Climate scientists and museum directors urge leaders to take stronger action

Ahead of the resumption of federal parliament, climate scientists and natural history museum directors are urging leaders to take more action to tackle the impact of climate change.

Australia was hit hard by bushfires in 2019.

Australia was hit hard by bushfires in 2019. Source: Getty Images

Climate scientists and museum directors have launched campaigns calling for national action to tackle climate change in the wake of Australia's devastating bushfire seasons.

In a signed statement, more than 250 scientists from around the world urged leaders to reduce green gas emissions, while museums demanded more funding to support biodiversity.

The scientists' joint statement said that Australia's policymakers need to develop policies based on science to combat human-caused climate change.

Climate scientists warn the increase in fire activity is just one example of the impact of climate change.
Climate scientists warn the increase in fire activity is just one example of the impact of climate change. Source: AAP

One of the authors, Australian National University Professor Nerilie Abram said the letter shows the despair many climate scientists are feeling in the wake of the deadly bushfire season.

"Scientists have been warning policymakers for decades that climate change would worsen Australia’s fire risk, and yet those warnings have been ignored," she said.

Associate Professor Alex Sen Gupta from the University of New South Wales said the scientists behind the letter wanted to demonstrate the link between climate change and severe fires this summer season.

"The acceptance and the concerns around climate change are always heightened when we have these extreme events," Mr Sen Gupta said.

"I think a similar event happened a few years ago when we had the mass bleaching of the coral reef. We lost between 30 and 50 per cent of the Great Barrier Reef over the course of a couple of years.

"These things are really important to Australians and people begin to worry about climate change at those times."

Although there was initial disagreement about what to include in the letter, Mr Sen Gupta said the final statement was a powerful symbol of unity.

He said it wasn't deliberately timed to coincide with Parliament resuming in Canberra.

"We didn't put it out a month ago when the fires were raging, we tried to sort of step back and really look through all the science available, read through all the papers again, form a consensus and then put it out," he said.

The scientists said the increased fire activity was one of many things that suggested the impacts of global warming were coming faster, stronger, and more regularly.

Unprecedented damage to Australia's biodiversity

Meanwhile, six of Australia's natural history museums estimate the destruction to the nation's biodiversity from recent bushfires is in the "trillions" as they call for greater funding and action to counter the impacts of climate change.

"We now recognise human-induced climate change, alongside land clearing and habitat use, as the overarching issue affecting Australia's unique wildlife as evidenced by more intense bushfires, drought, floods and the impact of warming oceans on the Great Barrier Reef and other marine environments," a joint statement from the museums' directors and CEOs said on Monday.

A kangaroo is seen at the Flinders Chase National Park during bushfires on Kangaroo Island.
Bushfires have caused an unprecedented level of damage to Australia's biodiversity. Source: AAP

"The impact of the recent fires on Australia's biodiversity is on a scale not previously seen since record-keeping began in the mid-1800s," the joint statement said.

"The estimate of the destruction to our biodiversity from the fires is in the 'trillions' of animals, when considering the total of insects, spiders, birds, mammals, frogs, reptiles, invertebrates and even sea life impacted over such a vast area."

They said the bushfire climate change crisis had reinforced that there was much to be learned from Australia's First Nations people whose understanding of natural species and land management "is to be respected, understood and embraced" in their research.

Each museum plans to return to the field in the coming months, working in collaboration with national networks of museums and herbaria, state government agencies and universities to quantify the impact of the fires and work to plan for the restoration of species where possible.

The statement was issued jointly by the directors of the Australian Museum in NSW, Museums Victoria, South Australian Museum, Western Australian Museum, Queensland Museum and Museum and Art Gallery of Northern Territory.

Additional reporting by AAP

4 min read
Published 3 February 2020 at 4:02pm
By Stephanie Corsetti