Australia's ravaging wildfires, which reached their peak by the end of last year and still continue throughout the country, are undeniably a result of global warming as well as of the Australian government's consistently negligent policy on climate change, experts told Sputnik
MOSCOW (Pakistan Point News / Sputnik - 23rd January, 2020) Australia's ravaging wildfires, which reached their peak by the end of last year and still continue throughout the country, are undeniably a result of global warming as well as of the Australian government's consistently negligent policy on climate change, experts told Sputnik.
Bushfires, unprecedented in their scale and intensity, have been burning across Australia since September. They have killed almost 30 people as well as an estimated 1 billion animals, many of which are unique to Australia. Conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison is, meanwhile, known for his skepticism about climate change. Under him, the country has stopped payments to the United Nations' global climate fund and skipped major climate conferences, expressing reluctance to spend money on this "nonsense."
Morrison came under fire for reluctance to admit that the natural disaster was sparked by climate change as he attributed it mainly to a long season of droughts in the country. Michael McCormack, the deputy prime minister, has also denied that climate change was the only reason behind the bushfires and said there was "a lot of hysteria about climate change." According to him, the massive wildfires have also been sparked by arsonists as dozens of Australians were arrested for deliberately igniting fires or failing to obey the fire bans. Many environmentalists however have said that arson as a cause of bushfires was blown out of proportion and used by Canberra as an excuse, alleging that some people have been erroneously arrested.
The denial rhetoric has also been fueled by the coverage of the Australian media outlets owned by mogul Rupert Murdoch. Many observers have accused Murdoch's News Corporation of denying climate change link to the bushfires. It has even reportedly caused a rift among the Murdoch family as James, Rupert's youngest son, is disappointed by the way the News Corporation has been covering the disaster.
One of the News Corporation's employees, Emily Townsend, has slammed its coverage in a leaked corporate email. In a letter, she wrote that the company was responsible for "a misinformation campaign." Michael Miller, the executive chairman of News Corp. Australia has responded by saying that the company stands by its coverage of the bushfires and "does not deny climate change or the gravity of its threat." He noted that the News Corp. tries to report a variety of views on the climate change. Townsend "resigned in December and was due to leave News Corp shortly," according to the executive.
WILDFIRES 'A SIGN OF WORST TO COME'
The bushfires in Australia is yet another indication for the global community that it urgently needs to tackle climate change more seriously than it has done in the past, according to David Sandalow, the Inaugural Fellow with the Center on Global Energy Policy of Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs.
"The terrible tragedy is an indication of climate change which has already occurred and a sign of worse to come. A vivid example of the type of cause that we are going to suffer unless we address the climate change," Sandalow, a former White House and State Department official, told Sputnik.
Daniel M. Kammen, the professor of energy at the University of California, Berkeley, in a comment to Sputnik dismissed the claims that arsonists and the dry season are solely responsible for the bushfires rather than global warming.
"It is actually quite clear at this point. There has been a little bit of chatter in the press by some very conservative groups in Australia trying to link to arsonists setting fires ... But this is a set of fires that is definitely due to global warming, it is not due natural fluctuations, it is not due to active few arsonists. We are seeing on a continent scale the impacts of global warming to the extent that we had Australian refugees on the beach, half a billion animals dead. This is really not the new normal, this is the new extreme we are moving into," Kammen, who served as World Bank Group's chief technical specialist for renewable energy, said.
FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH PARIS CLIMATE DEAL TARGETS
The massive fires follow Australia's unimpressive track record on the carbon emissions reduction. In 2019, the Australian Environment and Energy Department projected that the country would miss the greenhouse gas emission targets set out by the Paris Agreement by at least 19 percent, with the country's emission levels projected to go up 4 percent between 2020 and 2030 instead of dropping.
The data corroborates the UN report from the same year, which revealed that Australia had failed to make any improvements to the country's climate policy since 2017 and was expected to see its emission levels in 2030 significantly exceed the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) envisaged by the Paris Agreement.
According to the G20 Brown to Green Report by the Climate Transparency Organization, Australia fares among the worst in the world's 20 leading economies in passing emission regulations and facilitating a shift towards greener energy and transport.
"All major emitters have a responsibility to take extremely seriously and work ambitiously to get to net zero emissions by mid-century. The type of mechanisms contained in the Paris Climate Agreement for are very important for addressing this problem. Climate change is causing terrible problems among people who have no historic responsibility for the problem and that's a fact. As a global community, we need to work together to reduce emissions and to take care of the people in every country who are hurt by it," Sandalow said.
Even though Australia's part in global carbon emissions from its use of fossil fuels equaled about 1.4 percent, its carbon footprint could amount to over 5 percent if the coal exports are taken into account. That puts Australia on the same level with the world's biggest fossil fuel producers, according to Berlin-based science and policy institute Climate Analytics. Australia is one of the biggest coal exporters in the world and its exports are set to rise in the future, according to the International Energy Agency forecasts.
"Certainly the irony that Australia is the largest coal exporter and doing so, knowing that is not just a distant threat. What Australia is seeing now is due to their actions and the actions of other investors and countries, such as the Adani mine funded by India. What you are seeing is a very clear feedback and it's not a generation away. The damage that is going on Australia is due to the unwillingness and their prime minister 's unwillingness to move to the new energy economy even though at the household level Australia is one of the world's leaders. Australia has more solar installed on rooftop system than anywhere else," Kammen said.
Australia needs to look into developing other exports such as clean energy and lithium for batteries, according to the professor.
"Yet a few billionaire industrialists are really keeping that foot on the fossil fuels and that's why it is such a tragedy," Kammen underlined.
SPILLOVER IMPACT OF BUSHFIRES ON OTHER COUNTRIES
The natural disaster in Australia has a trans-boundary effect on the environment of neighboring countries, particularly New Zealand, where the air quality has dropped in the light of smoke haze coming from the neighbor. Media also reports that the sky has turned orange on certain days, while New Zealand's glaciers acquired pink or brown color once the dust settled.
"New Zealand is already reporting that the dust has coated the glaciers in the South Island. They are no longer white, they are of a sandy brown color. And the more you make glaciers dark, the more they absorb sunlight and the more they melt. We are seeing feedback effects in other countries due to the damage in Australia. To me, that not only speaks to how much this is an emergency, but also the degree to which no one is immune in the end from our fossil-fuel lifestyle. We will find out, perhaps the prime minister of Australia decides this is an emergency as people think it is," Kammen said.
The spillover effect raises discussions on whether Australia should bear responsibility for the damage inflicted on the environment of other countries. Australia itself is expected to suffer losses of over $4 billion, according to Moody's Analytics. AccuWeather forecaster projects that the damages will exceed $100 billion if direct and indirect effects are accounted.