Net zero emissions must be reached to help with major weather events

Floodwater in Moree submerged parts of the town.
Floodwater in Moree submerged parts of the town.

As sunny skies return over NSW this week and floodwaters recede, communities and authorities are now in recovery mode.

No doubt this disaster has raised many questions around how we build our towns and cities, how we manage our water resources, and where we live and work.

But looking at recent events through the lens of my 40-year career in the fire and emergency services, there's another concern we can't ignore.

While the scenes from flooding in NSW have been confronting, there were actually four states experiencing severe flooding at once, with Victoria's Gippsland region, south-east Queensland, and parts of South Australia also inundated.

It used to be that these emergencies rarely overlapped, and state emergency services were able to help each other in times of need. But that may soon no longer be the case as climate change exacerbates the severity of extreme weather events across the country.

For example, NSW's State Emergency Services (SES) usually sends strike teams to major cyclone responses in Queensland, and once they had abated, QLD's SES crews would help with floods on the NSW North Coast. And Victorian firies would come up early before their fire season to help deal with fires on the NSW South Coast.

But we saw this orderly arrangement disrupted during the Black Summer bushfires, when multiple states were battling unprecedented fires at once. It happened again last week with the floods, pushing many states' response capacity to the limit.

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This spells trouble for the safety of communities, as well as first responders. That's why we need the Government to step in, and step up.

We need to reach net zero emissions as quickly as possible and shift from fossil fuels to a renewables-powered economy to put a lid on worsening climate impacts.

We also need improved resourcing and national coordination for emergency service agencies, and enhanced community resilience measures.

The recently concluded Royal Commission into Natural Disaster Arrangement's final report lays out clear recommendations to achieve this. Fully implementing these recommendations should be a priority for the Federal Government.

We're in an unprecedented era of climate impacts, and there are some tough times ahead. But if we work together, we'll get through this.

  • Jim Smith is the former commissioner of NSW State Emergency Service, former deputy commissioner of Fire and Rescue NSW, and a volunteer firefighter. He is a member of Emergency Leaders for Climate Action

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