A FIREFIGHTERS’ union has called on the Federal Government to take urgent action against climate change, saying that current policy on greenhouse gas emissions would lead to disasters on the scale of the Victorian fires almost every year.
In an open letter to the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and the Victorian Premier, John Brumby, the union says its 13,000 members are at extreme risk as a result of Australia’s plan to cut emissions by a “dismal” 5 per cent by 2020.
It is also seeking a national inquiry, broader than the royal commission being set up by the Brumby Government this week, to examine readiness to fight fires and apply lessons learned in the past week in Victoria to the rest of the country.
“Given the Federal Government’s dismal 5 per cent greenhouse gas emissions cuts, the science suggests we are well on the way to guaranteeing that somewhere in the country there will be an almost annual repeat of the recent disaster and more frequent extreme weather events,” wrote Peter Marshall, the national secretary of the United Firefighters Union of Australia.
The Government should try to halve emissions over the next decade and move urgently to encourage other nations to make big cuts, the union said.
“As we battle blazes here in Victoria, firefighters are busy rescuing people from floods in Queensland. Without a massive turnaround in policies, aside from the tragic loss of life and property, we will be asking firefighters to put themselves at an unacceptable risk.”
The four-page letter cited research by the CSIRO, the Climate Institute and state bushfire councils that points to growing fire risks if temperatures creep up over the coming decades, as widely expected.
Catastrophic fires are expected to occur every five to seven years in Victoria by 2020, even under a “low global warming” scenario. Under scenarios of greater global warming, which most climate scientists think are more likely, some regions would be experiencing the conditions for catastrophic fires almost every year by 2050.
“Unfortunately, however, the scientists are advising that no matter what we do, a ‘low global warming’ scenario is almost inevitable, and so we must be making fire plans accordingly,” Mr Marshall wrote.
The union believes existing resources would not cope with even the milder impacts of climate change.
It is developing a national plan, which it says will take into account firefighter training and settlement patterns on the urban fringes.