Wednesday, 26 February, 2020

Lessons From Australian Bushfires

Kushal Pokharel


Australia has been in the news for unfortunate reasons for the last few weeks. While the current bushfires have been regarded as an unprecedented phenomena in the history of the nation, no definite reasons have been figured out for the same. Having said that, bushfires are common in Australia during November-December but the manner in which it emerged this time has created shockwaves. Fuelled by record temperature and widespread drought, the smoke has adversely affected cities of Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. The bushfires have burnt thousands of buildings and caused human casualities. A latest report states that more than 5 million hectares have been destroyed by the fires including areas that produce food.
At this juncture, it is imperative to understand if a natural disaster of such a proportion had been predicted in the past by research scientists. What is worth noting is that various studies had warned of this scenario earlier in a bid to draw the attention of the policymakers. The 2018 report of the Bureau of Meteorology’s State of the Climate indicated an increase in extreme heat events and intensity of other disasters like drought owing to climate change. Hence, a debate has ensued whether or not the present disaster is an impact of climate change. Although it is difficult to attribute climate change impacts to a particular event, emerging trend demonstrates a strong relationship of the bushfire to collective shift in the global climate change in the timing and intensity of weather events.
Moreover, the Garnaut Climate Change Review final report 2008 had clearly predicted of the fire seasons starting earlier and becoming more intense stating that the effect could be visible by 2020. Calling for the implementation of an emission trading scheme, the report mentioned that there might be 300 per cent increase in the number of days with extreme fire weather by 2067. In a country with the highest per capita Green House Gas emission, the undesirable event of this sort has invited serious tragedy in the nation.
Even the Australian politics have been dragged into controversy with the latest incident of bushfires. Amid ideological battle between the left and the right wing of Australian politics, the agenda of climate policy has become overshadowed. Furthermore, inadequate commitment under the Paris accord to reduce the GHG emission has been heavily criticized within the Australian society. In the absence of the willingness to climate action, such problems are likely to increase as per the latest study report on the aftermath of the Australian national crisis. In this regard, the present Australian government has received severe criticism for its reluctance to abide by climate commitments. The largely apathy of the government has also manifested in statement of the Australian PM who has denied of any relationship between climate change and the current bushfire events.
Nevertheless, the recent natural disaster in Australia has appeared as an eye opener for the entire world to become responsible towards cultivating an environment friendly behaviour that inflicts less damage to the planet. Signaling that coming days are going to be more severe than this in terms of the intensity of the extreme weather events, the need of addressing the climate issue with proper policy intervention has once again come to the fore. While the global community still remains divided over effectively implementing the Paris agreement, various climate change induced disasters are on the rise. Not only Australia, other region of Asia Pacific have also been warned of the disaster outburst any time.
In the absence of a collective effort towards combating the pressing environmental challenges, various countries in other areas of the planet might witness such unprecedented events often. As various researches have indicated that the average temperature of the world is rapidly rising, urgent actions to keep the average temperature under less than 2 degree Celsius have remained a long overdue. Similarly, switching to affordable clean energy could be instrumental in limiting the frequency of such extreme events. It is really worrisome to note that even today the gravity of the problem triggered by climate change hasn’t been duly acknowledged by the government across the globe.
While the developed countries like the US have blatantly denied abiding by the climate obligations, the developing nations such as China and India are on rise owing to the expansion of various industrial activities which ultimately produce green house gases. Investing on scientific research and publication to find out the crux of the matter could be instrumental in dealing with the tragedy of this sort. A well prepared infrastructure and human resource to combat the same situation would be desirable.

(Mr. Pokharel is a member of the Social Science and Research Faculty at NIMS College.) 

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