CANBERRA, Australia — 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.
"They are desperate to find anything that they think might pass as ammunition for their cause," he said, referring to people who link the fires to global warming and who criticize his government's climate change policies.
Abbott's conservative government, which was elected last month, 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.
Abbott this week 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.
Abbott argues that Australia has experienced wildfires for more than 200 years of European settlement and had suffered worse fires in the past.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt backed his prime minister, saying no individual event can be linked to 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 in New South Wales state follow an extraordinarily dry winter and the hottest September in the region on record. The fires 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.
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