Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said climate change is “one of many factors” behind the out-of-control bushfires that have ravaged the nation since winter, and it was not credible to draw a direct link between the two.
“I have always acknowledged the connection between these weather events and these broader fire events and the impact globally of climate change,” Morrison told a news conference Sunday, as the blazes continue to claim homes and lives amid a record heatwave. “But I’m sure people equally would acknowledge that the direct connection to any single fire event, it’s not a credible suggestion to make that link.”
Morrison returned to Australia Saturday night after cutting short a family vacation in Hawaii to attend to the fire crisis, which saw Sydney yesterday facing a “catastrophic” level of danger. In New South Wales, the most populous state, eight people have been killed, 800 houses destroyed, and more than 6 million acres (2.4 million hectares) — an area the size of Massachusetts — burnt out since the fire season started unusually early this year. Fires are also raging in Victoria, Queensland and South Australia, where media yesterday reported one person had died.
Morrison said Australia has always had bushfires and while they have been particularly bad this year, there was a multitude of reasons for that.
“There are some fires that have been started by just carelessness, others sadly have been the result of direct arson, many have been created by dry lightning strikes,” he said. “The drought conditions have certainly been a big contributor in terms of the dryness of the fuel load. There are also many other issues.”
Morrison’s center-right government has been criticized for refusing to discuss whether global warming has contributed to a longer dry season that’s fueling the ferocious blazes. In November, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack blasted left-leaning Green politicians who linked the fires to the government’s support of the coal industry, calling those claims “the ravings of some pure, enlightened and woke capital-city greenies.”
The nation derives the bulk of its energy from burning coal, a fuel that last year was its largest export earner.
Morrison, who in 2017 famously wielded a lump of coal in parliament in support of the industry, today defended the government’s credentials on fighting climate change, saying it was “meeting and beating” its targets.
“We must take action on climate change, we are taking action on climate change,” he said. “And we’ll do it without economy wrecking or job destroying. We’ll do it with sensible targets that get the balance right.”
Morrison apologized again for taking leave while the fires continued to burn, saying with the benefit of hindsight he should not have gone, but it was time to move on from the controversy.
“I get it that people would have been upset to know that I was holidaying with my family while their families were under great stress,” he said. “But I think the time for that discussion is over, we need to focus on what’s going on out there today. It’s time to be kind to each other.”