Australian prime minister says removing hazards as important as reducing emissions

by Reuters
Tuesday, 21 January 2020 22:09 GMT

Sapper Curtis Matthews uses a CAT D8T bulldozer to build a fire containment line at Bando Forest near Tumut, New South Wales, Australia, January 11, 2020. Major Cameron Jamieson/Australian Department of Defence/Handout via REUTERS

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Morrison says removing flammable vegetation is as important as tackling climate change if Australia is to prevent future bushfires, comments that could stoke public anger

SYDNEY, Jan 22 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Scott Morrison said removing flammable vegetation is as important as reducing emissions if Australia is to prevent future bushfires, comments that are likely to stoke public anger.

Morrison is under intense pressure for his government's handing of a bushfire crisis that has killed 29 people and millions of animals, destroyed more than 2,500 homes and razed 11 million hectares (27 million acres) of wilderness - an area one-third the size of Germany.

The scores of fires follow three years of drought that experts have linked to climate change, but Morrison said late on Tuesday that his critics are too focused on carbon emissions.

"Hazard reduction is as important as emissions reduction and many would argue, I think, even more so because it has even more direct practical impact on the safety of a person going into a bushfire season," Morrison told Sky News Australia.

Australia is one of the largest carbon emitters per capita due to its reliance on coal-fired power plants, and Morrison is a firm supporter of the industry.

Morrison's comments came as Australian authorities braced for a return of soaring temperatures and strong winds - conditions that firefighters fear will fan dozens of blazes still burning.

Temperatures in Victoria state are expected to top more than 32 degrees Celsius (89.6 Fahrenheit), leading officials to declare "extreme fire danger" in some areas.

Australia's most populous state, New South Wales has enjoyed several days of cooler weather in recent days, but temperatures on Thursday will hit 40 degrees C (104 F), the country's weather bureau said.

Sydney and Melbourne have been repeatedly blanketed in thick smoke that has resulted in air quality ratings among the worst in the world.

Here are today's key events in the bushfire crisis: * As of Wednesday, 79 fires were burning across New South Wales, none above the lowest warning level. There were 25 emergency warnings in Victoria. * Australian animals living in specific habitats, such as mountain lizards, leaf-tailed geckos and pear-shaped frogs, are battling the threat of extinction after fierce bushfires razed large areas of their homes, a new Reuters analysis shows.

* Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott downplayed the link between the bushfires and climate change in a speech in Washington. * The Australian Open tennis tournament continues in Melbourne. The city's air quality was rated as "good", according to the Air Quality Index, having been "hazardous" less than a week earlier. (Reporting by Colin Packham; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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