Wednesday, 7 February 2007
Matters of Urgency
That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:The need for the Australian Government to set clear medium- and long-term greenhouse gas emission reduction targets to underpin national carbon pricing mechanisms such that deep cuts are achieved by 2050.
I have moved this urgency motion today because I think it is time to cut through all of the talk that has been going on in the last few weeks about emissions trading. Let us make a couple of things very clear from the start. The Prime Minister announced his emissions trading task force because he was about to be humiliated by the Business Council of Australia last year at their meeting where they had informed him they were going to come out in favour of a price on carbon. As a result, at that conference he announced an emissions trading task force and he gave people to understand that this would somehow lead to a national emissions trading system in Australia. But he was very careful to say it was a global system he was talking about, knowing full well that there is not a global emissions trading system unless you ratify the Kyoto protocol, which he says he will not. And we know that, even with the pan-European system, the system that is operating in the north-east states of the United States and so on, there is not going to be a global system for some years and that the most important thing to do is to get started: get a national system going, get a regional system going and make sure they are compatible so that ultimately they can be linked into a global trading system.
So now today we have the release of that task force report—and it is humiliating, actually. I think around Australia today in boardrooms there will be people tearing it up. There will be people unbelievably shocked that, after years and years of discussion and consultation, the best the federal government can do is come up with another set of questions, when the Minister for Finance and Administration has made it clear in the Senate for two days running now that the government has no intention whatsoever of establishing a national emissions trading system in the absence of a global system. So there is not going to be one.
So what is the point of asking industry for the third time? They were asked in 1999, there was a full consultation, the Greenhouse Office put out its report and it was ignored. Then we had the states going out in consultation and they were ignored. Now we are going to have another round of consultation. Industry want certainty and they want a price today. The key thing we have to remember is that an emissions trading system is to reduce greenhouse gases. Before you can have a trading system, you have to say what level of greenhouse gas emissions is acceptable to Australia. That should be based on the level of climate change you accept.
What I am shocked about, which just happened, is that the Labor Party joined with the government in refusing to commit to restraining global warming by two degrees. What do we know about the target they are going to set? You do not just have a national emissions trading scheme wandering around without an aim in life. Its aim in life is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So I would like to hear, in the course of this debate, what the national target is. What level of warming do the ALP and the government accept as their aim for constraining temperature? What does that mean in parts per million? What does that mean in terms of the emissions trading scheme and financial mechanisms that might be required because we need deep cuts by 2050? We do not need any more talk; we all know what has to be done. What we are seeing now is delay, delay, delay. There is a performance going on in the lower house to make it look as if somebody is doing something about climate change, but neither the Liberals nor Labor have stated to what level they would like to constrain warming.
The UK made it very clear that two degrees was too much. They would set up a national emissions reduction target to try and constrain global warming to less than two degrees. The Great Barrier Reef is already dying with the degree of warming we have now. We know that there will be excessive and dangerous climate impacts by the time we get to two degrees of warming. What level is the government prepared to accept for Australia? The Prime Minister, in his ignorance, said that four to six degrees of warming would make some people less comfortable than they are now, whereas in fact it would change the whole human geography of the world. It would be a huge disaster, with six out of every 10 species becoming extinct. Let us have a bit of depth in the policy debate. Stop rolling out the greenwash and stop rushing around the country—both the coalition and the Labor Party. Let us actually have a serious debate. Emissions trading is about achieving an objective—that is, to reduce greenhouse gases. What is the level of warming that you are prepared to accept or not accept, and what is the target? (Time expired)