Nov 1, 2006

Matters of Public Importance – Climate Change

Matters of Public Importance

Climate Change

1 November 2006

Mr ALBANESE (Grayndler) (3.14 p.m.)—For a decade the Howard government has ignored the scientists. For a decade the Howard government has ignored the economists. This is a government that only has ears for the pollsters. The glaciers are retreating and so too is the Howard government. Just as the dinosaurs were wiped out by the ice age, there is a need for the dinosaurs in the Howard government to be wiped out politically by the age of global warming. Climate change is a serious threat. The Stern report this week has shone a light on the potential impact of climate change on our economy—the Great Depression but with much worse weather.

The Howard government has known about the threat of climate change for a very long time. There have been CSIRO reports. Ministers and departmental officials have attended numerous international meetings on climate change where the threat has been spelt out. Indeed, they did not have to wait for the Stern report to outline the environmental consequences of climate change because in June 2005 the Howard government received the Climate change: risk and vulnerability report. It outlined the consequences for Australia: the 30 per cent drop in rainfall, the more extreme weather events in northern Australia, where cities such as Townsville, Cairns, Darwin and Broome were all identified by that report as being at risk, and the disappearance of the iconic areas of the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu.

That is why no-one can take John Howard seriously on climate change. Yesterday we saw him put seven different positions between two o’clock and a quarter to four. Yesterday the Prime Minister invented new Kyoto. It does not exist. I googled new Kyoto and I invite people to do so. When you google new Kyoto, one entry comes up. Does it mention climate change? Does it mention emissions reductions? Does it mention renewable energy? Does it mention the United Nations? No, the one entry on new Kyoto—the one real new Kyoto which is there—is the Hotel New Kyoto. What pops up is a review, and the review says this:

Stuffy rooms—Would choose another.

It says:

The worst aspect of the room was that the window didn’t open and there is no way—

wait for it—

to cool the room down or get some fresh air. They only have a heater (which works really well, blowing out only hot air).

That is the new Kyoto of the Howard government—no substance and something made up on the run. Today is day 2 of what will be regarded as the turning point in the climate change debate—and, I might say, the turning point for another nail in the government’s coffin—because climate change will be an issue which will see the Howard government left behind. We are the future party, the only party, that is able to take Australia forward into this century and look after this generation and generations to come.

The Kyoto protocol, of course, does exist. We saw today, on day 2 of this debate, the Howard government having no answers whatsoever. We sat in tactics this morning and we thought, ‘They’ll have five or six questions on Kyoto,’ but they had nothing. What happened with our questions? The Leader of the Opposition asked the Prime Minister whether Australia and the United States would have a vote at the meeting of the parties to the Kyoto protocol—the second meeting that is taking place in Nairobi this month. The Prime Minister did not have a clue. He did concede that there were two meetings, and there are two. One is the conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which Australia has signed. Yes, we will be participating in that meeting.

But there is a second series of meetings—the meetings of the parties to the Kyoto protocol that will be sitting down looking at practical measures about how the clean development mechanism operates, the joint implementation system and the opportunities for Australia in the first commitment period between 2008 and 2012. Common sense tells you that the post-2012 Kyoto agreement, which this government now concedes is a reality—forget the new Kyoto rhetoric; it is about the next step in Kyoto, the second commitment period of Kyoto from 2013 onwards—will, of course, evolve from the first period of Kyoto. By Australia being on the outside, not able to vote and not able to participate in those discussions in Nairobi, we are doing ourselves a great disservice. India will be there, China will be there but we will not be around the table during that debate.

This morning we heard from Elliot Morley. I have met with Elliot Morley. He was the climate change minister in the Blair Labor government. I spent two hours with him last year. When you meet world leaders, not just of the Left but of the Right, in Germany and Denmark, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Californian government, they express horror at the position of this government, because the truth is that the position of this government is holding the world back. That is what we heard from Elliot Morley this morning—the fact that Australia’s intransigence and position outside of Kyoto, the undermining of Kyoto, gives the US cover, the two countries isolated outside of Kyoto. Elliot Morley and Tony Blair, and Arnold Schwarzenegger for that matter, want Australia to be part of Kyoto because they want to isolate the US and get them in as well. We are providing cover, a handbrake, on the global action that is needed to address climate change. Agreements do not just get made up in question time as a result of a poll or a tactics meeting.

Let us look at how this has evolved. In 1992 we had the Rio summit, which identified the issues and what was needed and established the United Nations framework, which Australia was a signatory to. It took five years of complex negotiations to get to the Kyoto agreement in 1997. Then it took from 1997 to 2005 to have enough countries which had ratified the agreement to make sure it came into effect on 16 February 2005. Every industrialised country in the world except for us and the US is a part of this and the next agreement is about taking that forward.

Elliot Morley belled the cat. There is the position the Prime Minister puts forward which is to say, ‘We shouldn’t be a part of it until everyone else is’ and particularly there is his offensive criticism of China and India. It is the United States that produces 25 per cent of the world’s emissions. Do we hear the Prime Minister say, ‘The United States should have targets, adopt emissions trading and be part of the global system’? No. We hear him criticise the developing nations struggling to feed, house and clothe their people and to achieve economic growth and move forward. But the truth is they are doing better than we are. That is the truth.

The Stern report identifies China, California and the European Union as the three economic entities which are doing best. Elliot Morley’s comment today really said it all. It said it all about the failure of the Howard government to meet the greatest moral challenge of our times—avoiding dangerous climate change and showing national and international leadership. He said this:

… if we will take that attitude then there’ll be no progress at all, and we will just sleepwalk to oblivion …

Common sense tells you how absurd this government’s position is. But instead of looking at the Stern report and taking seriously the three core recommendations—first, that you need an international agreement that provides that economic framework and that that agreement is the Kyoto protocol; secondly, that you need emissions trading and you need to have a price of carbon; and, thirdly, that you need to support renewable and clean coal technologies and that you need economic mechanisms to drive that change through—

Mr Hunt interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—The member for Flinders will have an opportunity to reply.

Mr ALBANESE—They are the three key recommendations of Stern for what he describes as the world’s greatest market failure that has led to dangerous climate change. Today, once again we have seen some more one-off announcements. We welcome one-off announcements; they are good in themselves, but you cannot solve this problem with a command economy approach. You cannot solve it with bureaucrats sitting in Canberra and picking winners. It is an absurd proposition.

You need to harness the power of the market and establish mechanisms so that you drive the whole economy towards the carbon constrained model. We know that the system at the moment is not working. We know that the figures released this week by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change showed that Australia’s greenhouse emissions rose by 25.1 per cent between 1990 and 2004. It is clear that when Kyoto comes in—which it has not yet; the first commitment period begins in 2008—and when land use changes are taken into account what will occur is that some of that figure will go down, but the projections are horrific for the government.

Energy emissions increased by 34.7 per cent between 1990 and 2004. Stationary energy emissions increased by 43 per cent; transport emissions by 23.4 per cent. The only reason that the figure goes anywhere near being positive—and it is still a massive increase—is that land use change and forestry emissions, due to decisions of the New South Wales and Queensland Labor governments—nothing to do with the Howard government—dropped 72.5 per cent. Australia’s emissions according to the Australian Greenhouse Office report released in November 2005 are projected to rise by 22 per cent by 2020.

One of my favourite parts of An Inconvenient Truth, the documentary by Al Gore, is that, just like the Stern report, there is a message of hope. There is a warning of danger, a challenge to governments to take up what is necessary, but an optimistic projection if we have the courage to make the decisions that are needed. As Al Gore has pointed out, the Chinese expression for crisis consists of two characters: the first is a symbol for danger; the second is a symbol for opportunity. What we are getting from this government is all the danger combined with the loss of opportunity, the loss of investment that should be occurring and isolation from the massive trillion dollar emerging market in renewables in our region. This is a government that is showing that it simply is not up to governing in this century. It is a government that literally has been fossilised in the past. It is an abrogation of its responsibility to this generation and to future generations not to have a comprehensive plan to avoid dangerous climate change.