Oct 30, 2006

Grievance Debate – Climate Change

Grievance Debate – Climate Change

30 October 2006

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (4.18 p.m.)—My grievance is against the Howard government for its failure to address the greatest challenge facing the global community: climate change.

Today Sir Nicholas Stern launches his report on the economics of climate change. It is a very clear warning that climate change will ruin our environment and our economy if we do not take action. Early action will be far cheaper—perhaps five, 10 or 20 times cheaper. We simply cannot afford to wait any longer. It is very clear that the only way we will tackle climate change in Australia is with a change of government. The Stern report refers to potentially a 20 per cent loss in global economic growth if we do not take action—yet we have a government that is frozen in time while the world warms around it.

However, it was not always the case that the Howard government was frozen in time. The Howard government, in spite of the rhetoric of ministers opposite and the rhetoric of the Prime Minister today, signed the Kyoto protocol in 1997. They said it was a win for the environment and a win for Australian jobs. They did that consistently over a period of time. On 30 March 2000, Senator Robert Hill, as Minister for the Environment and Heritage, gave quite an extraordinary speech to the AFR’s third annual emissions conference at Darling Harbour. Speaking about certain global corporations, he said:

"Their early commitment to act on greenhouse gas emissions is an indication that they believe that the global community expects action on global warming, and that it is most likely to be delivered through a ratified Kyoto protocol."

He went on to say:

"But there are still significant pockets of resistance from those who hold out hope that the Kyoto Protocol will not be ratified and therefore not come into force."

"Those who choose to delay or obstruct moves toward greenhouse gas reductions are simply ignoring the inevitable."

He also said:

"There are those who foolishly believe that Australia has something to win by derailing the Kyoto Protocol."

On that basis, the Prime Minister and ministers opposite are certainly a bunch of fools because, day in, day out, they have tried to derail the Kyoto protocol. Senator Hill proudly said:

"As an expression of our commitment to the Kyoto outcome, the Howard Government ensured that Australia was among the first nations to sign the Protocol."

Australia played a key role during the Kyoto conference in ensuring that provisions for emissions trading were included in the Protocol.

Australia played a role in getting a generous target of 108 per cent, second only to Iceland on 110. It played a role in getting emissions trading, which is at the centre of the Kyoto protocol. Of course you, Mr Deputy Speaker, the member for Denison, played a critical role as well in ensuring there was bipartisan support and in ensuring that we all knew that you needed market based mechanisms and economic incentives to achieve those greenhouse gas reductions in the most efficient way possible. Senator Hill then said:

Again on the issue of trading, the global momentum is building behind the forces of action, rather than inaction. Another signal to the Kyoto doubters.

This is just one of the speeches in which an environment minister who actually understood something about the environment was putting the case for global action. But we know that the government followed the Bush administration in walking away from that international agreement and that the government, instead of following the enlightened views expressed by Senator Hill, preferred to follow the dinosaur views of people such as the industry minister. The industry minister has consistently been a sceptic. He said on 16 February 2005, the day that the Kyoto protocol came into force:

“Whether or not those emissions are causing climate change, I don’t know.”

He said on 22 August 2005, on the FourCorners program:

“There is still a degree of uncertainty in the connection between global warming, which we accept that it appears as though the globe is warming but only slightly, and whether or not that is entirely or largely due to human activity. The jury’s still out on that.”

On 20 August 2006, on the Sunday program, he said:

“Well I am a sceptic of the connection between emissions and climate change.”

Yet the same minister who says there is not a problem is happy to launch projects—spending taxpayers’ money—aimed at driving down emissions. If there is no connection between emissions and climate change, why have such projects?

So denial in the first instance, then minor measures announced, but these measures—each and every one of them—are only possible because of the market based mechanisms of state Labor governments. The Victorian solar project is only possible because of the Victorian renewable energy target. The company Solar Systems, which operates this project, has said that if the Baillieu opposition, which is committed to abolishing the Victorian renewable energy target, is elected in Victoria, the project might not even proceed—because you need that economic incentive. Again, the Queensland clean energy projects which were announced today are only possible because of the Queensland gas electricity scheme.

The Howard government not only are climate sceptics but also are market sceptics: they do not believe that the market has a role in driving that technological change. The idea that technology will be transferred and multiplied without economic incentives is a triumph of hope over experience. It is the case that the Prime Minister has been completely contradictory on this position. He said on 22 September at Pakenham, south-east of Melbourne, when asked about the drought and climate change, that ‘people can talk theoretically about what might happen to Australia and the planet in 50 years time’. The Stern review makes it very clear that climate change is happening—and it is happening right now. It makes it very clear that we have a window of opportunity of 10 years to take serious action, otherwise we will be locked into a potentially catastrophic loss of living standards. As well as that, there will be the cost to our economy.

Perhaps most offensive is the Prime Minister’s statement that China, India and all the developing world should be blamed. The Stern review identifies China, California and the European Union as the three economic entities taking the strongest action in the world. China is spending $9 billion on renewables. This is the China with a 15 per cent renewable energy target from its ratification of the Kyoto protocol. This is the China which has a majority—more than half—of the solar hot water systems that are in place throughout the world. It is offensive of the Prime Minister to try to say that China and India and other countries are not a part of it—of course they are, and they are a part of the clean development mechanism of Kyoto which will provide, by 2012, the $133 billion in projects that have already been approved.

The fact is the environment minister was up there two weeks ago opening a wind energy project funded totally through the clean development mechanism of Kyoto. It is about time this government took the issue of climate change seriously and took real action. It should ratify the Kyoto protocol, introduce an emissions-trading scheme and substantially increase the mandatory renewable energy target.