Fossil fuel industry should pay for bushfires fuelled by climate change: Report

Bushfire victims say the fossil fuel industry should pay as they struggle to recover from Australia’s latest horrific bushfire season.

The victims are calling for a levy.

It comes as the Climate Council on Thursday released its plan, which outlines the steps needed to be taken to manage the next era of bushfires fuelled by climate change.

A levy is one of 165 recommendations outlined in the plan.

The small NSW community of Glen Innes was gutted by bushfires over the summer.

Locals Vivian Chaplain, Julie Fletcher and George Nole died in the blaze.

“We were among the first to be burnt out basically,” the town’s mayor Carol Sparks told The New Daily. 

“We were on the front line of the fires. They eventually overtook us. It was quite a shock. The word unprecedented became an everyday thing.

“Nobody really knew how to deal with it.”

The community is still surrounded by ash and remains shocked by the fire’s ferocity. Some still live next to burnt-out properties and rubble.

Vivien Thompson said the impact on communities is devastating.

“We are still recovering. There’s still a lot of damage,” Ms Sparks said.

“The clean up is nearly finished, but it has taken quite a long time for the recovery agents to get in there and clean up the burnt equipment and burnt houses, and tin, and clean the rubbish away.

“We’re still cleaning up burnt trees.”

Local brigades were overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the fires.

Ms Sparks is among those calling for a levy to ensure local communities have enough boots on the ground for next time.

“A levy would absolutely help. Our volunteers are exhausted and they didn’t have enough help to protect our area.”

Vivien Thompson is a farmer from central NSW and volunteer firefighter. She chased the fires as they rolled through her state.

“Even though it started around Grafton, as the summer progressed, it burns all the way into Victoria. You felt for each of the communities, all of the volunteers,” she said.

“We knew when it started burning in September, it would get to us because the conditions were such that whatever we were going to do, it was going to be bad.

“When I went up north in November, looking at the plume of smokes coming from Gosford, it was that ‘Oh s–t!’ factor. But 10 times over.”

She said working through the drought, and the dealing with the summer was still taking its toll on farming communities across the country.

“Being a farmer and seeing the effects climate change have on the farms, and overload that with me an as a firefighter, I know it’s critical we start moving forward in a space where we have good, strong leadership.”

Putting a levy on the fossil fuel industry would be like ‘‘states putting a levy on ambulances’’, she said.

“I think it’s something to look into. I think if you’re taking a levy on the fossil fuel industry, it should go towards mitigating the effects of climate change.”

There are rising calls for the fossil fuel industry to pay a levy for bushfires recovery.

During the Senate inquiry into the 2019-20 bushfire season on Wednesday, Bureau of Meteorology chief executive officer Dr Andrew Johnson said there was “no doubt” the planet was warming.

“There’s no doubt the causes of that warming have a significant human footprint. That’s well established and scientific evidence is unequivocal,” Dr Johnson said.

This wake-up call, coupled with the expected cost of extreme weather events surging to reach $39 billion a year by 2050 according to a Deloitte Access Economics analysis, has communities worried.

Former Fire & Rescue NSW Commissioner Greg Mullins admitted the levy would be ‘‘controversial’’ but said it was fair.

“Look, this will be controversial, but it came through loud and clear: Whoever creates the problem needs to pay for it,” Mr Mullins said.

“People talked about asbestos. The fossil fuel industry has known for decades what they produce is dangerous.

Greg Mullins said a levy could pay for essential resources.

“The people creating that risk will pay. There needs to be a levy on the fossil fuel industry to be a national disaster fund.

“During bad years it could supplement state and territory funding and, particular, in the recovery.”

A levy could help pay for recovery, and getting people’s lives back on track – but it could also make sure Australia was equipped with the resources it needs to fight the fires, he said.

“There’s a missing middle piece. We have small aircraft and large ones we lease. Every other fire-prone country has purpose-built, water-scooping aircraft which carry 6000 litres but we don’t.

“I was fighting fires in Batemans Bay. There was a two-hour gap in drops because they had to fly to Richmond. We need middle capabilities.”

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