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Explained: Why are large tracts of Australia’s jungles and scrubland on fire

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday, Dec. 22, apologised for taking a family vacation in Hawaii as deadly bushfires raged across several states, destroying homes and claiming the lives of two volunteer firefighters.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: December 24, 2019 8:06:24 pm
Bilpin: In this Saturday, Dec. 21 ,2019, photo, NSW Rural Fire Service crews fight the Gospers Mountain Fire as it impacts a structure at Bilpin. AP/PTI

On Monday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison defended his country’s climate policy, and described calls to make cuts to the coal industry as “reckless”, as Australia continued to reel from a bushfire crisis.

Bushfires are routine in Australia, but this bushfire season is among the worst ever, having started in August, much before the Southern Hemisphere summer (December to February).

Why is this year’s bushfire season especially bad?

Australia is hot, dry, prone to droughts, and, in some parts of the country, to bushfires. Such fires happen when grass, branches, and trees start to burn in an uncontrolled manner. In New South Wales and Queensland, the risk of bushfires peaks during the spring and early summer.

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This summer, Australia has witnessed its worst drought in more than five decades, and a heatwave has sent the mercury soaring to temperatures above 41 degrees Celsius. Scientists have said that the conditions demonstrate the effects of climate change.

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So far, six people have died, and more than 3.7 million hectares (9.1 million acres) of vegetation has been destroyed, Reuters reported. Important highways have also had to be closed, The Sydney Morning Herald reported on Monday.

Authorities have said that almost 200 homes have been damaged by fires in South Australia and New South Wales. Balmoral, a town of 400 people in New South Wales, was almost completely charred, and nearly 100 fires are reported to be burning in the state.

Wildlife in the country has also been severely hit, with more than 2,000 koalas estimated to have died in New South Wales, with one-third of their habitat getting burned.


The wine industry has suffered serious destruction, with one-third of the vineyards in Adelaide Hills reported to be in the “burnout zone”.

The situation improved on Monday as the heatwave eased, and showers speculated for Christmas Day (December 25) could bring further respite, media reports said.

Why is Australia’s climate policy under criticism?

One-third of global coal exports come from Australia, accounting for 7% of global carbon emissions. The country is the largest exporter of coal and liquefied natural gas in the world, and the energy sector is an important employer here.


Prime Minister Morrison’s conservative government, which returned to power in May, has defended the country’s coal industry despite criticism from environmentalists.

At the same time, while Australia has said that it would meet its emissions targets for 2020, it has been criticised for counting carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol to this purpose instead of making new reductions.

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First published on: 23-12-2019 at 09:05:52 pm
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