Australia is on fire, literally—and so are its climate politics

NOTE: hover over words in blue for additional information

More than 100 bushfires are raging in Australia: blazes across New South Wales and Queensland have scorched almost 7 million acres, and Australia experienced its hottest day on record Wednesday, when the average temperature across the country hit 105 degrees. The nation's woes are unfolding as Australia faces criticism for what have been described as its inadequate climate policies.

Seasonal bushfires occur naturally in Australia, but hotter and drier conditions due to climate change have increased the frequency of fires and their severity, said Andy Pitman, a climate modeler at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. "There is an uncontroversial link whereby higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere from climate change increase bushfire risk," Pitman said. "All other things being equal, a fire that occurs now will be worse than a fire that occurred 20 to 30 years ago."

Bushfires release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. So far Australia has released half its annual CO2 emissions.

Trees play an integral role in the planet's carbon cycle by absorbing carbon dioxide as they grow. But research has shown that when vegetation dries out—as during hot and dry summer months—the increased amount of carbon dioxide acts as extra fuel for wildfires. Human activities, such as burning fossil fuels, release greenhouse gases that trap heat and raise surface temperatures, leading to an increase in the frequency of extreme heat events. Those heat waves, combined with dry conditions, are dangerous ingredients for bushfires.

Bushfires are also problematic because they release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Australia's fires are estimated to have emitted 250 million tons of carbon dioxide already—nearly half of the nation's total yearly average emissions, according to NASA data.

Those events have renewed focus on Australia's Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, who has refused to answer questions about climate change and their link to the fires. This stance seems symptomatic of Australia's complex history of climate change policy. Australia is the world's largest exporter of coal and its third-largest exporter of fossil fuels, after Russia and Saudi Arabia. Richie Merzian, who worked as a climate negotiator for the government for almost a decade, said those economic ties have shaped the country's climate policies for decades—and invite international criticism. "You can't be the largest exporter of coal, which is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions when consumed, and not take any responsibility for that," Merzian said.

In 2012, Australia's Labor Government introduced a carbon tax that helped the country reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 1.4 percent by the end of its second year. But the policy was unpopular, and in 2014, the newly elected government repealed the tax.

As one of the countries that ratified the 2015 Paris Agreement, a global pact aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions to fight climate change, Australia will join 187 other countries in pledging to meet its reduction goals next year. Australia has much at stake, with fragile ecosystems, such as the Great Barrier Reef, under severe threat from warming oceans and the country's bushfires. Still, it's difficult to be optimistic about the country's direction.

The Great Barrier Reef will be severely affected by excessive CO2 emissions.

"The Great Barrier Reef is a multibillion-dollar asset to Australia, and it's being sacrificed at the altar of carbon dioxide emissions," Pitman said. "It's really important to understand that decisions that need to be made on carbon emission are politically painful, and there is no one more skilled at avoiding difficult political decisions than politicians."

Australia fires 2020

Australia fires.
Image from time.com.

The summer Australia burned 2019-2020

Carbon cycle

Carbon cycle.
Image from klimatetochskogen.nu.

Scott Morrison

Scott Morrison, Australia's Prime Minister.
Image from independent.co.uk.

The Great Barrier

The Great Barrier Reef.
Image from theguardian.com.


  Introduction to the course
  • To be done in class.
  Civilisation landmark
  • Australia is on fire
  1. Choose the correct answer
  2. Did you understand these details?
  3. Vocabulary
  4. Australian humour
  Language tools
  1. Numbers and dates
  2. Verbs
  3. Fill in the gaps


  • Your English teacher will give you a book on the first session.
    If you wish to have a digital copy you can download it here and also from Madoc.


  • Exercises are marked by level of difficulty. Sometimes you will be able to choose between several options, but you are expected to push yourself to your limit. We have three types:

    • [level = EASY]
    • [level = TRICKY]
    • [level = HARD]


CLASS TEST #1 (25%)
  •   Reading comprehension
  •   Language tools
  •   Glossaries
  •   Cultural landmarks 1-2
CLASS TEST #2 (25%)
  •   Listening comprehension
  •   Language tools
  •   Glossaries
  •   Cultural landmarks 3-4
CLASS TEST #3 (50%)
  •   Writing
  •   Language tools
  •   Glossaries
  •   Cultural landmarks 1-6



The civilisation part (called Landmarks) must be prepared on Madoc. Landmarks are part of the online material you will have to work on this semester.


Use the following link or visit the Online Training Page on Madoc for useful grammar revisions, methodology advice and quizzes about science videos.


A. Choose the correct answer. [Level = EASY]

The main objective of this article is:

Check answer

2. In the first paragraph, what are the two catastrophes that are presented (two answers)?

Check answer

3. In paragraphs 2&3, we learn that CO2 emissions:

Check answer

4. The article insists on how much Australia’s climate policies (§5-end):

Check answer

B. Did you understand these details? [Level = TRICKY]

1. What area of Australia had burned by mid-December 2019 (in km2)?

2. What was the average temperature during Australia’s hottest day (in Celsius)?

3. What is Australia's usual average emissions of CO2 per year?

4. Is Richie Merzian a member of Scott Morrison's government?

Check answer

5. Was the carbon tax an efficient measure?

Check answer

6. Is Andy Pitman optimistic about the future of the Great Barrier Reef?

Check answer

C. Vocabulary. [level = EASY/TRICKY]

Choose your level:
[EASY] Look for the definitions/translations for these words in a dictionary.

[TRICKY] Rephrase these expressions in our own words, without using a dictionary.

1. blazes have scorched

2. The nation's woes are unfolding

3. to occur

4. Fuel

5. Economic ties

6. a decade

7. pledging to meet its reduction goals next year

8. Australia has much at stake

9. It's being sacrificed at the altar of CO2 emissions

D. Australian humour. [Level = HARD]

Humour is probably the most difficult thing to understand in a foreign language. Watch and put your Australian English irony to the test.


E. Numbers and dates

1. Identify some dates and numbers in the text and read them out loud. What is the format? [Level = EASY]

2. The following numbers have been written out incorrectly. Correct the mistakes. [Level = TRICKY]

a. 15: fiveteen

b. 10,000: ten million

c. 0.8: nought dot eight

d. 148 596 123 365.489: one hudred and forty-eight billions, five hundred and ninety six million, one hundred and twenty-three thousand, three hundred and sixty-five slash four hundred and eighty nine

3. "Multimillion-dollar asset". [Level = HARD]

a. Do you know why there is no plural form in this structure?

b. Can you give other examples of the same structure?

c. Complete the sentence, expressing the same idea as in the text: “The Great Barrier Reef brings ____________________________ dollars to Australia each year."

F. Verbs.

Check the diagrams below and answer the questions.

Present simple      Present continuous

1. Write the conjugated verbs in paragraphs 1 and 2, and identify the tense. [Level = EASY]

2. Choose between present simple and present progressive. [Level = EASY]

1. Bushfires __________ every year in Australia.

Check answer

2. Firemen __________ to limit the ongoing bushfires.

Check answer

3. Tons of species __________ in the Great Barrier Reef.

Check answer

4. This year’s temperatures __________ the Great Barrier Reef.

Check answer

5. Andy Pitman __________ that global warming will be sacrificed.

Check answer

G. Fill in the gaps, using the appropriate present tense. [Level = HARD]

Environmental law groups in the US and Australia (1) (to push) Unesco to place the world heritage status of the Great Barrier Reef on an “in danger” list, incriminating the Australia government. But a spokesperson for the environment minister, Sussan Ley, (2) (say) the government (to be committed, deeply) to protecting the reef, through its Reef 2050 plan, which (4) (to focus) on improving resilience to climate change. As a total the government (5) (spend) $2.7bn on reef protection.

Check answers


2 Rue de la Houssinière
Building 2 - Office 109
Nantes 44322 cedex 3