House debates

Monday, 2 December 2019


Climate Change Authority Amendment (Impact of 3 Degrees of Global Warming on Australia) Bill 2019; Second Reading

10:35 am

Photo of Adam BandtAdam Bandt (Melbourne, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Global warming is much more advanced and much worse than most people think. The world signed up, in the Paris Agreement, to limit global warming to well below two degrees and ideally aim for 1½ degrees, but we're not on track for that. Already the planet has heated by a degree. We could hit the 1½ degree tipping point as soon as 2030, and we could exceed two degrees very, very quickly. Last week the European Parliament declared a climate emergency, following many other countries and cities around the world who have done the same. Increasingly in Europe and many other countries, Australia is seen as a rogue state—a rogue state drunk on our fossil fuels that we peddle to the rest of the world. The rest of the world knows the Prime Minister's three degree climate targets are a death sentence for our country. It is time the Australian people were told the truth.

This government does not have the climate crisis under control, it is not willing to work with other countries to bring it under control, and the government's own targets are consistent with a catastrophic three degrees of global warming—not the two degrees referred to in the Paris Agreement. That's why today I'm introducing the Climate Change Authority Amendment (Impact of 3 Degrees of Global Warming on Australia) Bill 2019. The bill will require the Climate Change Authority to report on the impact of three degrees or more of global warming on the Australian society, the Australian economy and the Australian environment. Three degrees of warming is the gravest threat to everyone in this country.

It's often said that the first duty of government is to protect its people. But the Prime Minister is completely failing in his first duty because, rather than protect Australians from the climate crisis, he has taken action to make the climate crisis worse. The Prime Minister's government's reckless pursuit of the expanded mining, export and burning of more coal, oil and gas is fuelling climate breakdown, including the record drought and the bushfire emergency. Even worse, the government's appalling climate targets are consistent with a track towards three degrees of global warming.

Currently in Australia we are witnessing just the beginning of the terrifying climate impacts and extreme weather that will ravage our country over the coming decades, but this is happening with one degree of global warming. We've seen the bushfire danger extend into winter and the creation of megafires that are stretching our fire services to breaking point. The south-east of our country is experiencing the most severe drought on record, driving farmers to the wall, and many of our towns are running out of what water. This is happening with just one degree of global warming, but the Prime Minister's targets are driving us to three degrees—three times as much warming as we are experiencing at the moment.

The impacts of such a temperature rise are not linear. It's not like a room where you can turn the thermostat up and then, if you realise it's got a bit too hot, you can turn it back down again. It's much more like the human body, where, if you exceed a certain band of temperature, it can cause permanent damage that you can't come back from. The climate system is a complex series of feedback loops that can intensify and exponentially accelerate the impacts and changes produced in the system. When the ice melts in the Arctic, for example, not only does that contribute to higher sea level but there's less white space reflecting heat back into the atmosphere. There's more dark space, and so the system feeds back on itself and speeds itself up.

It is similar with things like the exposure of permafrost and methane. Once that starts happening, it speeds the whole system up. That's why it's so important that we act to limit global warming to below two degrees, and that's why it's so important that people understand that when the Prime Minister blithely talks about targets that have us on track for three degrees and potentially higher he is talking about catastrophe for Australia. That's why the Paris Agreement seeks to keep global warming to 1½ degrees—because, while it is not safe, it's hoped that the catastrophic damage that temperatures beyond that threshold will cause can be minimised and, more importantly, tipping points that could drive us into runaway unstoppable warming will not be breached.

It is worrying that a recent report in Nature by some of the world's most eminent scientists has warned that even at current temperatures—what we've got now—such tipping points may have already been passed, with large-scale sea-level rise from ice sheet collapse and the thawing of permafrost releasing large amounts of methane, driving more warming, potentially already locked in. They say:

If damaging tipping cascades can occur and a global tipping cannot be ruled out, then this is an existential threat to civilization. No amount of economic cost-benefit analysis is going to help us. We need to change our approach to the climate problem.

In our view, the evidence from tipping points alone suggests that we are in a state of planetary emergency …

We know that Australia's 2030 climate change target, under this government, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent on 2005 levels is consistent with at least three degrees of global warming. This reality will be highlighted again over the next two weeks as the world's countries meet in Spain, and Australia's failure will be naked before the world.

The Australian people need to know that the Morrison government's current climate targets will take us into a three-degree world, with catastrophic consequences for Australia. We're already seeing the severe impacts of a one-degree world with the climate crisis driving the fire emergency and the record drought. The Australian people need to know what the Prime Minister's targets will do to the country when they take us to three degrees. For example, Professor Ross Garnaut's 2010 seminal climate review predicted a 92 per cent decline in agricultural productivity in the Murray-Darling Basin if we don't get global warming under control. We may be witnessing the beginning of that now. That is a 92 per cent decline by the end of this century if we don't limit global warming to the goals that have been set. What we need now is an up-to-date review, using the best available current science, so that we know what is coming if we stick with the coalition's current targets and their climate failure. Here is just one more frightening example. Recent reports have shown that we're on track for many of the key cities of our Asian trading partners to be underwater in the next three decades. This is because of the sea level rise and storm surges produced by the pathway to a three-degree world. I'm talking about Mumbai underwater, Shanghai underwater, Bangkok underwater, Ho Chi Minh City underwater—and the list goes on. These are just some of the impacts on our economy and our society, but we need to know more.

Australia deserves the comprehensive detail so that people can understand the future that the Morrison government is locking us into. But, as we know, the Prime Minister doesn't want the Australian people to know the truth; he wants Australians to remain quiet, and the truth disturbs that. We saw what his ministers were prepared to do to avoid discussing the impacts of the climate crisis on the recent bushfires. They do not want Australians to know the full impacts of their folly and their negligence, and that is why this bill is needed. This bill will charge the Climate Change Authority with producing an up-to-date review of the impact of a three-degree world in Australia, which is consistent with the government's targets. That report would need to be tabled in parliament within 15 sitting days of the minister receiving it, and it would also be required to be published on the website once it is complete so that all of us can judge where the government's targets are taking us. The provisions of this bill mirror previous requests or directions to the Climate Change Authority to conduct reviews.

This bill doesn't contain binding targets. It does not force obligations on anyone to change their policy, and in that respect it's a modest bill, but one that's an important test for the government. The Prime Minister's changed his schtick. He says now, 'I accept that climate change is real but don't worry I've got it under control'. If that's right—and it's not—he should allow the Climate Change Authority to review the government's targets and tell Australia what it means to be on track for three degrees of warming. If the government believes that the targets are in line the with the Paris Agreement, and that somehow their targets will keep Australians safe, then they should embrace this bill and such a review with open arms. I suspect they won't. I suspect they won't, because the Prime Minister does not want the Australian people to know he does not have the climate crisis under control. A three-degree world, which he has us on track for, means catastrophe and death in Australia. I commend the bill to the House.

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Is the motion seconded?

Photo of Andrew WilkieAndrew Wilkie (Clark, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I second the motion by the member for Melbourne and reserve my right to speak.

Photo of Trent ZimmermanTrent Zimmerman (North Sydney, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

The time allocated for debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting.