Sep 6, 2005

Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change (Climate Change Trigger Bill 2005: First Read


6 September 2005

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (1.32 p.m.)—Climate change is one of the most significant challenges facing the global community and one of the greatest threats to Australia’s way of life. Increasing levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere have significantly contributed to a rise in global average temperatures of 0.6 degrees over the past century. The international consensus is that this trend will lead to a rise in global temperature of between two and six degrees over the next century. This will be devastating for much of the world.

A recent Australian government report, Climate change risk and vulnerability, suggests Australia could face the following risks from climate change: an increase in annual national average temperatures of between 0.4 and two degrees by 2030 and of between one and six degrees by 2070; more heatwaves and fewer frosts; more frequent El Nino southern oscillation events; reductions in average rainfall and run-off in southern and much of eastern Australia, with rainfall increases across much of the tropical north; as much as a 20 per cent reduction in rainfall in south-west Australia and up to a 20 per cent reduction in run-off in the Murray-Darling Basin by 2030; more severe wind speeds in cyclones, associated with storm surges being progressively amplified by rising sea levels; an increase in severe weather events such as storms and bushfires; and a change in ocean currents, possibly affecting our coastal waters, towards 2070.

These are profound risks which demand urgent action. It is important that a suite of measures is adopted by the Australian government to tackle climate change. These measures should include ratifying the Kyoto protocol, establishing a national emissions trading scheme, adopting an ambitious renewable energy target and establishing a climate change trigger in federal environmental legislation.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act provides a framework for environmental protection for any actions that are likely to have an impact on matters of national environmental significance. Seven matters of national environmental significance—World Heritage properties; National Heritage places; Ramsar wetlands of international importance; nationally threatened species and ecological communities; migratory species; nuclear actions, including uranium mining; and the Commonwealth marine environment—are currently provided protection under the EPBC Act.

The glaring gap in matters of national environmental significance is climate change. This bill closes that gap. The climate change trigger will enable major new projects to be assessed for their climate change impact as part of any environmental assessment process and will ensure that new developments represent best practice. The climate change trigger will apply to the establishment of any industrial plant or other facility which emits, or is likely to emit, more than 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide or carbon dioxide equivalent per year; or any other action, series of actions, or policies which will lead—or are likely to lead—to the emission of more than 500,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide or carbon dioxide equivalent per year. Any such action will require ministerial approval, unless the Minister for the Environment and Heritage decides that the action is not controlled under the act. If the action is approved, the minister can, under the act, attach conditions to the approval, such as the need to mitigate its greenhouse emissions.

The Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change (Climate Change Trigger) Bill 2005 provides that the minister must consider whether the direct or indirect emissions of carbon dioxide or carbon dioxide equivalent that are likely to result from the action will be minimised by the use of best practice environmental management and low emissions technology. This provides some substance to the government’s commitments under the Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate. According to its vision statement, the partnership will:

… collaborate to promote and create an enabling environment for the development, diffusion, deployment and transfer of existing and emerging cost-effective, cleaner technologies and practices, through concrete and substantial cooperation so as to achieve practical results.

Given that, the Howard government should support this bill. We know that the Howard government has been considering and procrastinating on a climate change trigger since 1999. In May 1999, the Prime Minister committed to a consultation process regarding a climate change trigger. A consultation paper was released in December 1999, and a draft regulation and model trigger was released in November 2000 for public consultation. We understand that a specific proposal for a climate change trigger has been with the federal Minister for the Environment and Heritage since 2001.

It is time to act. It is time for procrastination to end. The tragic events in New Orleans and in other southern states in the United States of America highlight exactly what can be expected from the impact of climate change. We cannot any longer afford to be complacent on this issue. We need action and one of the actions that we need, which has been acknowledged by the government for many years, is this amendment to the EPBC Act. We urge the government to support this private member’s bill. I present the explanatory memorandum to the House.

Bill read a first time.

Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change (Climate Change Trigger) Bill 2005 [pdf]

Explanatory Memorandum: Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change (Climate Change Trigger) Bill 2005 [pdf]