Senate debates

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Matters of Public Importance

Carbon Pricing

5:46 pm

Photo of John FaulknerJohn Faulkner (NSW, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

The reason to act on climate change, the reason to have a carbon price, is because the earth is warming. And the fact that the earth is warming is not at issue. It is a 100 per cent absolute certainty. I have previously commended to senators, and I do so again, the reports of the Inter­govern­mental Panel on Climate Change and those produced by our own scientists at the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO.

The IPCC's fourth assessment report finds that global warming is unequivocal. Further, the vast majority of the scientific community accepts that greenhouse gases resulting from human activity have been the main cause of global warming. The IPCC reports that emissions of greenhouse gases due to human activities have grown by 70 per cent between 1970 and 2004, and it states that most of the 'observed increases in global temperatures since the mid 20th century are very likely to be as a result of human activities'. As far as Australia is concerned, the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology have presented the most recent picture of our climate. Both these organisations have decades of experience observing and reporting on Aust­ralia's weather and conducting atmospheric and marine research.

We hear an awful lot of hocus-pocus in the climate change debate, so what about some facts?

Fact: on temperature rises, the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology have observed that since 1960 the average temperature in Australia has increased by about 0.7 degrees. Whilst temperatures have varied in different locations, the overall long-term trend is clear and there can be no denying Australia has experienced warming over the past 50 years.

Fact: the number of days with record hot temperatures has increased each decade over the past half century. The decade 2000 to 2009 was Australia's warmest on record.

Fact: according to the World Meteoro­logical Organisation, last year, 2010, along with 2005 and 1998, were the warmest years on record globally.

Fact: the CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology have also reported that the rate of sea level rise increased during the 20th century. From 1870 to 2007, the global average sea level rose by close to 200 millimetres.

Fact: over the period of 1993 to 2009 sea level rises have ranged between 1.5 to three millimetres per year in the south and east and seven to 10 millimetres per year in the north and west of Australia.

And, fact: these agencies have also reported that over the period of the last 50 years, the surface temperatures of the oceans around Australia have increased by about 0.4 degrees Celsius.

As for the future, the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology have projected that Australian average temperatures are going to rise by 0.6 to 1.5 degrees Celsius by as soon as 2030. They have also said:

If global greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow at rates consistent with past trends, warming is projected to be in the range of 2.2 to 5.0 ºC by 2070.

Now, I acknowledge that no-one can be certain about all the long-term impacts of climate change. But we do know without doubt that the risks are immense. And we know that, in the view of many experts, Australia, more so than other developed country, is particularly vulnerable to the negative consequences of climate change. There will be social impacts, there will be economic impacts and there will be environmental impacts. I believe that it is the responsibility of government to act in these circumstances. I do not come to this debate as a Johnny-come-lately. To a great deal of entrenched opposition at the time—not to mention rampant paranoia—I supported the adoption of a low-level carbon levy way back when I was Minister for the Environ­ment, Sport and Territories during the years of the Keating government. I held the view then—and I remain committed to it now—that as a responsible member of the international community it is essential for Australia to play its part in reducing global emissions. I have always hoped that our country, as a prosperous and intelligent nation, would be at the forefront of tackling this great challenge.

In many other countries governments of divergent political persuasions have resolved to play their part in reducing global emissions. Take Canada, like Australia a large country with high energy consumption, which has four of its 10 provinces—British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec—partnered in the Western Climate Initiative along with seven USA states. British Columbia has its own carbon tax, due to reach $30 a tonne of CO2 in 2012. Quebec has a carbon price on hydrocarbons. The European Union Emissions Trading Scheme commenced in 2005. Twenty-seven EU countries and three non-EU countries have entered into the scheme, which covers half the EU emissions. Some EU parliaments, of course, have also supported a levy on carbon.

Our New Zealand friends, in the words of their Prime Minister, have an ETS that works. I have to say we sure do have some catching up to do. The New Zealand ETS is a system where one New Zealand unit, or NZU, gives the right to emit one tonne of carbon dioxide. For example, companies that mine natural gas have to surrender NZUs to the government, whereas owners of forests that absorb greenhouse gases earn NZUs from the government.

I believe the Australian economy will be hurt and Australian jobs will be lost if we fail to put a price on carbon. I understand, hear and read that the government's two-stage plan for a carbon price mechanism, starting with a fixed price before transitioning to an emissions trading scheme, will be announced on Sunday. Consistent with my long-standing views, I for one will welcome it.


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