SYDNEY (AFP) - Environmental activist Al Gore has likened Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's insistence that wildfires are not linked to climate change to the tobacco industry claiming smoking does not cause lung cancer.
The former US vice-president and Nobel laureate was commenting after Abbott this week dismissed UN climate chief Christiana Figueres' assertion that there was "absolutely" a connection between wildfires and rising temperatures.
Australia has been battling massive bushfires west of Sydney for more than a week in unseasonably hot and dry weather that has inflamed debate about whether there is a link to changing climate conditions.
Abbott argued that fires were simply part of Australian life and accused Figueres of "talking through her hat", but Gore said climate change clearly brought about more extreme weather.
"Bushfires can occur naturally, and do, but the science shows clearly that when the temperature goes up, and when the vegetation and soils dry out, then wildfires become more pervasive and more dangerous," he told ABC television late Wednesday.
"That's not me saying it, that's what the scientific community says." Gore said Abbott's stance that climate change had nothing to do with the fires was similar to politicians in the US who received support from tobacco companies, and then publicly argued the companies' cause.
"It reminds me of politicians here who got a lot of support from the tobacco companies and who argued to the public that there was absolutely no connection between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer," he said from the United States.
"For 40 years the tobacco companies were able to persuade pliant politicians within their grip to tell the public what they wanted them to tell them, and for 40 years the tragedy continued." He urged the Abbott government - which plans to abandon an industrial pollution tax in favour of a "direct action" scheme to plant trees and set up an emissions reduction incentive fund for business - not to bend to the will of "special interest" groups, which dismiss climate science evidence.
"The energy companies, coal companies particularly, have prevented the Congress of the US from doing anything meaningful so far about the climate crisis," he said.
Gore added that the only way to deal with climate change was to put a price on emissions, in stark contrast to Abbott whose new government is moving to repeal the previous administration's carbon pollution tax.
"The meaningful way to solve this crisis is to put a price on carbon, and in Australia's case to keep a price on carbon," he said.