CANBERRA – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is defending his government’s record on tackling climate change, rejecting claims that it is in any way exacerbating bush fires sweeping the continent.
While he labeled the fires a “national disaster” on Thursday, Morrison told reporters in Melbourne that Australia was “getting results” in its efforts to tackle global warming.
Pressure has been ramping up on Morrison to take more concerted action on the issue after toxic smoke from more than 80 blazes across New South Wales again enveloped Sydney this week, triggering health alerts. The fires have burned 2.7 million hectares of land and destroyed about 700 homes.
A rally in Sydney on Wednesday attracted thousands who protested against the conservative government’s climate-change policies that have included revoking legislation that put a price on carbon emissions. Morrison’s government has focused on reducing energy bills, potentially through subsidizing new coal-fired power plants.
“I know how unusual it is to see that haze across my city,” Morrison said of Sydney. “And I know how distressing that has been, particularly for young people, who wouldn’t have seen that before. And so that is why, I think, it is important to have a sense of calm about these matters.”
Australia’s policies have come under scrutiny on the international stage this week. At the U.N. climate-change talks in Madrid, Australia defended its use of so-called carryover credits to meet its Paris Agreement commitments for 2030, which has been dubbed an “accounting loophole” by opponents.
A member of Morrison’s own Liberal Party broke ranks this week to speak out. Matt Kean, the environment minister in New South Wales state, on Tuesday said the devastating fire conditions showed “doing nothing is not a solution.”
A survey released in September shows that 77 percent of Australians believe climate change is occurring, up from 66 percent when the conservatives came to power in 2013. Even while the nation still generates the bulk of its electricity from coal, only 18 percent of respondents listed the fossil fuel in their top three preferred energy sources, with solar (76 percent) and wind (58 percent) seen as far more desirable.
While calling for calm as the fires continue, Morrison emphasized on Thursday that Australia is responsible for 1.3 percent of global carbon emissions and again rejected any suggestion they could be “directly linked” to the devastating drought that has helped trigger the fires.
“Any suggestion that the actions of any state or any nation with a contribution to global emissions of that order is directly linked to any weather event, whether here in Australia or anywhere else in the world, is just simply not true,” he said.