Nov 29, 2005

Matter of Public Importance: Climate Change

Matter of Public Importance: Climate Change

29 November 2005

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (3.59 pm)—Climate change is the greatest threat to our future security, and it is time for a little less conversation and a lot more action when it comes to climate change. Last night a conference began in Montreal. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change is meeting in conjunction with the first meeting of the parties to the Kyoto protocol. At the first half of the meeting will be 189 countries, of which Australia is one. More than 10,000 delegates are gathering to discuss the best way to meet this challenge. But the second half of the equation—the first meeting of the parties to the Kyoto protocol, involving 156 countries—is something that Australia will not be a part of. Of all the industrialised nations in the world, only Australia and the United States will be outside of those meetings.

You might ask, Mr Deputy Speaker, why you would need to act. We have had reminders just in the last week, with the report from the Bureau of Meteorology that 2005 is on track to be the hottest year on record. September was the hottest month since records began in 1910. What will the impact of that be?

In July, the government received its risk and vulnerability report. It noted the impact that climate change will have on Australia, given that Australia is the driest inhabited continent on earth. There will be a 20 per cent reduction in rainfall in southern Australia, and there will be a 20 per cent reduction in the run-off from that rainfall on top of that. We will see a substantial increase in extreme weather events—in cyclonic behaviour, in floods and in bushfires.

Last year Cairns and Townsville just missed out on being hit by the first cyclone since we have been recording these matters that has crossed both borders, the west coast and the east coast of Australia. And the storm clouds of climate change also hang darkly over the future of our great natural wonders. The Great Barrier Reef is in danger of disappearing over the next 50 years, and Kakadu is in danger of salination. But we have a government that is frozen in time while the world warms around it.

We saw a very stark reminder of the consequences of complacency with Hurricane Katrina. Scientists in the US agree that the intensity as well as the number of hurricanes affecting the gulf region of the United States has been increased by the increase in sea temperature in those oceans. Hurricane Katrina was a window into the future, and it showed that climate change is also a social justice issue. It was not the rich people who were drowned and killed as a result of Hurricane Katrina hitting New Orleans; it was the poor and dispossessed. And that is exactly what would occur through the overall impact of climate change.

There is a clear case which has finally been recognised by the Minister for the Environment and Heritage. It took until October 2005 for the environment minister to say: ‘The debate is over. The evidence is in, and it is now time to talk about what we do.’ So what should we do about it? We know what the government is not doing about it: it isn’t taking any action. Just last week, as part of the report for the Montreal conference, the United Nations climate change secretariat reported that Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions increased by 23.3 per cent between 1990 and 2003—a devastating figure.

Let us look at what other nations are doing, other similarly developed countries. In Germany, they had a 19 per cent reduction in their emissions over that period. In the United Kingdom, under the Blair Labour government, there was a 13 per cent reduction in emissions.

I ask those who would say that action is bad for the economy to think about this figure. At the same time as the United Kingdom decreased their emissions by 13 per cent, their GDP rose by 38 per cent. The fact is that good environmental policy is also good economic policy. That is why we need to take action, and we can start by ratifying the Kyoto protocol. We need to be a part of the global solution to what is a global problem.

Mr Lloyd interjecting—

Mr ALBANESE—The bloke opposite says: ‘Oh, well. What about Kyoto?’

Mr Lloyd—No, I said: ‘What about the jobs?’

Mr ALBANESE—This is what Prime Minister Howard said about jobs in 1997, when the government signed the Kyoto protocol: We end the year having achieved this … absolutely stunning diplomatic success at the Kyoto conference. That was an extraordinary achievement, that Kyoto summit—an absolutely extraordinary achievement—and it was against all the odds … I mean, what we were able to do at Kyoto was, both, make a massive contribution to the world environmental effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions but also to protect Australian jobs.

That is what the Prime Minister said about Kyoto in 1997, and the government only walked away from that in 2002 when it followed the United States’s lead. Wherever Bush goes, Bonsai follows. That is what occurred, and that is why Australia walked away from that issue.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—The member for Grayndler will refer to members by their title or by their seats.

Mr ALBANESE—Kyoto is not perfect, but it is the only game in town. We should be sitting around the table at the meeting of the parties in Montreal and talking about ways to improve the operation of the Kyoto protocol when it comes into full effect during the period of 2008 to 2012. There are two issues which are key to Kyoto, and one is that to take action you need mandated targets which actually put pressure on to do the right thing.

How do you deliver the right thing? You deliver the right thing through the market. It is extraordinary that, while most of the climate sceptics across the other side of the chamber have conceded the argument—some of them still have not; the member for Tangney certainly has not and there are others, but most of them have conceded that the world is in fact round and that climate change is real—the market sceptics remain. What is the objection to introducing a national greenhouse gas emissions trading system? It is the best way to achieve low-cost reductions in emissions. It is the best way to move forward. But what does the government say? The government says no to that and yes to the Asia-Pacific climate pact. We say that the Asia-Pacific climate pact is good—it is consistent—but limited. It is not enough. The statement of the climate pact says that it is consistent with our obligations under the Kyoto protocol. It also says that it will build on existing bilateral and multilateral initiatives.

In 1992, we signed up to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. A year later, Australia, Japan and the US launched the International Energy Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Technology Information Exchange program, GREENTIE. This was followed a few years later by the climate technology initiative, which was followed by the Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum. All these measures are good, but you need a driver and the driver is emissions trading through the market. You cannot transfer technology without the technology to transfer. New technologies do not evolve from new documents; they evolve from new markets. We know about the lack of substance in the government’s position because here we are at November 29, after being told that the first conference would take place earlier in Adelaide.

So we have an agreement with no targets, no funding, no documents of any substance and no meeting—because four of the six nations that were parties to the climate pact were very annoyed at Australia and the United States purporting that this was a replacement to Kyoto rather than something that complements it. As the Canadian foreign minister said, when you complement something, you know that the real game is somewhere else. The real game is in serious action.

As a result, we are missing out also on economic opportunities. As a result of this, we do not have access to the clean development mechanism, which could drive change in China, India and Indonesia and which could drive investment. Sustainability must be at the centre of social and economic policy right across the board—and avoiding dangerous climate change must be at the centre of sustainability. The science demonstrates that this is not an option but an imperative.

The Climate Group recently reported that 43 companies have significantly reduced their greenhouse gas emissions and saved a total of $15 billion, while increasing production by nearly 30 per cent. In recent years, DuPont has cut its greenhouse gas pollution by over 70 per cent and has saved more than $2 billion in the process. This shows that we can take action that is good for the environment and good for the economy. In fact, it is the only option into the future.

We should ratify Kyoto, have a national emissions trading scheme—and what is the third part of the equation? The third part is the mandatory renewable energy target. We are going to meet the mandatory renewable energy target of two per cent. How pathetic is two per cent. The rest of the world is talking about 20 per cent and we are talking about two per cent. Australia should be the Silicon Valley of solar energy. In 1990, we were positioned there; we were the world leader. Now we produce less than one per cent of the world’s product. We see companies like Pacific Solar moving away from Sydney to Germany, where they can get more adequate support. We are being told that there will be a flight of capital from renewables, once that MRET is reached.

But what do we hear from the government? The science minister announces, on the Sunday program, $1 million to go into a study on nuclear energy. We will know that they are serious across there when one of them says, ‘Not only do I support nuclear energy but I want the reactor in my seat and I’ll have the waste too.’ It is then that we will know they are serious about the nuclear energy option. Until that day comes, we know that this is just a smokescreen. Perhaps the member for Hughes could suggest that it could be at Point Nepean, in seat of the member for Flinders. Perhaps that is a possibility, given other mad propositions.

Tonight the New South Wales Premier will be launching his statement on climate change and calling for a national summit, as he has called for in writing to the Prime Minister. Today the federal opposition joins the New South Wales Premier in calling for a national summit on climate change. An agenda has been proposed for that summit: market based policy frameworks; assessing, measuring and targeting future carbon and other greenhouse gas risks; developing international linkages to international carbon trading in climate change initiatives to assist Australian business; and the role of taxation and other incentives in promoting greenhouse gas emission reductions.

We need a national response to this issue—and the government is simply failing. The government says that it will meet the Kyoto target. People might wonder how a 23.3 per cent increase between 1990 and 2003 met with the government’s rhetoric of meeting the Kyoto target of 108 per cent. People might ask about that. I will tell the parliamentary secretary opposite: it is because the decisions of the New South Wales and Queensland Labor governments to stem land clearing have not kicked in yet. That is the only reason why we will get within cooee of our Kyoto target.

Our emissions are spiralling out of control and we need solutions that are good for business, good for the economy and also good for the environment—and we can achieve them. We have an extraordinary position here with some sort of reverse wedge politics. Opposite we have the great free-marketeers. In August 2004, Treasurer Costello took a position to cabinet to introduce a national emissions trading system and got knocked over by sectional interests. It is time that the Australian interests were put first and it is time for real action to address climate change. (Time expired)