'Doing nothing is not a solution': Matt Kean blames climate crisis for bushfires

NSW environment minister splits with federal Coalition to urge immediate emissions reduction, saying weather conditions are exactly what scientists warned

The New South Wales environment minister Matt Kean has split from his federal Coalition counterparts, arguing climate change is behind the bushfire crisis and calling for greater emissions reduction.

Kean’s intervention piles pressure on Scott Morrison to do more on emissions reduction and disaster management after his predecessor Malcolm Turnbull urged him to step up his government’s response to the “national security issue” and former emergency services chiefs pushed for a national summit.

As Sydney suffered through air quality 11 times worse than hazardous levels on Tuesday, Kean told the Smart Energy Summit that weather conditions were “exactly what the scientists have warned us would happen”.

“Longer drier periods, resulting in more drought and bushfire,” he said. “If this is not a catalyst for change, then I don’t know what is.

“This is not normal and doing nothing is not a solution.

“We need to reduce our carbon emissions immediately, and we need to adapt our practices to deal with this kind of weather becoming the new normal.”

On Wednesday Kean told Radio National he would not “wait till the end of summer to have a meaningful conversation” about how to address the issue of climate change, which he said must be dealt with “as a matter of science … not religion”.

Kean said he would announce a plan to increase the NSW government’s emissions reduction targets, explaining it must “listen to the scientists and the experts, coming up with a plan to make sure that NSW does its bit to reduce the impacts of climate change”.

“We’ve got a problem. [The emergency] is not changing my view – before the bushfires my view was a very strong one and that is that we need to be doing our bit to protect our environment.”

Kean said addressing climate change was also “about growing our economy”, citing the fact Australia’s major export partners are moving to net zero emissions and exports of solar and wind power would “underwrite the prosperity of future generations”.

“It would be negligent to miss the opportunity to address climate change.”

On Tuesday Morrison rejected calls for more help for firefighters, including paying volunteers, telling reporters in Sydney that volunteers “want to be there”.

Morrison has accepted that climate change is making a “contribution … among many other issues” to the severity and frequency of bushfires but played down the link by arguing Australia is powerless to “[impact] directly on specific fire events” because it causes 1.3% of global emissions.

The deputy prime minister, Michael McCormack, has said that only “pure, enlightened and woke capital-city greenies” link climate change with the current fire season.

Firefighting crews conduct a backburn near Braidwood, NSW, on Tuesday.
Firefighting crews conduct a backburn near Braidwood, NSW, on Tuesday. Photograph: Mike Bowers/The Guardian

On Wednesday the communications minister, Paul Fletcher, told ABC News Breakfast that “nobody is disputing the existence of climate change” and the federal government accepted that “temperatures, dryness and all of these are clearly relevant factors” to the bushfires.

He said the federal government was “committed to meeting global emissions reductions targets” and contributed $15m a year to support aerial firefighting.

In Madrid, Taylor has committed to the Paris agreement and flagged that the federal government will ­release a long-term strategy to ­reduce emissions next year, focusing on the deployment of “cost-­effective technologies”.


Paul Karp

The GuardianTramp

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