Great Britain

Why Australia’s government is unmoved on climate change

The government of New South Wales (NSW) has declared a state of emergency in the southeastern Australian state after the country endured its hottest day on record - just 24 hours after the previous record was smashed.

On Tuesday, the mercury soared to a national average of 40.9°C, beating the previous record of 40.3C set in 2013. And temperatures continued to climb on Wednesday, hitting an average maximum of 41.9°C.

The extreme heatwave comes as firefighters in drought-stricken NSW battle to contain around 100 wildfires that have been burning for weeks across the region, blanketing Sydney in a toxic layer of smoke.

As the crisis grows, Australia is facing criticism “for what have been described as inadequate climate policies, including the role of federal officials in thwarting negotiations at a recent UN summit on climate change”, says NBC News.

What is the current situation?

Temperatures are expected to continue rising to near 50°C in parts of South Australia and to peak at 45°C in the western suburbs of Sydney, “while turbulent winds of up to 60mph are expected to fan bushfires burning ever closer to the city”, says The Telegraph.

The blast of extreme heat follows weeks of above-average temperatures that have left NSW authorities struggling to tackle an unprecedented number of blazes since this year’s bushfire season began early in September. 

Announcing a seven-day state of emergency on Thursday, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said: “The biggest concern over the next few days is the unpredictability, with extreme wind conditions [and] extremely hot temperatures.”

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Why is the government facing criticism?

The Australian government has long been lambasted for its perceived inaction over climate change. Australia scored zero out of 100 on policy in the latest international 2020 Climate Change Performance Index, and came 56th out of 61 countries overall.

“Experts note that the new government is an increasingly regressive force in negotiations and has been criticised for its lack of ambition,” according to a report from the environmental think-tanks behind the index.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also been criticised personally for refusing requests to meet with former fire chiefs to discuss the bushfires and rejecting calls to professionalise the largely volunteer bush fire services.

Australia has also been blamed for resisting pressure to ramp up efforts legislation on climate change at a “disappointing” UN summit in Madrid this week, reports Sydney-based site News.com.au. The UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP25saw Australia, Brazil and the US blocking progress on Article Six of the Paris Climate Accord, which would have allowed countries to pay each other for projects that reduce emissions.

Climate activists are hitting the streets of Sydney and other Australian cities to protest against Morrison’s focus on protecting the country’s lucrative coal export industry rather than tackling climate change.