Firefighters and bushfire survivors issue plea at COP26 to reduce emissions now

Firefighters and bushfire survivors from Australia, Canada, Turkey and the USA have made powerful statements at COP26 to remind world leaders of the horrific toll of climate change. 

On Adaptation, Loss and Damage day, bushfire survivors gathered outside the Australian pavilion to share their stories of losing property and fearing for their own lives. They urged all governments to take significant and urgent steps to cut emissions this decade. 

At the start of week two of COP26, a full page ad from Australia’s Emergency Leaders for Climate Action* (ELCA) also appeared in the British daily national newspaper, The Times. It features a striking image of a kangaroo silhouetted by a destroyed building and towering flames that went viral around the world during our Black Summer bushfires.

Australian Jo Dodds, President of the Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action, was at COP26 and said, “I represent bushfire survivors, I bring with me the voices of the many thousands of Australians who have felt the effects of catastrophic fires firsthand.

“We need hope. There’s no recovery, no resilience, no renewal without hope. I’ve come to COP26 here in Glasgow to plead for that hope. Because a vague 2050 target does not bring us hope, it does not bring us the emission cuts we need. It brings us only more despair. 

“I’m standing here today with people from across the world – from Australia, California and from the US – to call on world leaders to address these horrific fires at their root cause: the burning of fossil fuels. We now know that when you can see the fire, it’s too late. Now is the time to act.” 

Hannah Parris is an Australian living overseas whose parents’ house burnt down in the Black Summer fires. Her parents’ home in New South Wales was destroyed in the Black Summer fire storm of 2019-2020. She said, “The fire was so intense that literally nothing could be salvaged from the wreckage.

“We lost precious family photos and items handed down from our mothers and grandmothers that they took with them when they fled as refugees 90 years ago. Our heirlooms escaped and survived Nazi Germany, but couldn’t survive an Australian summer.”

Speaking from Australia, Climate Councillor and founder of ELCA, Greg Mullins said, “Whether you’re in Los Angeles, Vancouver or Sydney, those of us who hold hoses know just how dangerous climate change has become.

“What we witnessed during our Black Summer was hell on earth. Fires were so ferocious they created their own weather systems, lightning storms and fire tornadoes. Even with the best firefighting technology on the planet, blazes driven by extreme weather cannot be controlled. 

“No-one wants to go through that again, but unfortunately, because of climate change, we will.

“Our advert – which will be seen by many influential delegates at COP26 – sends a message that we need drastic emissions cuts this decade to protect life, property, and the environment. Unfortunately, in Australia, our government seems intent on making things worse by clinging to polluting fossil fuels.

“Time has run out and there can be no more excuses or meaningless slogans. It’s time to wake up and smell the smoke.”

Attributed to climate change

The severity Black Summer Australian bushfires in 2019/2020, the Californian wildfires of 2020 and the Canadian wildfires of 2021 have all been attributed to climate change. 

The weather that drove Black Summer is likely to be average by 2040. To avoid even worse fires in future, the Climate Council recommends that Australia reduce its emissions by 75% (below 2005 levels) by 2030 and achieve net zero by 2035. This is based on rigorous scientific risk assessments.

Emergency Leaders for Climate Action is a coalition of 34 former fire and emergency service leaders from every fire service in Australia, a number of SES, national parks, and forestry agencies, and former Directors General of Emergency Management Australia. ELCA members are deeply concerned about worsening natural disaster risks driven by extreme weather directly resulting from climate change.