Senate debates

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Australian Climate Change Regulatory Authority Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (Charges — Customs) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (Charges — Excise) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (Charges — General) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS Fuel Credits) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS Fuel Credits) (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Excise Tariff Amendment (Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Customs Tariff Amendment (Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) Bill 2009 [No. 2]; Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Amendment (Household Assistance) Bill 2009 [No. 2]

Second Reading

9:51 am

Photo of Bob BrownBob Brown (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

The Greens will not be supporting this legislation, because it has failure written right across the top of it. This is an age where the best thinkers on the planet, in their vast majority, looking at the science which our God-given brains tell us to use in our guardianship of this planet which is, so far as we know, the only place that supports and can support our life and life in general in the universe, are impelling us to set global targets where the wealthier countries reduce greenhouse gases by 40 per cent by 2020 over 1990 levels, not by the 25 per cent and certainly not by the five per cent, which is inherently written into this legislation and which the opposition would even further have weakened in its trajectory in tackling climate change. At the outset, I therefore move a second reading amendment to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2009 [No. 2]:

At the end of the motion, add:

provided that the Government first commits to entering the climate treaty negotiations at the end of 2009 with an unconditional commitment to reduce emissions by at least 25 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 and a willingness to reduce emissions by 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020 in the context of a global treaty.

There will never be more important legislation and a more important duty in front of this parliament than tackling climate change in terms of the long-term security of this nation. It is incumbent upon parliament, after decades of studied delay and ignorance, not only to tackle climate change but to do so in a responsible way commensurate with the best science of Australian scientists and global scientists of the day. This legislation manifestly fails to do that. It does not come within a bull’s roar of the responsibility we have on our shoulders to tackle climate change for the reality that it is with a vigour that would enable Australia to be a world leader in getting out of the catastrophic potential which climate change has not just for humanity but for the biosphere.

In 1896 Arrhenius, the great Scandinavian scientist, predicted that the atmosphere might warm due to the pollution coming from humanity. We have had our own scientists in this nation warning us about this since the 1960s. In 1988 the cabinet of this country under the Hawke government decided that there ought to be a greenhouse gas emission reduction of 20 per cent between 1988 and 2005 with the rider that it did not harm the economy. In 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit there was general agreement that global warming was a massive threat to the planet. And in 1995 more than 1,000 of the world’s top scientists including 111 Nobel Prize winners warned political leaders that we had to change direction if we were going to sustain life on this planet without a massive threat to species, including our own.

But here we are in 2009 with a prescription for failure from the government being undermined further as the government and opposition engage in discussions to conjointly get legislation through the parliament in the run to the global conference on tackling global warming at Copenhagen in Denmark next month. Let me make it very clear that the Greens in this parliament intend to continue to work for the outcome that the scientists tell us is responsible, is warranted and is urgently required if we are to save this nation, our children and their children from massive problems, economic, employment and environmental, including lifestyle, which will injure their time on the planet. That is not just the Leader of the Australian Greens in this parliament speaking. I point to Professor Ross Garnaut, the prodigious adviser to the government on this issue, who finished his report and delivery to the public on 30 September 2008 with these words:

If we fail, on a balance of probabilities, the failure of our generation will haunt humanity until the end of time.

If we fail, failure will haunt humanity until the end of time.

I want to go to the work of the head of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies in the United States, Professor James Hansen, who is also adjunct professor in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Columbia University and—he will not mind me saying this—generally acclaimed as the godfather of climate science. He addressed Congress in 1988 and warned about the danger of climate change. Twenty years later, with a tinge of despair, this great global thinker of our time went back to Congress on 23 June and I will read part of his delivery which followed that 20 years of inaction by the elected democratic representatives in the United States. Under the heading ‘The coming storm’ Professor Hansen told the congress:

What is at stake? Warming so far, about two degrees Fahrenheit over land areas, seems almost innocuous, being less than day-to-day weather fluctuations. But more warming is already “in-the-pipeline”, delayed only by the great inertia of the world ocean. And climate is nearing dangerous tipping points. Elements of a “perfect storm”, a global cataclysm, are assembled.

Climate can reach points such that amplifying feedbacks spur large rapid changes. Arctic sea ice is a current example. Global warming initiated sea ice melt, exposing darker ocean that absorbs more sunlight, melting more ice. As a result, without any additional greenhouse gases, the Arctic soon will be ice-free in the summer.

More ominous tipping points loom. West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are vulnerable to even small additional warming. These two-mile-thick behemoths respond slowly at first, but if disintegration gets well underway it will become unstoppable. Debate among scientists is only about how much sea level would rise by a given date. In my opinion, if emissions follow a business-as-usual scenario, sea level rise of at least two meters is likely this century. Hundreds of millions of people would become refugees. No stable shoreline would be reestablished in any time frame that humanity can conceive.

Animal and plant species are already stressed by climate change. Polar and alpine species will be pushed off the planet, if warming continues. Other species attempt to migrate, but as some are extinguished their interdependencies can cause ecosystem collapse. Mass extinctions, of more than half the species on the planet, have occurred several times when the Earth warmed as much as expected if greenhouse gases continue to increase. Biodiversity recovered, but it required hundreds of thousands of years.

Under the heading of getting to 350 parts per million—and that is not, I might add, in the bailiwick of either the government or opposition in Australia in 2009—Professor Hansen says:

The disturbing conclusion, documented in a paper I have written with several of the world’s leading climate experts, is that the safe level of atmospheric carbon dioxide is no more than 350 ppm (parts per million) and it may be less. Carbon dioxide amount is already 385 ppm and rising about 2 ppm per year. Stunning corollary: the oft-stated goal to keep global warming less than two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) is a recipe for global disaster, not salvation.

These conclusions are based on paleoclimate data showing how the Earth responded to past levels of greenhouse gases and on observations showing how the world is responding to today’s carbon dioxide amount. The consequences of continued increase of greenhouse gases extend far beyond extermination of species and future sea level rise.

Arid subtropical climate zones are expanding poleward. Already an average expansion of about 250 miles has occurred, affecting the southern United States, the Mediterranean region, Australia and southern Africa. Forest fires and drying-up of lakes will increase further unless carbon dioxide growth is halted and reversed.

Mountain glaciers are the source of fresh water for hundreds of millions of people. These glaciers are receding world-wide,—

I emphasise there the use of the present tense: this is not some future scenario. I go back to Professor Hansen—

These glaciers are receding world-wide, in the Himalayas, Andes and Rocky Mountains. They will disappear, leaving their rivers as trickles in late summer and fall, unless the growth of carbon dioxide is reversed.

Coral reefs, the rainforest of the ocean, are home for one-third of the species in the sea. Coral reefs are under stress for several reasons, including warming of the ocean, but especially because of ocean acidification, a direct effect of added carbon dioxide.

That is, greenhouse gas. He continues:

Ocean life dependent on carbonate shells and skeletons is threatened by dissolution as the ocean becomes more acid.

And finally, in this part of his delivery Professor Hansen said:

Such phenomena, including the instability of Arctic sea ice and the great ice sheets at today’s carbon dioxide amount, show that we have already gone too far. We must draw down atmospheric carbon dioxide to preserve the planet we know. A level of no more than 350 ppm is still feasible, with the help of reforestation and improved agricultural practices, but just barely–time is running out.

I might add that in the last week we saw the opposition gain a concession from the government to exclude change in agricultural practice. In today’s press one estimate of the transferred cost of that on the rest of the economy is $7 billion. But according to Professor Hansen it is essential that we help reforestation and improve agricultural practices because time is running out.

This is a warning to we homo sapiens, we 6.8 billion people on this planet—this large mammal with an intelligent brain which occupies this Senate. It is a challenge to our intellect and to our morality that is at stake here. We may, like several government ministers and opposition leaders, be coerced by the self-interested lobbying of the coal industry, the logging industry, the cement industry, the metals manufacturing industries and other sectional big end of town interests—the big polluters. If we do, we will fail.

I am very well aware that the good-hearted scientists from the Great Barrier Reef were in this parliament this week—people from GetUp!, from environmental organisations and from—


Mark Duffett
Posted on 19 Nov 2009 10:53 am (Report this comment)

Heaven help me, I actually agree with Brown's proposed amendment.

Mark Duffett
Posted on 19 Nov 2009 11:01 am (Report this comment)

But as indicated by this paper (, Hansen (and hence) is overestimating sea level rise by 2100. I don't think they do their cause any good by overegging the pudding. A reasonable roundup of this issue is here:

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