Evidence to the committee on emissions and bushfires
As outlined in the main report, the committee has received very clear evidence from a range of witnesses, on the impact of the climate emergency on bushfire risk. As the Climate Council of Australia wrote:
Climate change was the driver of the record-breaking extreme weather conditions that led to the catastrophic bushfires. Any remaining doubt on the clear causal linkages between climate change and worsening bushfire seasons driven by extreme weather needs to be comprehensively refuted in the Inquiry Report.
Climate change is driving worsening bushfires in Australia. Bushfire conditions are now more dangerous than in the past, and the risk to life, property and the environment has increased… Longer fire seasons now overlap with those in the Northern Hemisphere, reducing the ability of fire and emergency services to share resources nationally and internationally during major emergencies.
Extremely hot, dry conditions, underpinned by years of reduced rainfall and a severe drought, set the scene for the unprecedented fires and losses during the 2019-20 summer.
Similarly, Emergency Leaders for Climate Action noted that:
… a warming climate, proven to be caused by the burning of coal, oil and gas, is resulting in worsening and more frequent extreme weather events such as those that spawned the 2019-20 bushfires in NSW, Qld, SA, Victoria, WA and Tasmania.
Global warming has also made it harder to undertake hazard reduction burning, as the Climate Council noted:
Fire seasons have lengthened across Australia, and the number of days of Very High Fire Danger and above have increased, reducing windows of opportunity for land managers and fire services to conduct hazard reduction burns.
As the Bushfire and Natural Hazards Cooperative Research Centre noted:
Arbitrary area-based targets can drive unintended behaviours in order to meet them. Therefore, it is important that whatever targets are put in place that these are based on the best available evidence and scientific research. They should be measurable, achievable and articulated in such a way that the community understand their residual risk.
The committee also received clear evidence that emissions from burning fossil fuels contribute to the climate emergency. From the Climate Council of Australia:
Greenhouse gas emissions from within Australia and emissions arising from the burning of coal, oil and gas exported from Australia but burnt elsewhere both contributed to the climatic changes that drove the bushfire crisis…
Similarly, ELCA note that a warming climate is 'proven to be caused by the burning of coal, oil and gas', and there is 'unequivocal scientific evidence that climate change, driven mainly by the burning of coal, oil and gas, is worsening these extreme weather events'.
The Australia Institute estimates that Australia is the 'fifth biggest miner of fossil fuel carbon, behind China, the USA, Russia and Saudi Arabia'. In addition:
Australia mines more fossil fuel carbon than Indonesia, India, Canada, Iran and Iraq. Australia makes up 4% of global fossil fuel mining by CO2 potential. For every Australian, the country mines 57 tonnes of fossil fuel CO2 per year. That is ten times greater than the world average.
The Parliament should declare a climate emergency
The science is clear: the mining and burning of coal, oil and gas increase the climate crisis and are making bushfires worse. The climate crisis is making our bushfire season longer and more extreme. Climate induced droughts and heatwaves increase the likelihood and severity of fires.
The 2019–20 bushfires may have ended, but as Australia approaches another summer impacted by the climate crisis, the urgency of the issue has only increased. The only reasonable response for the Parliament to the inaction of the Liberal Party is to commit to meaningful, immediate action on emissions reductions, and declare a climate emergency.
To meet its contributions to the Paris Agreement goal of keeping global warming as close to 1.5 degrees as possible, Australia must reduce emissions by 75 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030, and to net zero by 2035.
That the Australian Government fulfils its commitment under the Paris Agreement, and achieve net zero emissions by 2035.
Acting to address the climate emergency will require large-scale government investment and action. The Australian Greens have introduced the Climate Emergency Declaration Bill 2020, which would:
declare a climate emergency;
establish a climate emergency war cabinet to guide the country through the rapid society-wide and economy-wide response to the climate crisis; and
require all public service agencies to act in accordance with the declaration when developing, implementing, providing and evaluating policies, and report on compliance to the Parliament.
Passing this legislation could commit Australia to meaningful action to address the climate emergency, and to secure a prosperous, jobs-rich future for subsequent generations.
That the Parliament pass the Climate Emergency Declaration Bill 2020.
Senator Janet Rice
Greens Senator for Victoria