Michael Bachelard’s tough scrutiny of the Premier’s bushfire spin is most welcome as a call to face up to the challenges looming with the imminent fire season.Essentially, my argument here and in ABC Unleashed is that the inquiry should have made interim recommendations within a timeframe that best allowed action to implement them. With effective climate policy that should have meant the August interim report in the lead-up to December's international climate negotiations in Copenhagen, not July 2010 when the final report will be published.
Yet, as fires in California and Athens cluster around the commission’s release of its interim report, there is a glaring absence in its findings regarding the contribution of climate change to the Black Saturday bushfires, and how stronger climate policy - including science-based emissions targets - might help to address bushfire risk over time.
True, any such analysis would not result in a reduction of fire risk this coming season, but there was a crucial window of opportunity that makes the slated consideration of climate change in the commission's July 2010 final report far too late. That window was the lead-up to the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen this December.
Bachelard’s comment on the stay or go policy, that ‘It’s crucial to get this right at the time this issue is the centre of attention’, applies equally to climate change. Australia is in the midst of its climate change legislative debate, and at Copenhagen will help frame an international agreement on climate that will succeed the Kyoto protocol.
If not now, when is the time that climate policy should be viewed and assessed through the lens of long-term bushfire prevention? That the interim report has not addressed this issue in its official findings before Copenhagen is testament to the political manipulation of the royal commission, and to the climate cowardice of our state and federal leaders.
Everyone concerned for our climate should now follow the second round of public hearings of the royal commission now underway. The hearings are webcast live and transcripts are available the following day. Since the first round, the website has introduced the improvement of listing witnesses for each day, which should make it easier to see when climate evidence has been heard.
Though any climate recommendations will come too late in the July 2010 final report, I am hopeful the media will highlight the clear relationship between climate change and long-term bushfire risk that should emerge in this second round of hearings if the inquiry does its job.
If state and federal governments are thereby forced to explicitly address bushfires in their climate policies, there's a better chance that Australia will show the kind of leadership in Copenhagen that might contribute to a stronger international climate that would help reduce global bushfire risk over time.
On the failure of the terms of reference of the royal commission to explicitly address climate change, see my March article for ABC Unleashed. For the kinds of climate policy recommendations I would like to have seen the inquiry consider, see my submission to the royal commission from May.