SYDNEY (REUTERS) - Thousands of Australians took to the streets on Friday (Jan 10) to protest against government inaction on climate change, as bush fires ravage large swathes of the country, incinerating wildlife and polluting the air.
Anger spread to Britain, where scores of people gathered in the Strand in central London to denounce Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, branded by one placard as a "fossil fool".
The bush fire crisis has added pressure on Mr Morrison's conservative government to do more to combat climate change after Australia weakened its commitment to the UN Paris climate accord last year.
Friday's demonstrations came as authorities urged nearly a quarter of a million people to flee their homes and prepared military backup as soaring temperatures and erratic winds fanned bush fires across the east coast.
Major roads in Sydney were blocked as protesters chanted "ScoMo has got to go", referring to Mr Morrison, while others held posters that read "There is no climate B" and "Save us from hell".
There were similar protests in capital Canberra and Melbourne where air quality turned so noxious this month that the two cities featured among places with the most polluted air on earth.
In Melbourne, huge crowds braved heavy rain and a sharp drop in temperature to come out with placards, shouting "Phase Out Fossil Fools", "Fire ScoMo" and "Make Fossil Fuels History".
More than 100 people chanted slogans outside the Australian High Commission in London. Banners said "Stop Killing our Planet (PLEASE)" and "Inaction against climate change, that’s just not cricket".
Extinction Rebellion protesters joined the demonstration, blocking the road, banging drums and holding up traffic. A food trailer attached to a bike handed out free hot vegan food.
Londoner Peter Cole, 76, held up a sign saying "Climate Change Denier Scott Morrison Fiddles while Australia Burns".
"I’m here because the Australian government is doing absolutely nothing to combat climate change. In fact they’re largely denying it and they need to be put under a lot of pressure..."
But Mr Morrison has repeatedly rejected any criticism that his government is not doing enough. On Friday, he told Sydney radio 2GB that it was disappointing that people were conflating the bush fire crisis with Australia's emission reduction targets.
"We don't want job-destroying, economy-destroying, economy-wrecking targets and goals, which won't change the fact that there have been bush fires or anything like that in Australia," he said.
The CEO of German engineering giant Siemens said it will decide by Monday on its involvement in the development of a controversial Australian coal mine. Mr Joe Kaeser was speaking after meeting climate activist Luisa Neubauer.
Friday's protests stirred controversy, with Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews saying they were wrongly timed and would divert police resources.
"Common sense tells you that there are other times to make your point," he told a televised briefing.
"I respect people's right to have a view, I tend to agree with a lot of the points that are being made - climate change is real - but there is a time and a place for everything and I just don't think a protest tonight was the appropriate thing."
Teacher Denise Lavell said she attended the protests in Sydney because she believed the pleas were only a tactic to keep people from protesting.
"Our country is burning, our planet is dying and we need to show up," she told Reuters.
Climate scientists have warned the frequency and intensity of the fires will surge as Australia becomes hotter and drier.
Australia has warmed by about 1 degree Celsius since records began in 1910, Nasa climate scientist Kate Marvel said this week.
"This makes heat waves and fires more likely," she said on Twitter. "There is no explanation for this - none - that makes sense, besides emissions of heat-trapping gases."