CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — The government staunchly rejected arguments that climate change is causing the wildfires ravaging parts of eastern Australia following a record hot start to the spring season.
"That is complete hogwash," Prime Minister Tony Abbott told News Corp. Australian newspapers in an interview published on Friday.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt backed his prime minister, saying no individual event can be linked to climate change.
But a climate science organization abolished by Abbott's government released a report on Friday declaring a clear link between climate change and the wildfires. The severity and scale of the fires was unprecedented for this time of year, it said. Last month had been the hottest September on record in New South Wales state. The 12 months preceding it had been the hottest year on record across Australia.
The government abolished the state-funded Climate Commission after being elected last month. But the organization survives through public donations as the Climate Council to continue its independent work of communicating reliable information about global warming.
To deny the influence of climate change on extreme fire weather placed people and property an unnecessarily high risk, the report warned. The findings are interim, and the final report will be released next month.
Will Steffen, a Climate Council member and director of the Australian National University's Climate Change Institute, said he was frustrated that the established science on global warming was not yet accepted in Australia.
"We'd like to see a discussion in this country that gets beyond these futile debates about the science that have been settled for decades in the scientific literature and get on with the real debate about what is really the best way of dealing with the problem," Steffen told reporters. "That's where the political debate really needs to be."
Abbott argues that Australia has experienced wildfires for more than 200 years of European settlement and had suffered worse fires in the past.
This week, he accused Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, of "talking through her hat" when she referred to the Australian wildfires as the world "paying the price of carbon" in the atmosphere.
"They are desperate to find anything that they think might pass as ammunition for their cause," Abbott said, referring to people who link the fires to global warming and who criticize his government's climate change policies.
Abbott's conservative government plans to repeal laws that force Australia's worst greenhouse gas polluters to pay a tax for every ton of carbon dioxide that they emit. The tax was introduced last year to reduce Australia's abundant greenhouse gas emissions.
Australia is one of the world's worst greenhouse gas emitters on a per capita basis because of its heavy reliance on cheap coal for power generation. As the world's driest continent after Antarctica, scientists warn that Australia is also particularly vulnerable to climate extremes that come with climate change.
A U.N.-created climate change panel issued a major report in Stockholm last month that said it was "extremely likely," or 95 percent likely, that global warming was man-made. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the British meteorological office also released research in September that used computer simulations to conclude that climate change influenced some recent weather occurrences in Europe and the United States.
The wildfires that have burned around Sydney razed more than 200 homes and resulted in two deaths. One resident died of a heart attack while throwing buckets of water on his home last week, and a pilot died Thursday when his plane crashed while attempting to drop water on flames.
Adam Bandt, a lawmaker for the Australian Greens party that champions the carbon tax, was widely accused of politicizing the disaster when be tweeted at the height of the fire emergency last week: "Tony Abbott's plan means more bushfires for Australia & more pics like this of Sydney."
His comment came as television networks were airing images of destroyed homes.