Senate debates

Monday, 9 December 2013


Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2013; Second Reading

6:03 pm

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

I am very pleased to speak in this debate regarding the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2013 and note that this afternoon in this debate we are asked to turn our backs on an effective and efficient means of reducing Australia's carbon emissions and replace it with an untested and ineffectual one. The government's attempt to rush this legislation through the Senate with, of course, very little consultation I do not think could be described as the hallmark of a measured and methodical government, which the government has come up with as its slogan to represent the way it does work. Nothing really could be further from the truth. As I have said in this chamber many times before, it is essential that we keep the reality of global warming and the science of climate change as the critical focus in this debate. The science should be the catalyst for government action, and the most effective and efficient measures for reducing emissions should be our means of action.

Today, as I have done in so many debates on issues related to climate change, I would like to commence my contribution to the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill by highlighting the science and the fifth report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It was only released on 27 September this year. I would like to take this opportunity to put on the public record some of the report's findings and address their national implications. In the process, I would want to help counter some of the predictable-yet-regrettable misinformation that was circulated at the time of the report's release. I would also want to make the case that the coalition's Direct Action policy is far from the most effective means of reducing the nation's carbon emissions.

The scientific case for climate change grows stronger, and the importance of taking responsible and effective action grows more pressing. The fifth IPCC report begins with a simple statement:

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased.

These two sentences outline simply and clearly the current global climatic trends. In doing so, I think they set out the environmental challenge that confronts us. The focus of the IPCC's latest report is, of course, on the latest science on climate change, and this report, like those before it, is the product of the painstaking work of the world's top scientists, constructed by drawing on the expertise of literally hundreds of researchers in more than 30 countries, working across a raft of disciplines from atmospheric science to glaciology and from oceanography to biogeochemistry. Among these experts were many Australian scientists drawn from some of our nation's finest universities and most trusted scientific institutions—institutions like the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology. The work of these experts points to yet more evidence that our climate is warming, which should prompt us all to consider the most effective and efficient means of reducing carbon emissions.

The IPCC predicts that if carbon dioxide emissions track along the lowest scenario then global average temperature could rise by 0.9 degrees to 2.3 degrees Centigrade by the end of the century, but if the worst-case scenario is met this could be as much as 3.2 to 5.4 degrees Centigrade. The global climatic implications are clear. This is what the report says:

It is virtually certain that there will be more frequent hot and fewer cold temperature extremes over most land areas on daily and seasonal timescales … It is very likely that heat waves will occur with a higher frequency and duration.

The consequences of global warming are already impacting on our environment, and again the latest science indicates this. Let me use the words of the report:

… the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets have been losing mass, glaciers have continued to shrink almost worldwide, and Arctic sea ice and Northern Hemisphere spring snow cover have continued to decrease in extent …

The consequences of global warming are also being felt in our oceans. From 1901 to 2010 the global mean sea level rose by 19 centimetres. In the 19th century the sea rose on average at a faster rate than in the previous two millennia, and global sea levels are predicted to continue to rise right through the 21st century.

So I would say that the cause of global warming is clear. The science says that the cause of global warming is clear. The catalyst for rising temperatures and oceans and receding glaciers is an increase in atmospheric greenhouse gases. The fifth report of the IPCC points out that atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased to levels unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. So let us just put this into perspective in this debate. Humanity first began practising agriculture 10,000 years ago, the first cities appeared 5,000 years ago and the Industrial Revolution began in the 1700s. These events might seem like easy, contrived or pithy historical comparisons, but I choose them quite deliberately because the expansion of agricultural production, the industrialisation of our economies and the urbanisation of communities all contribute to a rise in atmospheric greenhouse gases, and the current configuration of our settlements, our economics and our food production means that we remain more vulnerable now to shifts in climatic conditions than in any other period in human history.

Climate sceptics are very fond of pointing out that the earth has undergone shifts in its climate before, but they have not been of this rapidity or magnitude and they have never been when our populations and economies are so deeply invested in their present geography.

The source of global warming is the rise in greenhouse gases. Its cause is man-made. The latest science points that out. I quote again from the report:

Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. This evidence for human influence has grown … It is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.

These are strong words from a typically cautious scientific community. On a continent that has famously been called a continent of droughts and flooding rains, in a country with one of the most urbanised populations on the planet, there are clear consequences. By mid-century, the IPCC suggests a median average temperature increase of 1.5 degrees to two degrees over most of Australia. By 2100, temperatures could increase by two degrees Centigrade on the coast and three degrees Centigrade elsewhere. Under a worst-case scenario, average temperatures in Australia's north are projected to rise by almost five degrees Centigrade. The frequency of heatwaves has increased, and this latest IPCC report predicts that there will be more droughts in southern parts of Australia.

Recent history tells us that global warming is not a giant conspiracy or an abstract theory but part of our new reality. Australia has just experienced its warmest 12-month period; its warmest month on record; its hottest summer day on record, 7 January 2013; and its warmest winter day on record, 31 August 2013. Yet, despite the growing evidence, in the days leading up to the publication of the IPCC report several prominent news outlets and commentators argued that the IPCC had got it wrong and that since 1998 global warming has stopped. This is a judicious partial truth, for 1998 was an exceptionally hot year. Global average temperature increases have slowed since 1998—that is true—but warming has not paused. As Thomas Stocker, the co-chair of the IPCC's first working group, pointed out, measuring recent years in comparison to 1998 is misleading because global climate trends need to be compared over much longer periods—decades or more.

Contrary to such misrepresentations, the latest report of the IPCC shows that the science of climate change is becoming surer, not less certain and:

Limiting climate change will require substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions.

It is crucial that we focus on the science of climate change and that we consider the most prudent and efficacious methods of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The coalition's Direct Action Plan is neither prudent, nor an efficient means of reducing our carbon emissions. Work by the Productivity Commission suggests that a broad based market response like a carbon price is the most efficient and effective means of reducing carbon emissions. And yet today we are asked to replace a proven measure with an alternative that is fancifully optimistic about its capacity to reduce carbon emissions. The coalition's Direct Action Plan will directly take taxpayers' money and spend it on measures that are untested. The political party which prides itself as the party of the free market, rather than choose an effective market mechanism, is instead extending the powers of the state—picking winners—calling for greater government control in the area of environmental policy.

The coalition's Direct Action Plan is the unloved orphan of environmental policy, unloved by economists and environmentalists—a policy that will leave us increasingly isolated from the rest of the world. A problem of the magnitude and complexity of climate change requires national responses that are internationally competitive and compatible. The atmosphere does not respect national borders. I am very confident that the international community will not embrace the coalition's direct action policy. Increasingly, countries are adopting carbon markets as the most efficient means of reducing carbon emissions, and we all know that is true.

Given the strength of the science and our recent climate history, surely it is time to look to the future and to move toward and not away from the most effective and internationally competitive means of reducing our carbon emissions. I believe that this is the responsibility that we in this parliament must meet now, and that is why I am speaking this way on the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (Abolition) Bill 2013.


No comments