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Prime Minister Scott Morrison joins climate of action over bushfire devastation

Survivors: These sheep survived when a bushfire burnt through this property in Sarsfield, Victoria, on December 31. Photo: CNS photo/James Ross, AAP via Reuters

AUSTRALIA’S Prime Minister has signalled a government shift to take stronger action on climate change, amidst a Church leader’s call for an “ecological conversion”, and the country’s scientific and business communities demanding a solid response to the bushfire crisis.

The chairman of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Social Justice Bishop Vincent Long said the bushfire crisis wais “a wake-up call to Australia and all Australians”.

“Lament, repentance, the effort to repair damage done and the transformation of behaviour – these are elements of a process of conversion,” Bishop Long, of Parramatta diocese, said. 

“Pope Francis sees this moment in human history as calling for an ecological conversion … Now is exactly the time for this conversion.”

After months of destructive blazes, and lives and livelihoods lost, Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week acknowledged Australia’s “new normal” was a changing climate and he would seek to “evolve” climate change policy – including better policies for disaster management and relief.

“These are the areas of climate change action that I think need greater attention, because they’re the things that are practically affecting people’s daily lives here in Australia, where we can do practical things that will make us more resilient and ensure that we’re safer,” Mr Morrison said during a sobering ABC TV interview on January 12.

“It isn’t just restricted to bushfires,” he said.

“It deals with floods. It deals with cyclones. It deals with the drought, which is affected by these broader issues.

“Adaptation and resilience is key to that. Building dams is key to that.

“Native vegetation management is key to that. Land-clearing is key to that.

“Where you can build homes is key to that.”

The prime ministerial commitment followed a direct demand for stronger climate change action from Australia’s pre-eminent scientists.

The Australian Academy of Science released a statement on January 10 declaring the link between human-induced climate change and extreme weather to be clear, and said Australia needed to put in place long-term plans for a more dangerous future.

“As a nation, we must deal with extreme weather events more effectively than we currently do,” the academy’s president John Shine said in a statement. 

“As such events become more frequent and severe, we must adapt Australia and Australians accordingly, as well as strengthen mitigation efforts.

“Bushfires, along with other weather and climate challenges, pose complex and wide-ranging problems.

“Population growth, climate change, temperature extremes, droughts, storms, wind and floods are intersecting in ways that are difficult to untangle and address.”

Prof Shine said there was “abundant evidence available” to understand what was happening with the environment, and Australia needed to look to that science for disaster responses and future policies.

“The academy is resolute that the response to the bushfires must extend beyond the immediate and essential need to rebuild and recover,” he said.

The statement called for wide-ranging efforts to protect built and natural environments.

“All the while, Australia must take stronger action as its part of the worldwide commitment to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees above the long-term average to reduce the worst impacts of climate change,” Prof Shine said.

“The academy is aware that Australians are looking for trustworthy information and answers about the links between climate change and the bushfires. 

“With much misinformation in the public domain about the cause and impacts of the bushfires, we urge Australians to continue to consult reputable sources of evidence-based information such as the Australian Academy of Science, CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology.”

In a statement, the Business Council of Australia also demanded “credible” government climate action.

“Climate science tells us that extreme weather events and natural disasters will become more frequent and intense so we need a credible climate change and energy policy that puts us on a transition path to net-zero emissions by 2050,” the influential industry body said in a statement.

Mr Morrison announced a royal commission to examine the crisis response including the deployment of emergency services to deal with fires and evacuations.

However he did not unveil any significant shift in government policies to curb emissions.

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