Australia’s bushfires bring mounting pressure to reduce greenhouse gases

As nature’s fury wreaked havocacross Australia, reducing to ashes all that came in its way – people,flora, fauna, picturesque historic towns and villages once popular with localand overseas tourists – it was unlike anything the country had witnessed before.The staggering scale and intensity of the devastation could best be summed upas apocalyptic.

Bushfires, not uncommon inAustralia’s vast woodland, scrub or grassland areas, started early in Septemberwith summer still few months away (December – February), igniting a freshdebate on the country’s woeful record on climate change. 2019 was the country’sdriest and hottestyear on record with the temperature reaching 1.52 °C above thelong-term average.

With temperatures soaring close to50 °C, parched land, low humidity, strong winds fuelled the firesthat since September have claimed 24 lives, including three volunteerfirefighters, and razed more than 6.3 million hectares of land. Thousands havebeen rendered homeless and there has been a heavy toll on wildlife.

For Diana Plater, a writer, who grewup witnessing bushfires in the regional towns of New South Wales (NSW), themagnitude and persistence of the fires raging this southern summer wasunimaginable. Two years ago, she trained to be a volunteer firefighter to helpher small community in the scenic valley of Foxground, two-hour drive south ofSydney.

The NSW Rural Fire Service is one ofthe world’s largest volunteer-based emergency services with over 70,000 men andwomen volunteers, who have played a crucial role in helping affectedcommunities. “I believe it is important to be physically and mentally strongand practical and you learn this as a firefighter. It is exhausting but thecamaraderie and humour we share keeps us going,” said Plater.

Scientists and environmentalistshave been warning that global warming will increase the intensity and durationof fires and floods, mounting pressure on Australia to do more towards cuttinggreenhouse gas emissions. In 2019, 61 percent of Australians said “globalwarming is a serious and pressing problem”, about which “we should begin takingsteps now even if this involves significant costs”. This is a 25-point increasesince 2012, according to the 2019 Lowy Institute poll findings on climatechange.

Australia has set a target to cutemissions by 26 percent of 2005 levels by 2030. At the 25th United NationsClimate Change Conference in Madrid in December 2019, one of the major stickingpoints was Australia wanting to use an expired allocation of credits (oftenreferred to as “carryover credits“) – which is an accounting measure where a country countshistorical emissions reduction that exceeded old international goals againstits current target.

According to Climate Council,Australia’s leading climate change communications organisation, “Aftersuccessfully negotiating extraordinary low targets under the Kyoto Protocol(Australia’s 2020 target – 5 percent below 2000 levels), the AustralianGovernment is planning to use these expired allocations from an entirelydifferent agreement to undermine the Paris Agreement as well. The AustralianGovernment’s use of disingenuous and dodgy accounting tricks to meet itswoefully inadequate 2030 climate target is irresponsible because it masksgenuine climate action”.

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