott government in Australia will end up paying a heavy political and economic price for walking away from their commitments on climate change. She also termed the Abbott government's Direct Action policy as "dangerous".

"The World Meteorological Organisation has not established the direct link between this wildfire and climate change yet, but what is absolutely clear is that the science is telling us there are increasing heatwaves in Asia, Europe and Australia," she told CNN.

"These [heatwaves] will continue. They will continue in their intensity and in their frequency," she said.

"What we need to do is put a price on carbon," said Ms Figueres who is the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Al Gore, former US vice-president and climate change activist, also remarked on the debate.

Speaking in an interview, Mr Gore stressed that the Abbott government should not bend to the will of ''special interests'' groups, which want the carbon tax of the former Labor government to be abolished.

''It reminds me of politicians here in the United States who got a lot of support from the tobacco companies and who argued to the public that there was absolutely no connection between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer,'' Mr Gore said.

''For 40 years tobacco companies were able to persuade compliant politicians within their grip to tell the public what they wanted them to tell them,'' he said.

Interestingly, the carbon tax was a delicate political issue during the recent Australian elections. Political pundits believe that implementation of the carbon tax was one of the key reasons why the Labor party lost power. Mr Abbott has campaigned all along, saying he would abolish the carbon tax or pricing scheme. Having vowed to scrap the scheme, Mr Abbottt is planing to push forward a Direct Action policy that involves a $3 billion emissions reduction fund.

Criticising the Direct Action policy on climate change, Ms Figueres said it may prove more expensive than the carbon tax.

"What the new Government in Australia has not done is it has not stepped away from its international commitment on climate change, so what they're struggling with now is not what are they going to do but how are they going to get there," she said.  

Prime Minister Abbott, meanwhile, dismissed comments that the bushfires were related to climate change, saying that "fire is a part of the Australian experience."

''Well I think the official in question [Ms Christiana Figueres] is talking through her hat, if I may say so,'' he told Fairfax Radio in an interview.

"Climate change is real as I've often said and we should take strong action against it. But these fires are certainly not a function of climate change, they're a function of life in Australia,'' Mr Abbott said.

Meanwhile, objecting to Mr Abbott comments on the Ms Figueres' observations, Greens leader Christine Milne said the real losers of his "science denialism" would be future generations.

"Tony Abbott is the Prime Minister for science denialism. He thinks his opinion on global warming outranks the evidence of the best scientists in the world. It is arrogance in the extreme," Senator Milne said in a statement.

"The Prime Minister's hubris on global warming will see Australia swelter and burn, and our people suffer," she said.

In related news, Australia's Environment Minister Greg Hunt drew some media flak for his statement during an interview with BBC, wherein he quoted research he did on Wikipedia, to argue that bushfires in Australia were frequent events that had occurred during hotter months since before the European settlement.

"I looked up what Wikipedia said just to see what the rest of the world thought," he told the BBC on Wednesday when asked if he thought there was a link between Australia's latest bushfires and climate change.

"It opened up with the fact that, 'bushfires in Australia are frequently occurring events during the hotter months of the year due to Australia's mostly hot, dry, climate'," he told the interviewer about what he found on Wikipedia.

Responding to Mr Hunt's observations, The Sydney Morning Herald carried an opinion piece titled "Wikipedia's verdict on Greg Hunt: 'terrible at his job'" stating that, "Just about anyone with an opinion, wicked or otherwise, can edit Wikipedia."

 "Research, even on a hackable site such as Wikipedia, can prove a little selective, of course," said the article about Mr Hunts' Wikipedia research, noting that the website had now disabled editing of Hunt's page by unregistered users following "uncomplimentary and occasionally defamatory insertions of material concerning the Minister's alleged life and times."  

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