Senate debates

Monday, 22 September 2014

Matters of Urgency

Climate Change

4:09 pm

Photo of Christine MilneChristine Milne (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That, in the opinion of the Senate, the following is a matter of urgency:

"The need for the Prime minister to attend the United Nations Climate Summit 2014, and to recognise that Australia's emissions reduction target is inadequate."

As we stand here, in New York today it has been estimated that 400,000 people have been marching for action not words on addressing the real crisis that is facing humanity, and that is global warming. People from right around the world have marched in the last 24 hours. It has been amazing to see the kinds of outpourings from everywhere. There were 40,000 in London and 30,000 in Melbourne. There were marches in Delhi, Rio, Paris, Barcelona, Jakarta and the Pacific Islands—right around the world—with people from different races, religions, backgrounds, countries and ages. We even had a beekeeper in Bulgaria standing up with his sign 'Action not words', with his bees. We had small children in Dakar posting, saying they wanted action on climate change.

All over the world, people are recognising that we are on a trajectory of four degrees of global warming. That is an unlivable planet—an unlivable planet. And that is something we need to consider.

We have a Prime Minister who is in Australia today, and who made his statement to the House of Representatives on a national security matter. The overwhelming emergency of the time is the global warming challenge. Of course we have to take on matters of national security, but national security now needs to be expanded to include the ramifications of the crop failures, the species losses and the deaths that are going to come from extreme weather events, from bushfires, from catastrophic heatwaves, and from the spread of diseases and invasive species. We are already seeing the impact. We are seeing it in Antarctica and in the Arctic. We are seeing the acidification of the oceans. We are seeing sea-level rise. In the lead-up to Ban Ki-moon's summit in New York, there have been endless reports coming out talking about just how serious matters really are.

As a result of that, people are taking this on. They are not only installing renewable energy, putting photovoltaics on their roofs, and engaging in energy efficiency. They are taking to cycleways. They want more public transport. They want to actually get emissions down, because it is healthier and of course it is the security of the planet that we are talking about, and people's lives into the future.

Divestment has now become extremely important. Just today, the heirs of the Rockefeller oil fortune announced, after the New York march, that their $860 million philanthropic fund was now going to divest from fossil fuels, and that follows on from Sydney university a matter of a week or so ago, and the Uniting Church in Australia. There is now growing support for getting out of fossil fuels. Not only that, but China has now capped the quality and the quantity of the coal that it will import.

It is now time for Australia to get with it. The Prime Minister is shaming us by his refusal to attend the leaders' summit in New York. He is going to be there the day after, for a meeting of the Security Council with regard to Iraq and Syria. He should have gone a day earlier so that he could attend. The reason he has not is that he cannot justify the pathetic emissions reduction target of five per cent on 2000 levels by 2020. It is disgraceful. It is even more disgraceful since it is becoming easier by the minute to achieve because, with the slowdown in our economy and the closure of some of our more polluting factories, the task is much easier. It has gone right down from something like 750 million tonnes to around 400 now. So it is easier. We could be going at it in a much more ambitious way than we are.

It is disgraceful that he is not going to be in New York at the summit. It is disgraceful that he is sending the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop, from one of the highest per capita polluting nations on the planet, one of the richest and most able countries to act on this. We already have something like 9,000 megawatts—too much coal fired power. We could shut it down tomorrow. A couple of those power stations could go. It would make a big difference. We could be saying: 'No more coal in the Galilee and Bowen basins. No more CSG.' We could be out there actually doing something and saving our forests at the same time. Instead of that we are prepared to drive the fossil fuel industry to the detriment of the planet, and it is disgraceful.

But let us get to what Australia is going to have to face up to. We have been asked to make a much more ambitious contribution to keeping Australia to a contribution that will secure global warming to less than two degrees. Mr Hockey has been out talking about the G20. He failed to point out to Australians that in the G20 mandate they have said they want to keep global warming to less than two degrees and they believe that a carbon price is the way to do it. We have not heard anything from Mr Hockey about that out of the G20.

We need to make sure that we keep faith with our Pacific Island neighbours as well. They have made the point in the last 24 hours and said:

'We were one of the campaigners for Australia to be on the Security Council, we bought along many of our bodies to do that, on the understanding that Australia-Pacific islands relationship is close, not subject to the whims of one or two politicians from time to time, it is based on stability and long-term relations, so this is very disappointing for us, [that you would] come and be friendly when you want to be on the Security Council, but after you do that, you do your own thing.'

He said that 'betrayal' was too strong a word to use for now, 'but it may not be soon'.

That is exactly how the Pacific islands feel about Australia betraying the planet in doing what it should do on global warming.

By 31 March next year, Australia has to put on the table what our post-2020 emissions reduction target is going to be. The Climate Change Authority said very clearly that we need a 40 to 60 per cent reduction in emissions by 2030. That is what the Greens say we should be going for as well—net carbon zero by 2050. That will mean a massive shift in our economy and it will mean massive opportunities in terms of investment, jobs, R&D and a whole range of things.

But the question for the government is: what is your process for determining what the emissions reduction target should be? Under the clean energy package, we legislated to set up the Climate Change Authority and to have them assess the level of the target that is necessary and recommend that to the parliament. The government have no process. What is your process? You cannot seriously stand up in front of the world and say that five per cent is enough and try to pretend that a $2½ billion Emissions Reduction Fund is going to cut it. Nobody will believe you. The Australian community have made it very clear at the marches over the last 24 hours that people want answers. They want action. They do not want any more of the waffle and the climate denial that actually demonstrates what the government thinks. I was interested that Senator Ryan retweeted the march in Adelaide. I thought that perhaps he has had a change of heart, that perhaps he now supports climate action.

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