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Australian Bushfire Probe to Examine Role of Climate Change

FILE - A bushfire burns in Bodalla, New South Wales, Australia, Jan. 25, 2020. Wildfires destroyed more than 3,000 homes and razed more than 10.6 million hectares (26 million acres) since September.

A powerful inquiry on Australia’s bushfire crisis will examine the impact of climate change on the nation’s ability to prevent, mitigate and respond to natural disasters. The Prime Minister Scott Morrison is finalising the terms of a royal commission into the unprecedented disaster.

Scott Morrison, the prime minister, says Australia must learn the lessons from the bushfire emergency. More than 30 people have been killed in the disaster that began in September, and 3,000 homes have been destroyed. Millions of hectares of land have been scorched.

Morrison says a royal commission, Australia’s highest form of inquiry, will examine the impact of global warming on the fires, as well as other factors, including land management.

“These fires have been fueled by one of the worst droughts on record, changes in our climate and a build-up of fuel amongst other factors," Morrison said. "Our summers are getting longer, drier and hotter. That’s what climate change does and that requires a new responsiveness, resilience and a reinvigorated focus on adaptation.”

The prime minister, however, has been accused of ignoring the dangers of climate change. Australia is one of the world's largest emitters per capita of greenhouse gases. Coal dominates electricity production, and earns billions of dollars in exports.

Within the ranks of the center-right coalition government there are lawmakers who dispute climate science and believe hotter, drier conditions are part of a natural cycle.

But Greg Mullins, an environmental campaigner and former New South Wales fire chief, commends the prime minister for allowing the bushfire royal commission to examine global warming.

“It is really encouraging to hear the prime minister saying this," Mullins said. "It is encouraging to see the coalition shifting, apart from a few people who still question fact. If those terms of reference do put climate change front and center, because Australians need to understand, as fire chiefs do, how things have shifted and how much more dangerous the environment is these days because of climate change, because of the burning of coal, oil and gas.”

More details of the scope of the royal commission are likely to be released in the coming days. Some of these complex inquiries can last for years, but given the urgency the bushfire investigation is expected to report by August.