Jo Dodds is bringing the stories of bushfire survivors to the world at COP26

Jo Dodds is bringing the stories of bushfire survivors to the world at COP26

Jo Dodds

Jo Dodds is ensuring the voices of Australian bushfire survivors are being heard at COP26, the major United Nations climate change conference currently being held in Glasgow.

Dodds is someone who intrinsically understands the concerns of the thousands of bushfire survivors in Australia, because she’s one herself. In March 2018, she evacuated from her home on the south coast of New South Wales and hoped for the best as her small coastal town, Tathra, was engulfed in flames.

Dodds is now the president of the Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action group, as well as a Bega Valley councillor.

As world leaders converge to deliberate and (hopefully) agree on the measures needed to prevent the worst of the climate crisis, the voices of people with firsthand experience of climate-related disasters are so valuable. Speaking to Women’s Agenda from Glasgow, Dodds said she decided to head to COP26 after consulting with leaders of other climate action groups in Australia, who encouraged her to attend.

“I didn’t want to go if I wasn’t going to be of value to the whole issue, but the older, wiser people in various climate movements were adamant that it would be important to have a bushfire survivor voice here,” she said.

“In every interview, that’s what I’ve been talking about – the impact of climate on this huge number of Australians, who’ve either lost homes, or breathed the smoke, or lost loved ones, or had their businesses crushed by the fires.”

In Glasgow, Dodds’ aim has been to ensure that the Australian government – including Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor – are faced with the stories of people in Australia who have lived through events like catastrophic bushfires.

Dodds recounts waiting at the Australian pavilion inside the COP26 venue last week and noticing that it was decked out in the branding of Santos, one of the major oil and gas producers in the Asia-Pacific region.

She had turned up, holding her bushfire survivors placard, just before Angus Taylor was to give a speech. When staffers noticed her presence, she said everything was quickly packed away and Taylor didn’t give his talk.

“I didn’t realise at the time, but it was because they’d seen me there and the Minister didn’t feel comfortable trying to talk while there was a bushfire survivor there,” she said.

“I think they got a real fright, and the longer I sat there and thought about what it meant to have the Santos branding at the pavilion, I thought that’s just the Australian government basically giving the world, at a climate conference, the finger. As well as to people like me, a bushfire survivor.”

Bushfires in Australia

The week before COP26, Prime Minister Scott Morrison committed Australia to a target of net zero emissions by 2050. And while it’s a start, the international focus of the Glasgow summit has been 2030 targets, something the federal government is continuing to drag its heels on.

Dodds said it was good to hear the Morrison government acknowledge climate change was an issue with its 2050 target, but alone, it is not a realistic or adequate path to avert the worst of the crisis.

“The problem is urgent, so a promise that doesn’t fall due until 2050 isn’t worth much,” Dodds said. “We need an ambitious 2030 target desperately, because that’s what the world is focused on.”

“It still feels to me like they have not actually accepted that those catastrophic fires were the result of climate change. Because, if you have accepted that, how are you still promoting coal?”

Dodds said there is a clear view among those at COP26 that Australia is positioning itself as an outlier on climate action, especially compared to other wealthy nations that have long taken climate change more seriously. She says it’s baffling considering how so many of Australians are on the frontline, already feeling the effects of climate disasters.

“I don’t know why the federal government just expects a free ride and at the same time, we see our own communities in flames. It’s unpardonably duplicitous, what they’re doing.”

Dodds said she came into close proximity with Angus Taylor multiple times at the conference, but “he never once acknowledged me”.

“You would think a good politician, upon seeing a person with lived experience of a catastrophe, would come over and at least say ‘hi’, or offer an invitation to a five-minute sit down,” Dodds said.

“But he just doesn’t know what to say.”

Jo Dodds (right) in Glasgow with Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action. Source: Supplied.

Is there hope?

Although Dodds says she’s disappointed with the behaviour of the Australian government at COP26, she’s hopeful being among others from all over the world who have come together with a common goal.

“It’s difficult to know what’s going to come out of it but seeing the level of conversation that’s going on here, it is heart-warming,” she said. “Glasgow is just awash, there isn’t a sign that isn’t pointed at climate change, and I think the world will continue to push back at Australia.”

Dodds’ presence at COP26 has been making headlines, both here in Australia, and around the world. Last week, France’s Ambassador to Australia Jean-Pierre Thebault even referenced her efforts during an address at the National Press Club.

“I’m foregrounding bushfire survivor stories here, and it might not be getting through to the Australian government, but it’s certainly getting through to the rest of the world,” Dodds says.

The Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action group is crowdfunding Jo’s trip to Glasgow, so far raising more than $17,000. Any remaining funds will be used for future campaigns. You can check it out here.

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