Avoiding Dangerous Climate Change
Speech to the Shortland FEC
Swansea RSL Club
24 September 2006
I want to talk today about the stark differences between the Howard Government and Labor in addressing Australia and the world’s most serious environmental issue: climate change.
Australia has just had the driest winter on record in some parts of the country, and we’ve just had the hottest and driest August in 106 years.
And let’s not forget that, according to the Bureau of Meteorology, 2005 was the hottest year on record because of climate change. And 10 out of the last 14 years have been the hottest ever.
Climate change is happening and impacting on Australia’s economy and environment.
Australia’s 2006 grain harvest has been cut by 36% because of reduced rainfall and ongoing drought linked to climate change. The cut in Australia’s wheat exports will cut Australia’s export income by almost $2 billion.
Climate change is cutting water supplies to our cities and agriculture, and Australia’s leading businesses are saying “climate change is a major business risk and we need to act now”.
John Howard knows climate change is a serious threat to Australia’s economy and environment, but he is ignoring the truth.
Australia needs strong, responsible national leadership so it can seize the economic benefits of the worldwide push to clean, renewable energy.
This is not a question of Right or Left. It is a question of right and wrong. It’s about old ways or new paths.
Over coming weeks, hundreds of thousands of Australians will be become more aware about climate change due to Al Gore’s documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.
It is an inconvenient truth that the Howard Government is increasingly isolated on climate change.
It is an inconvenient truth that between 1990 and 2004 Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions rose by 25.1 per cent, once you exclude the decisions of the New South Wales and Queensland governments on land clearing.
I have had the privilege of watching that documentary on a number of occasions, and it is extremely powerful. The former Vice President of the United States puts a strong case that climate change is the moral cause of our generation, in the interests of future generations — and that is because climate change threatens the very conditions that allow human civilisation to live on this planet.
However, this important documentary has been dismissed by the Prime Minister’s Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, Ian Macfarlane, who stated,
‘It’s just entertainment, and really that’s all it is.’
Recently, the Prime Minister said he was “sceptical about gloomy climate change predictions”. Al Gore was asked on The 7.30 Report about the Prime Minister’s scepticism, and he said:
‘He’s increasingly alone in that view among people who’ve really looked at the science. … The so-called “gloomy predictions” are predictions of what would happen if we did not act. It’s not a question of mood. It’s a question of reality. And, you know, there’s no longer debate over whether the earth is round or flat, though there are some few people who still think it’s flat, we generally ignore that view because the evidence has mounted to the point where we understand that it shouldn’t be taken seriously.’
And that is why we should be very concerned about the Howard Government’s flat-earth view of climate change.
In the absence of national leadership on renewable energy and climate change, State & local Government, companies and key community groups are filling the leadership void.
This week General Electric launched its Ecomagination project for Australia. GE will be pouring $1.5 billion annually into clean energy technologies around the world.
It is great that a company with the size and reputation of General Electric is serious about the environment and working to produce commercial, low emission products.
On Friday, Virgin CEO Richard Branson criticised the Howard Government’s isolation from Kyoto and committed $3billion to abatement measures.
And recently, News Limited announced it will become carbon-neutral. According to reports, News Limited will be switching its car fleet to hybrids and dramatically cutting its energy use.
On Tuesday this week the AFL took strong action and declared it will become carbon-neutral.
While John Howard remains on the sidelines, the AFL has kicked a goal against climate change. And following the AFL’s lead, Collingwood will also offset all its greenhouse emissions.
If every company and sporting club does its bit, it’s a step in the right direction. But to get real momentum and achieve the cuts we need, we need to create a real market for energy efficiency and clean energy.
The actions of the AFL, General Electric and News Limited show what is possible. We just need everyone to do it.
Today, I want to take the opportunity to go through and demolish the five arguments that the Howard government advanced against ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and taking action to avoid dangerous climate change.
Demolishing the five arguments against the Kyoto Protocol
The first is pretty simple.
The Howard Government says that ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and having mandated emission targets will ruin the Australian economy – but, in the next breath, say that Australia will meet its Kyoto target.
The contradiction between the two statements sticks out like the proverbial.
You cannot on the one hand say that ratifying Kyoto will cause enormous economic damage to Australia, but on the other hand say we’ll comfortably meet our Kyoto greenhouse emission target.
Joh Bjelke Petersen had a lot of faults, but he did have a way with words – once describing how awkward it could be if you walked on both sides of the fence. You could say John Howard is in an awkward position on this one.
Argument No. 2 against ratifying Kyoto is perhaps the most offensive.
It is that we should not be involved in Kyoto because the developing world is not involved – China, India and all those countries. That is simply not true.
Kyoto has been ratified by 158 countries, including China, India and most of the developing world.
Korea, China, India and Japan are an important part of the Kyoto Protocol, and they are all active in Kyoto’s clean energy development projects.
These projects mean there will be $133 billion invested in clean energy development in developing countries by 2012. Helping developing nations use clean energy as the basis for their economic development is an important part of the Kyoto Protocol.
The developed world created the greenhouse and climate change problem we are all trying to fix. Because the developed world created the emissions that have caused climate change, we have a moral responsibility to take the lead in fixing it.
On Enough Rope on ABC TV, Al Gore put it particularly well when he stated:
Since the end of World War II there has been the same basic architecture for every international treaty. The wealthier countries that have the wherewithal to go first have agreed to take the first steps and then after we find the pathway and chart the course, then the poorer nations, where per capita income is just a fraction of what it is in Australia and the United States, they then join in the work. And the Kyoto treaty, the first of the treaties to come on the climate crisis, is based on that same model.
That’s why for the first commitment period of 2008-2012 under the Kyoto Protocol, developed nations such as Japan, Canada and all of Europe had greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. It’s called taking responsibility.
Australia has a moral responsibility, along with the United States—being the two highest per capita emitters in the world—to take the lead.
Labor believes Australia needs to be part of the ongoing and dynamic global effort against climate change by ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, which will continue well beyond 2012.
China, India and other developing nations are actively involved in building the next platform for the global effort against climate change, and the next platform is being built on the Kyoto Protocol.
By not ratifying Kyoto and being part of the global solution to climate change, the fact is that the whole world is moving forward, and Australia is being left behind.
Argument No. 3 against ratifying Kyoto – that it is about jobs and international competitiveness. But let’s have a look at what is happening in the real world.
John Howard’s failure to plan for the future meant that 100 jobs were lost in Tasmania. The Vestas Nacelle wind turbine assembly plant in Northern Tasmania will close as a result of the failure of the government to increase the mandatory renewable energy target.
You may have heard about the Bald Hills wind farm, where one theoretical parrot being killed every 1,000 years stopped a $220 million wind farm project.
And, in July, the Roaring Forties company, based in Tasmania, announced a $300 million to provide three wind farms to China, which has a 15 per cent mandatory renewable target. At the same time, the company is not proceeding with projects in South Australia and Tasmania worth $500 million because of the failure of the government.
There is a trillion-dollar emerging industry in renewable energy technologies, and we are not a part of it.
Our innovation and our ideas are being taken offshore. Companies like Pacific Solar have moved offshore, which is an absolute tragedy.
Supporting renewable energy, ratifying Kyoto and taking early action on climate change would be good for the Australian economy.
The Report released by the Australian Business Round Table on Climate Change comprising Westpac, Origin, the Insurance Australia Group, BP, Visy & Swiss Re found that early action to address climate change would mean 250,000 more jobs will be created than if we delayed.
Argument No. 4 against ratifying Kyoto is that somehow technology will solve the problem by itself.
Labor strongly supports this new technology. I ask you, who is opposed to new clean energy technology? Nobody. That is a given.
The question is – how do you get that technology commercialised and increase its application?
What is extraordinary about the Howard Government is not that there are climate sceptics in the Cabinet; it is that there are market sceptics in the so-called right-wing, free-market government.
The Howard Government opposes using a regulated market based system for encouraging energy efficiency and investment in clean, renewable energy.
The idea that new technology will be developed and rapidly dispersed in the absence of economic mechanisms is a triumph of hope over experience.
Argument No. 5 against ratifying Kyoto is related to the first argument, and it is that the Asia Pacific Climate Pact is the alternative to Kyoto.
The Howard Government fails to mention that most of the partners in Climate Pact — that is, everyone except us and the United States – have ratified the Kyoto Protocol.
As I noted earlier, Korea, China, India and Japan are all active in the Kyoto Protocol, and developing countries such as India and China will receive support worth $133 Billion by 2012 for clean development projects under the Kyoto Protocol.
The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said this:
“This pact has no power for legal restrictions. It is a complement to the Kyoto treaty, not a replacement.”
The Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pierre Pettigrew, said:
“When you want to complement something, you recognise that the real substance is somewhere else.”
Senator John McCain—perhaps the next Republican President of the United States—said this when the Climate Pact was released:
“The [Asia-Pacific] Pact amounts to nothing more than a nice little public-relations ploy. It has almost no meaning. They aren’t even committing money to the effort, much less enacting rules to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.”
No-one opposes new technology; of course we support that. The question is how you drive that new technology.
And when the funding debate for the Asia-Pacific Pact came up in USA, at first the White House didn’t get a cent approved. Then, in the end, minimal funding of $52 million was approved. This is the so-called alternative to the Kyoto protocol!
$133 billion for clean development in developing countries, funded through just one section of the Kyoto Protocol, as opposed to the Climate Pact’s $52 million. I think that puts it in proper perspective.
The truth is you need the push of new technology and the pull of the market to drive it through. That is why you need strong action.
Howard Government is increasingly isolated on climate change
Internationally, the Howard Government is increasingly isolated on climate change.
Last week, in the Sun newspaper in London the front page was ‘Go green with the Sun’. It said:
Man the lifeboats. Will your town be underwater if global warming takes hold?
You could log on and find out exactly what the situation was. This is the Sun newspaper, not Green Left Weekly. This is what the Sun’s editorial stated:
Too many of us have spent too long in denial over the threat from global warming. The evidence is now irresistible. Searing summers and dry winters in the UK, increasingly frequent tornadoes and hurricanes worldwide, the shrinking Arctic ice cap …
Every day, more people are more conscious about the threat that this represents and the responsibility that we have—not just to ourselves but to our kids and our grandkids—for the survival of this planet.
Labor’s climate change policies
Labor has made our approach to Climate Change very clear.
Labor believes Australia needs to be part of the ongoing and dynamic global effort against climate change by ratifying the Kyoto Protocol, which will continue well beyond 2012.
It is appalling that Australian renewable energy companies are welcomed in China, but not Australia.
China has a renewable energy target of 15%, compared to our pathetic 2% renewable energy target. This is another sign that Australia is being left behind.
Instead of blocking clean energy projects, the Howard Government should support energy efficiency and seize the economic opportunities of the worldwide push to clean, renewable energy.
There is a trillion dollar industry emerging globally in renewable energy technologies. Instead of his outdated and unwanted policy of building nuclear reactors, for the sake of Australia’s future John Howard should support our clean energy industries and cut our greenhouse pollution.
Labor’s Climate Change Blueprint provides a responsible plan for a world beating renewable energy industry.
• Labor will ratify the Kyoto Protocol;
• Cut Australia’s greenhouse pollution by 60% by 2050;
• Establish a national greenhouse emissions trading scheme;
• Substantially increase the Mandatory Renewable Energy Target; and
• Establish a climate change trigger under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act.
We support substantially increasing MRET and will be announcing details of that increase closer to the next election. It will be a stronger target than our previous policy of a 5% MRET.
In addition to the major policy initiatives announced in our Climate Change Blueprint, we have announced a number of prudent, practical measures that will provide a real boost to the renewable energy industry.
We will ensure all of Australia’s 10,000 schools are solar schools.
Labor will work with State, Territory and local governments to make 5 star energy efficiency provisions are mandatory for new homes.
We will consider expanding the First Home Owners’ Grant, with top-up grants for home buyers related to the energy rating of their homes.
We will examine ways to reconfigure the incentives and disincentives in our tax system to encourage more investment in clean and renewable energy technologies.
In addition, Kim Beazley’s Innovation Blueprint outlined a series of initiatives to kick start the next generation of private sector innovation and reform research and development investment arrangements.
Labor will also rebuild Australia’s great research institutions, including the CSIRO.
These initiatives will provide a real boost for the development and commercialisation of renewable energy technology.
Labor has the vision, the ideas and the energy to build a brighter future for Australia’s renewable energy industry.
Labor supports renewables, not nuclear reactors
Getting Australia’s energy mix right is absolutely central to dramatically cutting our soaring greenhouse pollution.
We need a diverse energy mix, a portfolio of flexible energy strategies that include clean coal technology, solar and wind power and research into hydrogen, wave power and geothermal technology.
We also need a strong national commitment to energy efficiency.
John Howard supports nuclear power plants, even though there are no answers to the critical questions of cost, safety, nuclear waste and nuclear proliferation.
Nuclear power will not be a part of the energy mix under a Beazley Labor Government.
Labor supports renewables, not reactors.
Nuclear power will just create more problems for our children and grandchildren. The economics of nuclear power simply do not stack up.
Of all the energy options, nuclear is the most capital intensive to establish, decommissioning is extremely expensive and the financial burden continues long after the plant is closed.
Britain has estimated it will cost $170 billion to clean up its 20 nuclear sites.
Nuclear energy is not a solution to climate change. Think of this – if we doubled the global use of nuclear energy we would use all known reserves of high grade uranium in 25 years.
In the process, we would achieve global emissions reductions of only 5% compared with the 60% reduction needed to avoid dangerous climate change.
Why on earth would we want to take the big health and economic risk of nuclear energy when we have a ready made power source hovering peacefully in the sky every day?
Climate change threatens the very conditions that allow human civilisation to live on this planet.
The Chinese expression for crisis consists of two characters – the first is a symbol for danger, the second is a symbol for opportunity.
Just as the climate change crisis presents an economic, social and environmental danger, it is true that it also presents an opportunity to ensure continued economic growth in a carbon constrained economy.
Dangerous climate change can still be avoided. We must deliver real solutions, but it will require Government leadership.
Younger generations will record those climate sceptics who deny human contribution to climate change as being, at best, misguided.
Those who acknowledge the problem of climate change but fail to take serious action will be judged far more severely.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party, MP for Grayndler, Rabbitohs Life Member. Authorised by Anthony Albanese, ALP, Canberra.