Australia

Australia's science minister calls for end to debate over whether climate change is real

Science Minister Karen Andrews speaks at Parliament House in Canberra. Source: AAP

Karen Andrews has called for the urgent threat of the bushfire crisis to be heeded, saying arguing about whether climate change is real is a waste of time.

Australia's Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews has warned denying climate change is a waste of time that should instead be spent on the urgent need to implement mitigation and adaptation steps.

“Every second that we spend discussing whether or not climate change is real is a second that we don't spend talking about and putting place the strategies to mitigate the effects,” Ms Andrews told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

Top scientists will meet with Ms Andrews on Wednesday to discuss a response to Australia's unprecedented bushfires and how to address the effects of climate change fuelling their intensity.

NSW Rural Fire Service crews protect properties on Waratah Road and Kelyknack Road as the Three Mile fire approaches Mangrove Mountain north of Sydney.
NSW Rural Fire Service crews protect properties on Waratah Road and Kelyknack Road as the Three Mile fire approaches Mangrove Mountain north of Sydney.
AAP

Ahead of the meeting, she warned against distraction from practical measures and said efforts need to focus on responding to the threat.

“What I am saying very clearly is that we need to move beyond a discussion on whether climate change is real and look at mitigation and adaptation strategies.” 

“We need to move beyond having a debate about climate change and accept that we need to start making some changes.”

An estimated 10 million hectares of bush has been burned in the devastating fires that have killed at least 28 people across Australia this summer.

The science roundtable in Canberra will bring together a range of science leaders and bushfire experts to discuss contributing factors, research capability, and intervention steps.

It will include scientists from the CSIRO, Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, and the Bushfire and Natural Hazard Cooperative Research Centre.

“It is imperative that we come up with some actions that we can take in the short, medium and long term,” Ms Andrews said.

“Our fire season is going to be quite extensive over the coming years, we need to prepare for that, we need to adapt, we need to become more resilient.”

NSW Rural Fire fighters establish a backburn  in Mangrove Mountain, New South Wales.
NSW Rural Fire fighters establish a backburn in Mangrove Mountain, New South Wales.
AAP
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has hinted this week at a shift in the government’s climate change policy, saying the approach could “evolve”.

The federal government is adamant it is on track to meet and beat its emissions targets as part of the response.

But Ms Andrews said other aspects must also be addressed to combat the effects of climate change on the severity of bushfire conditions.

“There are other things we need to look at too and that is building resilience now, look at mitigation, strategies so that we can deal with climate change,” she said.

“Let's engage the Australian community that wants to do something to protect not only themselves, but their neighbours, people in neighbouring communities, all across Australia.”

plane window
An image taken from a plane window shows smoke haze blanketing Sydney.
AAP

The federal government’s climate policy has come under pressure amid the bushfires, with critics advocating it must do more to rise to the challenge.

Labor's Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese told reporters in Melbourne that Ms Andrews' statement about climate denial being a waste of time was "extraordinary", pointing to scepticism within the government.

"The fact is, there has been a decade wasted by the Coalition as a result of the fact that a small rump of people have held the policy back for a long period of time,” he said.

"The Coalition are having a debate over whether climate change exists or not - well you can smell it - you can feel it, you can see the impact of climate change and the devastating impact it is having." 

Australia has committed to reducing emissions by 26 to 28 per cent by 2030, based on 2005 levels under the Paris agreement.

But the nation has attracted criticism for its decision to use of so-called “carry-over” credits from the Kyoto Protocol to meet the future target.

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