Australia’s prime minister has said it is not “credible” to link climate change to the devasting bushfires that have taken hold of much of the country.
Answering critics who say his government has not done enough to fight climate change, Scott Morrison said there were “many other factors” responsible for the unprecedented number of fires that have killed at least nine people.
Climate change has been cited as a major factor in fires burning across New South Wales (NSW), Victoria and South Australia during a record-breaking heatwave.
“There is no argument about the links between broader issues of global climate change and weather events around the world,” Mr Morrison said.
“But I’m sure people equally would acknowledge that the direct connection to any single fire event – it’s not a credible suggestion to make that link.”
Earlier this month, Australia – one of the world’s largest carbon emitters per capita due to its reliance on coal – was criticised at a UN climate change summit for its policy of using old carbon credits to count towards future emissions targets.
The prime minister also addressed his absence since the fires started on Thursday, as he cut short a family holiday in Hawaii to return on Saturday, two days after a week-long state of emergency was declared in NSW for the first time since 2013.
He said he accepted the criticism – but fell short of saying sorry.
“If you had your time over again and you had the benefit of hindsight, we would have made different decisions,” Mr Morrison said on Sunday morning.
“I am sure Australians are fair-minded and understand that when you make a promise to your kids you try and keep it.
“But as prime minister, you have other responsibilities and I accept that and I accept the criticism.”
He said this was not a time for political point scoring but a “time to be kind to each other”, as he said he is not a trained firefighter.
“But I’m comforted by the fact that Australians would like me to be here just simply so I can be here, alongside them, as they are going through this terrible time,” Mr Morrison added.
NSW Rural Fire Service Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons described Saturday as an “awful day” for firefighters as strong southerly winds fanned more than 100 fires in New South Wales alone.
One person was found dead inside a fire zone near Adelaide in South Australia on Saturday, two days after two volunteer firefighters were killed in the country’s most populous state of New South Wales (NSW).
Dozens of homes have been destroyed in the fires, including in the Gospers Mountain blaze that covered more than 460,000 hectares (1.1 million acres).
A thunderstorm generated by the fires formed over one of the blazes at Shoalhaven, 124 miles (200km) south of Sydney on Saturday, escalating the fire danger.
Thirty firefighters from Canada and nine from the United States were among new crews set to join the battle against the fires on Sunday.
Conditions eased on some of the major front on Sunday after a cool weather change, but the hotter conditions are expected to return.
The Blue Mountains, to the west of Sydney, have now become a major focus for firefighters as they work to contain the fire from communities.