Bushfire survivor calls on fossil fuel companies to pay for disaster recovery

Jack Egan in the rubble of his Rosedale home. Inset: The fire which destroyed Jack Egan's home on New Year's Eve. Pictures: Supplied.
Jack Egan in the rubble of his Rosedale home. Inset: The fire which destroyed Jack Egan's home on New Year's Eve. Pictures: Supplied.

Some survivors of the Black Summer bushfires say fossil fuel companies should be made to shoulder some of the costs of disasters exacerbated by climate change.

Emergency Leaders for Climate Action will on Thursday release a plan with 165 recommendations on how Australia can better prepare and respond to bushfires.

It was developed by more than 150 experts and affected community members at the National Bushfire and Climate Summit 2020.

It calls for a national climate disaster fund to be set up to meet climate-fuelled disaster costs and build resilience. It would be funded through a fossil fuel producer levy.

Jack Egan lost everything when his home at Rosedale near Batemans Bay burnt down on New Year's Eve.

He said the fund would highlight the "seriousness and immediacy of the climate crisis".

He described the conditions that day as "unprecedented".

The fire bore down on his property at 10.30am, after racing 30 kilometres overnight.

Mr Egan said it was extraordinary that the fire moved that fast in cool overnight conditions.

"The fire seemed to be making its own weather," he said.

He was expecting more fires like this one, given the changes in Australia's climate.

"We assumed that climate change and its effects would unfold in an orderly manner and at a pace we could adapt to it," Mr Egan said.

"It's clear from the events of last summer that future has crashed right into the present and we've tipped over into a new set of climatic conditions.

"We need to take immediate and global action to reduce the drivers of climate change and these natural disasters and the biggest driver is fossil fuel emissions. "

Mr Egan said the fund was not intended to be a "punishment" to fossil fuel companies, but rather "hold them to account for the product they're producing".

"There's a parallel here with packaging producers who are slowly being asked to take responsibility for the products they are putting out into the market," Mr Egan said.

"It also provides incentives for those companies to move those businesses into cleaner energy sectors."

Major General Peter Dunn, a former commissioner of the ACT Emergency Services Authority and a member of the Conjola Community Recovery Association, said many people on the South Coast had been forced to bear the cost of climate change.

Residents of Lake Conjola were smashed this week by the second major East Coast Low this year in the past week.

Insurance policies in the area tripled two years ago when flood levies increased.

A number of people who lost homes during the 2019-20 bushfires were also finding themselves priced out of rebuilding or reinsuring their new homes, Major General Dunn said.

The cost of remediating bushfire-affected blocks was also extensive.

In some parts of Lake Conjola, older houses containing asbestos "literally exploded" when the fire hit them, Major General Dunn said.

To make the blocks safe, up to 200 millimetres of soil had to be scraped off which meant in steep areas, expensive restabilisation works also had to be undertaken.

"I've been talking to families today who can't afford to rebuild their homes," he said.

"What we're saying is the people causing climate change should be footing the bill.

"You caused it, you pay it."

Major General Dunn said a fossil fuel levy could also help pay for proper land management, including mechanical hazard reduction and prescribed burning.

"[Land managers] have had their resources stripped and National Parks has undergone a series of reductions in personnel," he said.

"We have to dramatically improve the way we manage the land, which will require money and fossil fuel producers should be paying."

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Emergency Leaders for Climate Action also called for building standards to be rewritten in bushfire areas, and include home bushfire sprinklers and bunkers.

Like other survivors, Mr Egan is building a bunker into his new home in case he needs to take refuge during a future fire.

However he fears for others in the area with older homes, which are not as bushfire resilient.

"It's reasonable to think as part of our recovery from bushfires and COVID, we could be retrofitting existing buildings to make them much safer from fires," Mr Egan said.

This story Bushfire survivor calls on fossil fuel companies to pay for disaster recovery first appeared on The Canberra Times.

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