Monday, 20 March 2023
Private Members' Business
I thank the Member for Werriwa for this motion. Climate change is already causing irreversible damage to our ecosystems. As the latest State of the environmentreport shows, 377 of the 1,900 threatened species in Australia were listed in the last decade alone. This trend will continue with climate change, as will the trend of record-setting disasters that devastate communities in the country and the region happening back-to-back and ever closer together. Storms, floods, fires, droughts—rinse and repeat—sounds exhausting because it is. Ask the people of Lismore.
To quote the head of the climate and security policy centre of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, Dr Robert Glasser, in telling testimony to the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade public hearings last week:
… we're moving from thinking of disasters as a single event … to multiple record-setting events happening simultaneously … and those multiple simultaneous events are causing systemic changes.
These systemic changes include—as Dr Glasser and other experts like the RAND Corporation, which has been studying the matters for a decade, conclude—the viability of Australian and regional democracy itself. As Dr Andrew Dowse from RAND Australia put it at the same hearings:
These risks can cascade and lead to food insecurity, instability and even conflict.
What's required is cohesive, intersecting, whole-of-government policy across portfolios, not just in the climate change portfolio but also in industry, agriculture, foreign and regional affairs, trade, national security, environment and health as well as education and science. This requires cohesive, intersecting policy-making—across portfolios—that doesn't contradict itself, such as by setting climate targets while cutting down native forest and approving new coal and gas. It's not about just investing more in certain technologies or industries, although these economic opportunities will be crucial.
Without action and a shift to cleaner, greener, more efficient and cheaper manufacturing and technologies our children will not see the benefits of well-paid, highly skilled and secure employment. Without action on climate change, our prosperity is at risk. According to the CSIRO, if Australia fails to address climate change adequately, real wages will be 50 per cent lower in 2060 than if we take all the steps needed. GDP growth will slow by 0.7 per cent per year. This should alarm all Australians. Indeed, without embracing technology change amid our climate policies, the IPCC has predicted that Australian living standards, wages and productivity will decline by mid-century. This task is one that requires a climate lens to everything we do.
Dr Glasser warned of the very real risks to democracy, governance, and national and regional security caused by this cascading collision of consequences from escalating climate change. One very pertinent example he highlighted is that increasing dependence on the Australian Defence Force to maintain order, effectively to perform as military police, could erode respect for the role of the ADF, and if that is undermined it will challenge faith in Australia's democracy. And not just here, Dr Glasser points out that the Indonesian archipelago accounts for 11 per cent of total global coastline exposed to climate induced sea level rise and has the fastest sea level rise in the world by far. We have seen historically how spikes in food prices, notably cooking oil and rice, have sparked conflict and instability in Indonesia. Indeed, it was one of the reasons for the fall of the Suharto regime. It means, says Dr Glasser, climate change will create space for non-state actors to fill the gaps and also for transnational terrorism to thrive.
In the face of all of this, the current government is taking some steps—some, but not enough. Take the safeguard mechanism legislation currently before the House. As it currently stands the mechanism would mean that some of our biggest polluters can continue to ramp up production. Australia's coal and gas exports can continue to increase and the safeguard gives them a green tick to do so. The safeguard mechanism should be about integrity and accountability. We cannot account our way to zero. We owe true emissions reduction to our children and to our communities.