Tens of thousands rally across the country to demand PM Scott Morrison's conservative government cut back on fossil fuels, as deadly climate-fuelled bushfires burn out of control.
Tens of thousands of Australians took to the streets on Friday to protest against government inaction on the climate crisis, as bushfires ravage large swathes of the country, incinerating wildlife and polluting the air with two enormous fires merging to form a "megablaze" in southeastern New South Wales state.
Friday's demonstrations came as authorities urged nearly a quarter of a million people to flee their homes and prepared military backup as soaring temperatures and erratic winds fanned bushfires across the east coast.
Major roads in Sydney were blocked as protesters chanted "ScoMo has got to go," referring to Prime Minister Scott Morrison, while others held posters that read, "There is no climate B" and "Save us from hell."
The bushfire crisis has added pressure on Morrison's conservative government to do more to combat climate change after Australia weakened its commitment to the UN Paris climate accord last year.
At least 26 people have died, over $1.2 billion animals killed and more than 2,000 homes have been destroyed in the unprecedented blazes.
"The lives that have been lost have been caused by our inaction," protester Monty Oldroyd said.
"It's been absolutely devastating. I've had multiple friends and family who live in rural areas who had their homes threatened and even destroyed, and livelihoods have been lost."
'Phase Out Fossil Fools'
There were similar protests in Canberra, the capital, and Melbourne where air quality turned so noxious this month that the two cities featured among places with the most polluted air on earth.
In Melbourne, huge crowds braved heavy rain and a sharp drop in temperature to come out with placards, shouting "Phase Out Fossil Fools", "Fire ScoMo" and "Make Fossil Fuels History.”
But Morrison has repeatedly rejected any criticism that his government is not doing enough.
On Friday, he told Sydney radio 2GB that it was disappointing that people were conflating the bushfire crisis with Australia's emission reduction targets.
"We don't want job-destroying, economy-destroying, economy-wrecking targets and goals, which won’t change the fact that there have been bushfires or anything like that in Australia," he said.
Friday's protests stirred controversy, with Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews saying they were wrongly timed and would divert police resources.
"Common sense tells you that there are other times to make your point," he told a televised briefing.
"I respect people's right to have a view, I tend to agree with a lot of the points that are being made — climate change is real — but there is a time and a place for everything and I just don't think a protest tonight was the appropriate thing."
'Our planet is dying'
Teacher Denise Lavell said she attended the protests in Sydney because she believed the pleas were only a tactic to keep people from protesting.
"Our country is burning, our planet is dying and we need to show up," she said.
Climate scientists have warned the frequency and intensity of the fires will surge as Australia becomes hotter and drier.
Australia has warmed by about 1 degree Celsius since records began in 1910, NASA climate scientist Kate Marvel said this week.
"This makes heatwaves and fires more likely," she said on Twitter. "There is no explanation for this — none — that makes sense, besides emissions of heat-trapping gases."
Siemens targeted over Australia coal project
In Berlin, climate activists staged rallies outside the offices of German engineering firm Siemens over its involvement in a coal mine project in Australia.
The group Fridays for Future, which has held weekly protests demanding action against climate change for over a year, wants Siemens to quit the Adani mine project because emissions from coal-fired power plants contribute to global warming.
Siemens chief executive Joe Kaeser has offered to meet with representatives of the group and said the company takes the activists' concerns seriously.
Kaeser also said on Twitter last month that he would “diligently look into the matter.”
Siemens has put in an offer to supply signalling systems for the mine.
Australia is one of the world's biggest coal exporters.
Strong winds create Australian 'megablaze'
Also on Friday, gale-force winds in Australia merged two enormous fires into a megablaze spanning an area four times the size of Greater London.
"The conditions are difficult today," said Shane Fitzsimmons, a rural fire service commissioner for New South Wales state, after days of relative calm.
"It's the hot, dry winds that will prove once again to be the real challenge."
Temperatures soared above 40 degrees Celsius in parts of New South Wales and neighbouring Victoria, where attention was focused on the two fires that linked to form yet another monster blaze of more than 600,000 hectares.
Fire service spokesman Anthony Bradstreet said agency it is believed the blaze was sparked by dry lightning.