Steam raises from the cooling towers of the Bayswater coal power station in Muswellbrook, 153 miles (246 km) north of Sydney July 4, 2011

Australia’s climate change reversal can’t come soon enough for those most affected

This year, Australia is trying to turn its climate credentials from laggard into an environmental crusade.

From a reputation as an outlier country that refused to sign new pledges at the UN’s COP26 in Glasgow last year, Australia is now a signatory to the global agreement to cut methane emissions by 30 %.

His new Labor government has also pledged to switch to renewable energy and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by 2030. Under the previous Liberal-National coalition government, that figure was 26%.

What a difference a year makes.

Nicki Hutley from the Climate Council said: “At the last COP conference we had no promises.

“We had a low goal.

“We weren’t doing anything.”

But Ms Hutley said that since this year’s election Australia has “gone from an F to a kind of B”.

Image:
Climate Council’s Nicki Hutley

However, for flood survivors in the town of Lismore in northern New South Wales, a ‘B’ is not enough.

Towns and villages in this region are built on flood plains. People are used to flooding here.

So when the rain started in February and didn’t stop for days, no one expected the magnitude of this disaster.

A great flood unlike anything they had seen before.

For many, it was an escape.

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Mark O’Toole, his son and an elderly neighbor waited nearly three days in a boat as the water raged around them.

When help finally arrived, they climbed onto the roof of O’Toole’s house and were winched to a military helicopter.

“I’ll never forget when the helicopter came in, the downforce was amazing,” he told Sky News.

“It lifted the roof of the house like a big massive wave.

“Pin pieces flying everywhere.”

Cleaning up after the floods in Lismore, Australia
Cleaning up after the floods in Lismore, Australia

The house is 24 meters above the river. Incredibly, it wasn’t high enough to save it from being crushed by a wall of water.

He lost everything.

“We live off a gas camping shower and a barbecue, no flushing. No fridge. It’s disgusting.”

Mr. O’Toole showed us around the bare and bare cavity of his house.

“We can’t sell our properties for anything, so we can’t move.

“We were stuck.”

Adam Guise / flood survivor, Lismore
Image:
Adam Guise

Another flood survivor, Adam Guise, blames climate change for dumping disaster after disaster on this community.

“It was destroyed by floods, it was destroyed by bushfires and it will continue to experience extreme weather unless we act,” Mr Guise said from the balcony of his abandoned home.

“That means ending coal, keeping gas in the ground, and not sending all of our coal overseas to fuel other people’s climate disasters.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports that global warming is 1.2°C above pre-industrial levels. However, Australia has already passed that. It’s at an alarming 1.4C.

“Australia is one of the top 10 emitters per capita in the world, so we are extracting fossil fuels and exporting them at knot rate,” Ms Hutley warned.

When Lismore was flooded, the town’s main bridge sank, murky brown water ran through the streets and thousands of people became “flood refugees”.

Australia is no stranger to natural disasters, but these scenes have been described as “apocalyptic”.

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People were wading through chest-deep water, carrying pets and bags in their arms.

Dozens of small boats, called “tinnies”, were commandeered by Lismore residents, forming a rambling rescue force.

The survivors then became rescuers. People ran away.

Mark O'Toole / flood survivor, near Lismore
Image:
Mark O’Toole

Mr. O’Toole joined them.

After escaping the flood, he took a boat and spent days saving over 20 neighbors.

The Northern Rivers hinterland had become a real disaster area.

Now, as world leaders dither and debate in Egypt over what to do, the victims of climate change live with the threat of more rain, more flooding and an increasingly uncertain future.

Mr. O’Toole loses hope.

Taking his tinnie for a spin on the river, he said the sound of rain brings terror.

He fears the next mega-flood is coming.

“I feel weird and anxious about it. The community is traumatized. Mental health has been forgotten.”

Watch the Daily Climate Show at 3.30pm Monday to Friday and The Climate Show with Tom Heap Saturday and Sunday at 3.30pm and 7.30pm.

All on Sky News, on the Sky News website and app, on YouTube and Twitter.

The show investigates how global warming is changing our landscape and highlights solutions to the crisis.

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