Former US vice-president and environmentalist Al Gore says there is a proven link between climate change and bushfires.
This week, a United Nations official said the devastating fires in New South Wales proved the world is “already paying the price of carbon”.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott dismissed the comment on Wednesday, accusing the official of “talking through her hat”.
He argued that “fire is a part of the Australian experience” and not linked to climate change.
“Climate change is real, as I’ve often said, and we should take strong action against it, but these fires are certainly not a function of climate change – they’re just a function of life in Australia.”
But Mr Gore, a Nobel laureate for his work to fight climate change, has told the ABC’s 7.30 that climate change will bring about more extreme weather.
“Bushfires can occur naturally, and do, but the science shows clearly that when the temperature goes up, and when the vegetation and soils dry out, then wildfires become more pervasive and more dangerous.
“That’s not me saying it, that’s what the scientific community says.”
Christina Figueres, the executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, also criticised the Abbott Government’s direct action plan to tackle climate change as being potentially “much more expensive” than the carbon pricing scheme that it is moving to dump.
Her views were echoed by Mr Gore, who says emergencies like the NSW bushfires can influence the public and how they can shape the political debate.
“Hurricane Sandy, $60 billion in damages, caused a dramatic change in the message the public was sending to politicians in both parties (about climate change),” he said.
“The meaningful way to solve this crisis is to put a price on carbon, and in Australia’s case to keep a price on carbon.
“The price needs to be at a level that’s effective, and you can give the money right back to the people if you want, but we need to have the market send accurate signals so that we get the encouragement for the renewable systems of energy that are becoming cheaper all the time.
“Within less than seven years, more than 85 per cent of the world’s people will live in regions where solar electricity will be available at a price equal to or cheaper than the price of electricity from burning coal.”
Mr Gore says powerful special interest groups are preventing governments around the world from properly tackling climate change.
“The energy companies, coal companies particularly, have prevented the Congress of the US from doing anything meaningful so far from doing anything about the climate crisis,” he said.
“It reminds me of politicians here who got a lot of support from the tobacco companies and who argued to the public that there was absolutely no connection between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer.
“For 40 years the tobacco companies were able to persuade pliant politicians within their grip to tell the public what they wanted them to tell them, and for 40 years the tragedy continued.”