Australia softens climate change rhetoric as bushfires, voters rage

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SYDNEY: Three years ago, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, then Treasurer, brandished a lump of coal in parliament as a totem of how the ruling conservative coalition planned to keep the lights on and power prices low. Now, with the country experiencing one of its worst ever bushfire seasons and facing criticism for his procoal policies, Morrison is acknowledging climate change is real. He is also talking about “adaptation” and “resilience”. “I think we want to have a high level of confidence that as a nation we are improving our resilience and our adaptation to respond to the reality of the environment in which we live,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday. Australia’s Science Minister Karen Andrews told the Sydney Morning Herald in an interview that climate denial was a waste of time, as she echoed Morrison’s “adaptation” mantra. As bushfires tore through New South Wales state in December, Morrison avoided drawing a link between the unusually early and ferocious fire season and climate change, saying the time was not right for such discussions. Just last week he said Sydney radio 2GB it was disappointing that people were conflating the bushfire crisis with Australia’s emission reduction targets. While the softening of his stance is significant, scepticism remains over whether it will translate to a stronger climate policy as large swathes of the country continue to burn. “It’s much overdue for the government to seriously engage on climate change adaptation,” said Frank Jotzo, a professor at the Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy. “But what also needs to happen is for the Australian government to take a proactive stance on climate mitigation, that is, to reduce green house emissions. And there is still no clear signs that’s about to happen.” Blazes burning since September have claimed the lives of 28 people, killed more than a billion animals and ripped through forests and farmland the size of Bulgaria. The hazy skies in Australia’s major cities have become a common occurrence, denting the country’s clean and green image, hurting tourism and consumer sentiment.