Hazardous smoke heats up climate politics in Australia

Protesters at a rally in Sydney yesterday, demanding urgent climate action from Australia's government as bush-fire smoke continued to choke the city, causing health problems to spike.
Protesters at a rally in Sydney yesterday, demanding urgent climate action from Australia's government as bush-fire smoke continued to choke the city, causing health problems to spike.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SYDNEY • Devastating bush fires that blanketed Australia's largest city with hazardous smoke this week have heightened public anger and raised political pressure on the government to do more to tackle climate change.

While cooler weather eased fires and haze around Sydney yesterday, the thick smoke that covered the city on Tuesday has triggered protests and prompted one conservative lawmaker to break with his party by directly linking recent weather to carbon emissions.

"We are in the middle of the worst drought in living memory, this is the second hottest year on record," New South Wales Environment Minister Matt Kean, from the centre-right Liberal-National coalition, told ABC Radio. "Yesterday, smoke was causing some of the worst air pollution in Sydney we've ever seen - this is climate change."

Sydney on Tuesday choked in some of the worst pollution it has seen as more than 100 fires raged across the east coast, disrupting public transport services.

Temperatures dropped by more than 10 deg C and winds eased yesterday, improving air quality although it was still at levels considered hazardous.

Amid mounting public anger, Australia's Liberal-National government defended its policies in addressing climate change and downplayed links between climate change and the unprecedented early arrival and severity of the fires.

"Certainly, climate change is a factor - there is no question, but also, it is important to note that most of these fires have been caused by 'Little Lucifers'," Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack told ABC, referring to arsonists.

While Australian police are investigating the triggers of some fires, firefighters and scientists said the bulk of the blazes have been caused by soaring temperatures and three years of drought that has left bushland dry.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2019, with the headline 'Hazardous smoke heats up climate politics in Australia'. Subscribe