Wednesday, 7 February 2007
Matters of Urgency
I thank senators for their contribution to this debate, but people listening would be horrified at the level of ignorance that is being aired this afternoon in the face of a global crisis. I am of the view the many government members are delusional about climate change and the role that Australia is playing. Australia is not a global leader in the climate debate. We are regarded as a global pariah and that is the fact of the matter. No-one has ever heard of this ‘new Kyoto’. People think it is ridiculous. The only role Australia has in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is chairing the dialogue, which is a side event. The only two things the dialogue does is make a verbal report and then next year a written report. It has no formal access to the Kyoto process, because we have not ratified. The second point: Senator Ronaldson was saying that business does not in fact want action on climate change through financial mechanisms. Quite to the contrary, the Howard government’s failure to have financial mechanisms is driving industry out of the country as we speak. We have had Vestas leave, we have had Roaring Forties go, we have had Solar Heat and Power leaving the country. Week after week, we hear of innovative industries that could create jobs and depth in Australian manufacturing leaving the country because the government prefers coal.
I return to my original premise to cut through all this hot air on climate change. The first is: why would you have an emissions trading system? Answer: to reduce greenhouse gases. That is the whole point of the flexible financial mechanisms—to reduce greenhouse gases. So, in designing the system, you have to ask: what level of greenhouse gases do you want to accept? What are you prepared to reduce to? And in determining that, you have to decide what level of global warming you will accept.
Today we have heard the government waffle completely and say that their main objection in setting up any emissions trading system is to protect the coal industry. It is impossible to reduce greenhouse gases while preserving Australia’s major competitive advantage, according to the government, of large reserves of fossil fuels and uranium. They cannot have it both ways. If you are going to do something about reducing emissions then you have to deal with coal. You cannot protect coal and then pretend you are doing something about climate change.
Labor has said today, to its credit, that it is prepared to reduce greenhouse gases to 60 per cent of 1990 levels by 2050. That would be stabilising at 550 parts per million. That is saying that they accept a temperature rise of between 1.5 and 2.9 degrees. I can tell you that 2.9 degrees will mean the death of the Great Barrier Reef, it will mean the death of the Murray-Darling system and it will mean the spreading of dengue fever. You have no idea of the impacts at three degrees. That is why the Greens are saying that 60 per cent reduction by 2050 is not enough. The Labor Party has said that that is their target, that they are the parameters they are prepared to accept.
When will the government say what their parameters are? The Prime Minister will have absolutely zero credibility on this whole emissions trading debate until he comes out and says, ‘We the government will accept, on behalf of Australians, this level of global warming’—and clearly it is in excess of three degrees. Four to six is a bit less comfortable for some, according to the Prime Minister. The government is prepared to have any amount of greenhouse gases and to set very lax targets, if any targets, and naturally they will be voluntary. This is a crime against future generations. (Time expired)
That the motion (Senator Milne’s) be agreed to.