Australian natural disasters minister’s complete about face: ‘I believe in climate science’
Australia’s minister responsible for drought and natural disasters, David Littleproud, now says he accepts the science on manmade climate change, and “[I] always have”.
Littleproud’s comments to the House of Representatives on Thursday were entirely at odds with a written statement he made to Guardian Australia on Tuesday. In response to questions, Littleproud said: “I don’t know if climate change is man-made.”
“I’m about practical outcomes, whether that’s about having a cleaner environment or giving farmers and emergency services the right tools to adapt,” the minister said in that statement. “I am responsible for making sure we have the tools we need to adapt to a changing climate.”
Guardian Australia approached Littleproud to clarify his position after comments he made to the ABC at the start of the week about the relationship between early spring bushfires in Queensland and climate change.
Guardian Australia (@GuardianAus)
David Littleproud – Australia’s minister responsible for drought and natural disasters – now says he accepts the science on man-made climate change: ‘I’m just a poor humble bloke with a Year 12 education but I’m prepared to accept what our scientists are telling us”. pic.twitter.com/dQljftGhpp
On Monday, Littleproud told ABC’s Radio National that Australia has been “adapting to a changing climate since we first settled this country and we’ll have to continue to do that and do that with the best science we’ve got available.”
When asked whether human-induced climate change was making bushfires more intense, Littleproud replied: “We’re adapting to it as the climate continues to change and we’ll continue to equip our service workers … Whether it’s manmade or not is irrelevant.”
Climate change and bushfires
The link between rising greenhouse gas emissions and increased bushfire risk is complex but, according to major science agencies, clear. Climate change does not create bushfires, but it can and does make them worse. A number of factors contribute to bushfire risk, including temperature, fuel load, dryness, wind speed and humidity.
Dry fuel load – the amount of forest and scrub available to burn – has been linked to rising emissions. Under the right conditions, carbon dioxide acts as a kind of fertiliser that increases plant growth.
Dryness is more complicated. Complex computer models have not found a consistent climate change signal linked to rising CO2 in the decline in rain that has produced the current eastern Australian drought. But higher temperatures accelerate evaporation. They also extend the growing season for vegetation in many regions, leading to greater transpiration (the process by which water is drawn from the soil and evaporated from plant leaves and flowers). The result is that soils, vegetation and the air may be drier than they would have been with the same amount of rainfall in the past.
The year coming into the 2019-20 summer has been unusually warm and dry for large parts of Australia. Above average temperatures now occur most years and 2019 has been the fifth driest start to the year on record, and the driest since 1970.
The minister suggested there were “extremes from both sides” of the debate, which should be about “do we want to breathe healthy air”. He said his job was to ensure emergency services “are given the tools and resources they need, [and] they have the science to understand that these events could become more severe”.
Asked by Guardian Australia why he had stepped around the human contribution to climate change given expert scientific advice on the increased frequency of really bad fire days, Littleproud’s office supplied a written answer attributable to the minister: “I don’t know if climate change is man-made.”
Later on Tuesday, Littleproud told Sky News in response to a question from the network’s political editor, David Speers, about whether manmade climate change was real: “I am going to be honest with you – I don’t have an opinion.”
But Littleproud launched a complete about-face in parliament on Thursday, saying: “I accept the science on manmade impact on climate change. Always have.”
“I accept the science. I’m just a poor humble bloke with a year 12 education but I’m prepared to accept, prepared to accept what our scientists are telling us – it’s as simple as that.”
In defence of his position, Littleproud pointed to his positive record on climate change, which included driving a climate adaptation response in the agriculture portfolio.
In an interview with Guardian Australia last June, Littleproud said the climate was changing and the transition in the energy market – with renewables displacing traditional generation sources – was “exciting, not only for the environment but for the hip pocket”.
The Queensland National said then the climate had been changing “since we first tilled the soil in Australia” and he did not care whether the change was due to human activity or not. “I’m not losing any sleep on that, whether you want to prove it is manmade or not – I want to be pragmatic.”