Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison doubled down on his government’s climate policy Monday amid a record-breaking heat wave and a devastating weekend of wildfires.
Hundreds of fires burned across four states, with the worst conditions in New South Wales, where approximately 100 homes have been destroyed since Thursday. More than 800 total homes have been lost since the fire season commenced in October.
The disaster has prompted criticism of Morrison’s leadership and inaction on climate change; many also took issue with his decision to vacation in Hawaii during such a difficult time. Following the death of two firefighters on Thursday, Morrison yielded to complaints and returned to Sydney over the weekend.
As Morrison sought to stem the political fallout from his holiday, he defended his stance on climate in a series of media interviews Monday.
“When I say we’re sticking with our policies, our policies actually address the need to continue to address this challenge,” he told Seven News, adding that “people want to create conflict where there’s none.”
Australia has faced international disapproval for its reliance on carryover credits to meet its commitment under the Paris climate agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% by 2030. The country has also been questioned for increasing coal mining.
On Monday, Morrison rejected calls for cuts to the country’s lucrative coal industry.
“What we won’t do is engage in reckless and job-destroying and economy-crunching targets which are being sought,” he told Nine News.
Ninety-six fires continue to burn across the state, with over 40 not contained, NSW Rural Fire Service spokesperson Angela Burford said Monday.
“We continue to see these fires spread, and in some places, they’re so large, we’ve seen two fires merge,” she said.
Thousands of firefighters will spend Christmas Day battling the blazes and the danger is expected to worsen next weekend.
“We’re still in for the long haul,” Burford said.