Australian PM Scott Morrison says removing hazards as important as reducing emissions

Australia's PM Scott Morrison (centre) speaking at the Bushfire Relief and Recovery Efforts Peak Body Roundtable, on Jan 17, 2020.
Australia's PM Scott Morrison (centre) speaking at the Bushfire Relief and Recovery Efforts Peak Body Roundtable, on Jan 17, 2020.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Prime Minister Scott Morrison said removing flammable vegetation is as important as reducing emissions if Australia is to prevent future bush fires, comments that are likely to stoke public anger.

Mr Morrison is under intense pressure for his government's handling of a bush fire crisis that has killed 29 people and millions of animals, destroyed more than 2,500 homes and razed 11 million hectares of wilderness - an area one-third the size of Germany.

The scores of fires follow three years of drought that experts have linked to climate change, but Mr Morrison said late on Tuesday (Jan 21) that his critics are too focused on carbon emissions.

"Hazard reduction is as important as emissions reduction and many would argue, I think, even more so because it has even more direct practical impact on the safety of a person going into a bush fire season," Mr Morrison told Sky News Australia.

Australia is one of the largest carbon emitters per capita due to its reliance on coal-fired power plants, and Mr Morrison is a firm supporter of the industry.

Mr Morrison's comments came as Australian authorities braced for a return of soaring temperatures and strong winds - conditions that firefighters fear will fan dozens of blazes still burning.

Temperatures in Victoria state are expected to top more than 32 deg C, leading officials to declare "extreme fire danger" in some areas.

Australia's most populous state, New South Wales has enjoyed several days of cooler weather in recent days, but temperatures on Thursday will hit 40 deg C, the country's weather bureau said.

Sydney and Melbourne have been repeatedly blanketed in thick smoke that has resulted in air quality ratings among the worst in the world.