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Demands for Bold Climate Action Mount as 'All But Rainless' Australia Faces 'Catastrophic' Fire Danger

The extreme weather comes as a new report on G20 nations reveals that "Australia is behind [on] climate action in nearly every dimension."

A fire rages in Bobin, Australia

A fire rages in Bobin, Australia on Nov. 9, 2019, as firefighters try to contain dozens of out-of-control blazes across the state of New South Wales. (Photo: Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images)

Demands for bold government action to combat the climate emergency continued to mount in Australia Monday as the continent had hardly any rain for the first time on record while more than 100 fires burned across two eastern states.

The government's Bureau of Meteorology on Monday "forecast Australia to be all but rainless for the day—aside from a tiny splotch off the Kimberley and western Tasmania," according to The Sydney Morning Herald. A bureau spokesperson said that "the team can't comprehensively identify a day in our records where there hasn't been rain somewhere on continental Australia."

The Herald's report was shared on Twitter by well-known advocates of climate action, including 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben as well as writer and meteorologist Eric Holthaus, who declared that "we are in a climate emergency."

Meanwhile, firefighters battled over 45 bushfires in Queensland and over 60 blazes in New South Wales, the country's most populous state. After three people were killed over the weekend, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian declared a weeklong state of emergency.

Authorities warn Australia is facing "the most dangerous bushfire week this nation has ever seen." Hundreds of schools will be closed Tuesday, for which the Bureau of Meteorology has forecast a "catastrophic" fire danger—the highest of six levels—covering the Greater Sydney, Greater Hunter, and Illawarra Shoalhaven areas.

Carol Sparks, a mayor who lost her home in a fire near the New South Wales town of Glen Innes, told The Associated Press that "it's climate change, there's no doubt about it. The whole of the country is going to be affected. We need to take a serious look at our future."

Newcastle City Councillor and former ABC journalist Carol Duncan told The New Daily, "I'm disturbed that our government has ignored—and continues to ignore—the repeated calls for genuine climate action from our community, and from the scientists who have warned us that climate change will make bushfires and other natural disasters happen more frequently and become more intense."

"We can't continue to pretend it's unrelated," added Duncan, whose father's home was destroyed by a fire a few weeks ago.

The southeastern Australian state of Victoria, which has sent hundreds of firefighters north to help with the ongoing blazes, hasn't yet endured deadly fires this year. However, it is currently bracing for a "very extreme" heatwave that has "the potential to kill hundreds of people, cripple public transport and the electricity supply, and strip $1 billion from the state's economy," The Sydney Morning Herald reported Monday.

Recalling the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires that killed 173 people and led to 374 additional heat-related deaths, the Herald noted that "the Department of Environment, Land, Water, and Planning's grim assessment is that a 'one-in-110 years' heatwave, more destructive than the 'one-in-25 years' scorchers in 2009 and 2014, is a real possibility, with the likelihood set to double in the next 11 years."

In terms of efforts to curb planet-warming emissions and avert global climate catastrophe, Australia ranks as one of the worst among the world's 19 largest economies and the European Union, according to Climate Transparency's G20 Brown to Green Report 2019, which was released Monday.

The global partnership's annual report evaluates where each G20 country is regarding the 2015 Paris climate agreement's primary goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C based on 80 indicators for climate mitigation, adaptation, and finance.

None of the analyzed nations are on track to meet the 1.5°C target—underscoring the need for urgent action on a global scale over the next decade—but the findings (pdf) for Australia sparked particular concern, especially given current conditions on the continent.

"Australia is behind [on] climate action in nearly every dimension. Australia's emissions are increasing and there's virtually no policy in place to reduce them," Bill Hare, the chief executive of Climate Analytics and an Australian co-author of the report, told The Guardian.

Although Australia has "one of the best solar energy potential and wind potential in general of any of the G20 countries," Hare said the country "is not transforming its energy system and is focused on building coal and gas, and has not paid any attention to the need to transition to a zero-carbon economy."

Hare specifically called out Australia's Liberal-National Coalition government, charging that "the country is led by politicians who in one way or another deny either the science or are de facto denying it, and actively and willfully opposing or obstructing climate policies."

The Australian government's lack of leadership on the climate emergency, he added, leaves Australia and its people exposed "economically, politically, and environmentally."

Liberal Party Leader and Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters Saturday that he hadn't considered if the fires were tied to the climate crisis, saying that "my only thoughts today are with those who have lost their lives and their families, the firefighters who are fighting the fires, the response effort that has to be delivered, and how the Commonwealth has to respond in supporting those efforts."

Adam Bandt, a spokesperson for Australia's Greens Party, said Saturday that "Scott Morrison has not got the climate crisis under control." He added: "Let me be clear. I'm not saying the prime minister is directly responsible for the fires and the loss of life, but he has contributed to making it more likely that these kinds of tragedies will occur."

However, Coalition leaders continued to dismiss the climate connection to the bushfires Monday. National Party Leader and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack told ABC Radio National that "we've had fires in Australia since time began, and what people need now is a little bit of sympathy, understanding, and real assistance—they need help, they need shelter."

"They don't need the ravings of some pure, enlightened, and woke capital city greenies at this time, when they're trying to save their homes, when in fact they're going out in many cases saving other people's homes and leaving their own homes at risk," added McCormack, who took aim at Bandt and Greens Leader Richard Di Natale.

Bandt, a Greens MP, responded by doubling down on his previous comments, declaring that "this government has had every opportunity to minimize the risk of these catastrophic fires and instead it has chosen to pour fuel on the fire."

"Michael McCormack and Scott Morrison bear some responsibility for what is happening at the moment," Bandt said, "because they have done everything in their power to make these kind of catastrophic bushfires more likely."

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