SPARE a thought for all the emergency workers at home and abroad who have been spending time away from their families during the festive season. In particular, the firemen and women across Australia who have been valiantly battling mammoth-scale bush fires.

According to the Australian Rural Fire Service (RFS) nearly 1000 homes have been destroyed during this fire season, with about 100 more in recent days. Nine people have lost their lives so far, with more feared dead. Temperatures have already hit record highs, but another heatwave is forecast for this weekend with temperatures expected over 40C in several bushfire-hit states including New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria. Extremely hot and dry conditions combined with low humidity and powerful winds have been fanning the flames in rural areas and close to cities like Sydney, which have been shrouded in smoke.

READ MORE: Australian PM refuses to shift on climate change policies

Conditions have been so bad that major arterial roads have been forced to close and huge fires south-west of Sydney are posing a threat to the city’s drinking water supplies. Meanwhile, with 90% of firefighters being volunteers, some who have been battling the blazes for 100 days, a public debate has kicked off about them being paid.

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An even bigger debate is in full swing about Australia’s approach to climate change which is poor to say the least, as one of the world’s largest per capita greenhouse gas emitters. Its climate policy is ranked last on the Climate Change Performance Index of the 57 countries most responsible for more than 90% gas emissions. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison infamously did not attend the UN climate action summit, even though he was in the United States at the same time to visit President Trump. It’s thought he didn’t bother because speaking slots to the UN General Assembly were being prioritised for countries that had new commitments to announce, and Australia had nothing new to say. According to the United Nations: “There has been no improvement in Australia’s climate policy since 2017 and emission levels for 2030 are projected to be well above the target.” Meanwhile, sadly the Australian government has announced it is withdrawing from an international fund to tackle climate change.

The National: Australia Wildfires

Incidentally, that’s the same Scott Morrison who thought it was a good idea to jet off for a family holiday to Hawaii in the midst of the bushfire crisis. A mural has been painted on the side of Sydney building of him in a Hawaiian shirt, an orange lei, Santa hat and holding a cocktail and wishing everyone a “Merry Crisis” as the flames rise around him. Although the mural has been painted over, the image has gone viral and the message is out there. T-shirts and print editions of the mural have now gone on sale with funds going to the “fireys” of the Rural Fire Service.

Scott Morrison is big fan of the Australian coal industry and his conservative-led government recently approved the go-ahead for a new coal mine, which may become the biggest in the world and will export its coal to India.

According to the International Energy Agency Australia is the fourth-largest global producer of coal and also ranks amongst the biggest exporters of natural gas, iron ore and uranium.

The National: Wildfires in Australia

According to environment analyst Roger Harrabin: “Scientists round the world are looking aghast at the politics of climate change in Australia. It’s one of the most vulnerable countries on the planet to rising temperatures, yet there is still denial about the impacts of rising CO2 levels on events like the current wildfires”.

READ MORE: ‘Catastrophic’ wildfires ravage Australia during record heatwave

If Australia is showing how not to tackle climate change, perhaps Scotland can lead the way in reacting to the global climate emergency and transition speedily to net-zero emissions. Scotland already has world-leading climate change legislation, has an adaptation programme in place, and has renewable energy resources in abundance. Amazingly three-quarters of Scotland’s gross electricity consumption is already from renewables. The Scottish Government’s target is to hit 100% by 2020 and 50% of total energy consumption, including transportation, by 2030.

The global climate emergency is clearly a top priority for the Scottish Government. Even in a country with an abundance of renewable energy, the transition is not going to be easy. Big changes will be needed in societal and economic behaviour and in transitioning away from fossil fuel production and consumption. The Committee on Climate Change says that Scottish targets are a “step change in ambition” for the country, which is a good thing.

Now we need to deliver even more. With Scotland hosting the COP26 UN climate talks in Glasgow in November 2020 let’s aim to lead at home and internationally for sake of the planet’s future and for future generations.