Evacuations In Australia In Response To Bushfire Threat Highlights Government Inaction

In the state of Victoria, Australia, residents and holidaymakers alike have this Sunday been told to evacuate in the face of huge bushfires which have devastated the region. The mass evacuation has been prompted by worsening weather conditions in the state with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees Celsius and strong winds set to cause further devastation. Residents and holidaymakers in the region of East Gippsland have been told that they must evacuate by Monday afternoon due to three large bushfires which are forecasted to worsen in the coming days. These bushfires are part of a much larger environmental crisis in Australia with over 100 bushfires raging across the country, the largest of which near Sydney, New South Wales. In the last few weeks the bushfires which surround Sydney have led to the city being blanketed in smoke. This has reduced the air quality to the extent that residents have to wear masks and has also led to local authorities advising that people stay indoors, as well as throwing the New Year’s firework display into doubt.

The devastating environmental crisis has once again brought the issue of climate change to the forefront of national as well as international discourse. In fact, the Australian government came in for fierce criticism from international politicians, environmentalists and members of the opposition earlier this month as it was recently revealed that the 2020 Climate Change Performance Index report found that out of 57 countries, Australia’s national and international climate policy was the “worst-performing.” The report went on to heavily criticise the incumbent government stating that they were “an increasingly regressive force” internationally. The report also went on to highlight that many of Australia’s South Pacific neighbours have also criticised their inaction during the Pacific Island Forum earlier this year. The report also criticised Australia’s lack of clarity on how they will meet emission targets, their lack of targets for renewable energy past 2020 and their continued funding and promotion of fossil fuels.

Although bushfires aren’t uncommon in Australia around this time of year, the size and persistence of the fires this year are both shocking and unprecedented. With fires destroying almost four million hectares of land and many fires still raging, the government’s inaction on the environment is now garnering widespread criticism. Per capita, Australia’s emissions are amongst the world’s highest. Global warming is, of course, a global issue that requires a global response however, Australia must now form part of that response. Too often has the incumbent government shirked its responsibility to the environment with Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, often keen to point out that Australia accounts for just 1.3% of global carbon emissions. Mr. Morrison, himself a climate change sceptic, has not only made no efforts to reduce emissions, he has also continued to promote fossil fuel mining as well as weakening rules for the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Pressure must now be exerted on the government in order to force change in Australia. The environmental catastrophe currently taking place in Australia has placed environmental issues at the forefront of the national agenda as well as garnering international attention. Hopefully, this will be enough to change the national debate on the environment and lead to the introduction of emissions targets as well as environmental policies that work towards these targets. The ferocious bushfires have caused widespread damage and attracted worldwide attention. Australia must learn lessons from this environmental crisis and begin to contribute to creating solutions that will prevent further environmental degradation.

Luke Entwistle