Australian Firefighters Urge Passage of Climate Bill

Australian Firefighters Urge Passage of Climate Bill

19 November 2009

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Australia– Australian firefighters, spurred on by what they say are record temperatures contributing to “catastrophic code red” fire-danger warning, urged lawmakers to pass climate change legislation under debate by Senators.

Politicians threatening to block or weaken the proposed carbon reduction scheme are putting lives and properties at risk, Peter Marshall, national secretary of theUnited Firefighters Union, said in a statement today. The body represents 13,500 professional firefighters.

Prime MinisterKevin Rudd wants a vote on the legislation by the end of next week, when parliament’s final sitting for the year concludes. Australia’s upper house of parliament is debating the draft carbon-reduction laws for a second time after the bill was approved this week by the House of Representatives, where the ruling Labor Party holds a majority.

“The science has become increasingly clear that we face an exponential increase in bushfire risks with growing temperatures,”John Connor, chief executive of the Climate Institute, an independent research organization, said by phone from Sydney today.

A warning of potentially catastrophic bushfires, the highest fire danger alert, has been issued for the third day in parts of South Australia, Bob Schahinger, climate services technical officer for theBureau of Meteorology, said by phone.

Records Broken

“There have been a lot of temperature records broken this month,” Schahinger said today. “It’s abnormal for November, but not particularly abnormal for South Australia during summer.” Australia’s summer officially starts Dec. 1.

Adelaide, the state capital, experienced its first spring heat wave after recording 8 consecutive days in excess of 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit), the bureau saidthis week. Temperatures in the city exceeded 42 degrees today and similar levels were forecast for parts of Victoria state.

A bushfire is burning out of control on the Yorke Peninsula, a rural area west of Adelaide, according to the Country Fire Service. Residents were advised to activate their bushfire survival plans and told that leaving the area may be their safest option.

A second fire was burning out of control near Streaky Bay on the state’s west, south of Ceduna, an area at risk of “catastrophic” fire conditions, the Country Fire Service said. People in the area should take shelter and not attempt to leave as the roads “will not be safe,” the service said in an alert.

Warmest Years

Negotiations on proposed amendments to the Rudd government’s carbon legislation are continuing, opposition climate spokesmanIan Macfarlane, said in an interview with the Australian Broadcasting Corp. today. “My goal is to finish this on Sunday, or certainly no later than Monday,” he said.

The majority of opposition Liberal Party representatives don’t accept that human beings are the cause of global warming, Liberal Senate LeaderNick Minchin said on ABC television on Nov. 9. Scientific evidence on climate change is increasingly discredited, Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi said in the same television program.

Australia’s draft climate change laws would introduce carbon trading in 2011, aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions by between 5 percent and 15 percent from their 2000 levels within 10 years. Senators defeated the proposed laws on Aug. 13, and a second rejection would give Rudd a trigger to call an early election.

“At its very core, climate change is about rising global temperatures,” Rudd told Parliament in Canberra today. “Australia has experienced warmer-than-average annual temperatures for 17 of the last 19 years,” he said. Thirteen of the 14 warmest years in the country’s history occurred between 1995 and 2008.

‘Fires of Climate Change’

Bushfires swept through Victoria state on Feb. 7, a disaster known as “Black Saturday,” killing 173 people and razing 450,000 hectares (1.1 million acres) of land as temperatures soared to as high as 48 degrees Celsius. Fanned by winds as strong as 125 kilometers (78 miles) an hour, the fires gutted more than 2,000 homes.

“Some of the unprecedented fire conditions that have been experienced and the experience on Black Saturday are the fires of climate change,” theClimate Institute’s Connor said. “These are messages for the urgency of climate action.”

The Australian government’s cap and trade emissions system proposes a A$10 a metric ton carbon price lasting a year until July 2012, from when the market will start determining the cost of releasing CO2, blamed for causing global warming, into the atmosphere.

The climate laws as proposed would be “catastrophic” for the economy of Victoria,TRUenergy Holdings Ltd. said in a statement today. The legislation would “bring down” its electricity industry, the power retailer, which provides gas and electricity to over 1.3 million customers in Australia, said.

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