Nov 8, 2016

Report on joint Standing Committee on Treaties

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (17:23): Labor support the ratification of the Paris Agreement and the Doha amendment to the Kyoto protocol. That is because we believe that it is imperative that we act to avoid dangerous climate change. But we do have a range of concerns: firstly, the target that Australia committed to under the agreement is quite inadequate. It lacks ambition that is required in order for us to advance and play our part. Secondly, the government has not outlined any mechanism to ensure that these modest targets can be achieved. Thirdly, we do want to ensure that communities that are impacted by the shift to a carbon-constrained economy—such as the community in the Latrobe Valley around the Hazelwood power station, that we have seen the closure of announced—are provided with appropriate support for economic restructuring. That has to happen in advance; we should not wait until announcements such as the one of a couple of weeks ago. Indeed, when we were in government we established economic transition plans, including for the Latrobe Valley. It is a pity that the current government cut $9.6 million from that plan when they came to office after the 2013 election.

Labor comes to this debate with a very strong record of commitment to international agreements aimed at addressing climate change. Australia, of course, signed the Kyoto protocol on 24 April 1998, but it took the election of a Labor government to actually get that agreement ratified. I am very proud of the fact that we did that, on 12 December 2007, as the very first act of the Rudd Labor government. On the afternoon of the day that we were sworn in to the ministry at Yarralumla, that agreement was ratified and signed by Prime Minister Rudd. Our predecessors had done nothing about the issue and, indeed, continued to be dominated by climate change sceptics and argue against the science of climate change, as well as against taking action to avoid dangerous climate change. As a result, as Labor’s environment spokesperson, I introduced the Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change (Kyoto Protocol Ratification) Bill to the parliament on 14 February 2005. At that time, I said:

This is not a debate about Right or Left. This is a debate about right and wrong. It is a debate about old ways or new paths. It is not a debate about blame; it is a debate about real solutions to problems that are real now, but potentially catastrophic if not addressed.

In spite of the fact that there was a global movement, including here in Australia, the government of the day was very unmoved. We took action not just to ratify the Kyoto protocol but to put in place a pathway to a carbon constrained economy. We put a price on carbon as a prelude to the creation of an emissions trading scheme. Indeed, we saw the coalition become not just climate change sceptics but market sceptics in opposing the emissions trading scheme. We put in place, as part of the climate change blueprint, announced by Kim Beazley with me as the shadow environment minister, the 20 per cent by 2020 renewable energy target. At the time of that announcement, the target was two per cent. We essentially would not have had an effective renewable energy industry without that increase of the target. We provided significant support for the development of alternative power sources. We provided compensation to help low-income earners cope with the effects of change. We invested more in public transport than all previous governments combined, thereby lowering emissions in the transport sector. We understood that it needed a whole-of-government approach.

That was followed, it must be said, by a period in which there was an attempt to have a consensus among sensible people across the parliament. Indeed, the member for Wentworth, in 2010, said this as the member for Wentworth:

It truly requires us to think as a species, not just to think as individuals.

…   …   …

… in order to do that … we must make a dramatic reduction in the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Now you can look at the targets, 50 per cent the common sort of rubric rule of thumb is to cut emissions by 2050 … I promise you, you cannot achieve that cut … without getting to a point by mid-century where all or almost all of our stationary energy, that is to say energy from power stations and big factories and so forth comes from zero emission sources.

Such a strong and a principled view, but that, of course, was Malcolm Turnbull as the member for Wentworth, not Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister. As Prime Minister, he has embraced the so-called Direct Action Plan that he ridiculed when it was proposed by Tony Abbott, the member for Warringah, as the opposition leader. So what we have is a change of Prime Minister but not a change of climate change strategy. And that is unfortunate indeed, because this Prime Minister does know better, but this Prime Minister is frozen in time while the world warms around him. We know that each and every year we are seeing it coming through in the figures—whether it be year-on-year, or the hottest month, or the hottest week, or the hottest season—around the globe and we need to take action.

The Paris Agreement came into force last Friday with enough of the large emitters already having signed up to ensure that it was put in place in record time. It is good that Labor will be part of the agreement but, as Labor members of the committee have noted, we are disappointed at its lack of ambition. Under the coalition, Australia’s commitment to the world in the Paris Agreement is to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. There is broad concern that that level of commitment is not consistent with keeping temperature rise below two degrees Celsius, and ideally, 1.5 degrees Celsius, as the agreement targets. For example, Bloomberg New Energy Finance has said:

Australia’s current emissions reduction target of 26-28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 should thus be regarded as a low-case scenario. Australia’s final 2030 target is likely to be higher and somewhere between this and a high-case scenario of 45-63 per cent, which is Australia’s fair share of burden to limit warming to 2 degrees C.

It is very clear that we do need to be more ambitious.

Whatever the target is, we need an effective mechanism to get there. We need a target linked to total emissions. We need to have a renewable energy target after 2020. We need to ensure that we provide support to bodies like ARENA and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. We need to make sure that there is a whole-of-government response. As it is now, importantly, national emissions are projected to keep growing to 2020, and likely beyond, until Australia has a real climate change policy. This is an issue which we have a responsibility to deal with not just for us but for our children and our grandchildren. This is an intergenerational equity issue beyond all others, which is why this parliament must show leadership and it is critical that Australia play our role as good global citizens.

Contact Anthony

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