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A week is a long time in Australian climate change politics

Greg Hunt and Tony Abbott

Greg Hunt and Tony Abbott both made strenuous efforts to downplay the connection between climate change and bushfires. Photograph: Alan Porritt/AAPImage


Powered by article titled “A week is a long time in Australian climate change politics” was written by Oliver Milman, for on Friday 25th October 2013 06.30 UTC

It was the week where climate change roared back to the top of the national agenda, but not quite in the manner that advocates for rapid action to reduce emissions would have preferred.

Tony Abbott and his environment minister, Greg Hunt, made strenuous efforts to downplay any connection between climate change and the New South Wales bushfires, only for the UN climate change chief, a former US vice-president, and even the government’s own scientists to express their dissent.

Here’s a look back at some of the key moments from a week where science, climate politics and Wikipedia were pushed into the spotlight.

Christiana Figueres on CNN

The week kicked off with a CNN interview with Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate change official. Figueres told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that Abbott would pay a “high political price” for his Direct Action climate plan, before highlighting the link between rising temperatures and bushfire risks.

“The World Meteorological Organization has not established a direct link between this wildfire and climate change – yet,” Figueres said. “But what is absolutely clear is the science is telling us that there are increasing heatwaves in Asia, Europe, and Australia; that these will continue; that they will continue in their intensity and in their frequency.”

According to Amanpour’s blog: “Australia’s new prime minister, Tony Abbott, has expressed deep scepticism about climate change, once even calling it ‘absolute c**p’ (he has since walked those remarks back).

“Abbott is trying to get rid of Australia’s carbon tax and has dissolved its climate change commission.”

‘Talking through her hat’

Abbott’s response to Figueres was swift and unambiguous. “The official in question is talking through her hat,” he told 3AW.

“Climate change is real, as I’ve often said, and we should take strong action against it.

“But these fires are certainly not a function of climate change – they’re just a function of life in Australia.”

Christine Milne, leader of the Greens, said Abbott’s comments were “symptomatic of his climate denial, and real losers are those who will suffer from extreme fires (and) floods.”

A long, hot summer

The bushfires, and Abbott’s response to them, has drawn international attention. According to the US’s Huffington Post:

“A long, hot summer looms for Australian prime minister Tony Abbott as devastating wildfires near Sydney fuel opposition to his plans to repeal a carbon emissions tax, one of his basic campaign pledges in the election he won a month ago.

“The links between the blazes and climate change caused by carbon emissions are complex and as the driest inhabited land mass on earth, deadly wildfires have been a perennial problem for Australia.

“But a series of record-busting hot, dry conditions across the continent and an early start to the southern hemisphere summer has rekindled arguments on mankind’s impact on climate and what can be done to mitigate it.

“Abbott was elected in September on the back of plans to repeal Australia’s scheme to price the carbon emissions responsible for global warming. He has promised to dissolve both the lower house and the Senate if his plan to scrap the scheme is blocked.

“But as the fires spread, the pressure is mounting on Abbott, who once described the science around climate change as ‘absolute crap’.”


Greg Hunt sought to hose down Figueres’s comments in an occasionally abrasive interview with the BBC’s Newshour.

When asked by presenter Razia Iqbal if he agreed with Abbott’s comments about Figueres, Hunt replied that he had spoken to Figueres and that she indicated she had been misrepresented.

“Australia has, since European settlement and obviously well before that, had a history of recurrent bushfire,” said Hunt.

“I looked up what Wikipedia says, for example, just to see what the rest of the world thought, and it opens up with the fact that bushfires in Australia are frequently occurring events during the hotter months of the year. Large areas of land are ravaged every year by bushfires. That’s the Australian experience.”


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