Widespread bushfires across New South Wales and Kangaroo Island in Southeast Australia have scorched over 25.5 million acres of land, equal to the size of South Korea (Reuters).The fires have claimed 27 deaths and destroyed over 2,000 homes, with conditions expected to worsen the weekend of January 10 (New York Times). Wildlife experts estimate the fires have killed up to 1 billion animals, including more than half of Kangaroo Island’s 50,000 koalas (The Atlantic). Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pledged $1.4 billion to create a National Bushfire Recovery Agency. Authorities have urged several mass evacuations across Southeast Australia, and hundreds of firefighters from the United States, Canada, and Malaysia have been sent to help (Reuters). 

Experts link the extensive fires to increasingly high temperatures and a three-year drought exacerbated by climate change. On January 9, the Australia Bureau of Meteorology reported 2019 as Australia’s hottest and driest year on record, with only 6% of typical annual rainfall and temperatures roughly 2 degrees Celsius above the long-term average (The Guardian). 

In response to the fires, thousands of Australians gathered on January 10 for a protest against the government’s lack of climate action (BBC). Prime Minister Morrison told Sydney Radio 2GB on January 10 that conflating emissions reduction policies with recent fire events is “ridiculous” and “disappointing” (The Guardian). Australian emissions reduction minister Angus Taylor and Prime Minister Morrison have stated cutting carbon emissions would harm the Australian economy, which is dependent on exports of coal and gas. Last year, the country overtook Qatar as the world’s top exporter of liquefied natural gas (Reuters).