Senate debates

Wednesday, 23 November 2022


Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Legislation Amendment Bill 2022; Second Reading

10:54 am

Photo of Peter Whish-WilsonPeter Whish-Wilson (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

This Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Legislation Amendment Bill 2022 before us deals with two amendments to the Offshore Electricity Infrastructure Act, which was passed in this chamber in 2021. The Greens supported that legislation and the principle of offshore wind energy, with caveats. I'll deal with those two amendments in a second, but I'll just provide the very important background to this legislation today, which is designed to help grease the wheels of this legislation and to develop an offshore electricity industry in this country.

It's very important that we transition rapidly to 100 per cent renewables, not just in Australia but all around the world. Of course, wind is going to play a major role in that—wind on the ocean, wind onshore is going to be a critical component of our grid going forward. But I will say that the Greens do have caveats on where we put wind farms, including in the ocean. These things have to be done in the right way. There's no doubt at all that wind farms do have some environmental impacts, with their footprints, for example, and the recyclability of their products being things that we should consider right here and right now.

But I want to talk about the context of that rapid transition to renewables, because I think there are some times in your life and in your career where you might look back on a moment and it hits you between the eyes. You say, 'Wow! Did that really happen? What did we do about it? What was my role in changing that?' I think that the release of the State of the climate 2022 report today by the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology is going to be one of those moments in my life and also in the lives of a lot of people. It shows that we're in a deepening climate emergency and that things couldn't be any more serious.

The reason why I think today is so significant is because I've been part of a political movement which is about 50 years old and which got people into parliament to fight for the environment and a whole range of social justice and equity issues. One of the key things that we've been pushing for is to try to keep global warming to 1½ degrees. That's in line with international protocol: the Paris Agreement. Today, in the State of the climate 2022 report, we hear that in Australia we're already at 1.4 degrees of warming above levels from 1910. The Paris Agreement is trying to limit warming across the entire planet to 1.5 degrees, based on preindustrial levels. But here in Australia we're almost at that level and it's 2022—not 2050 or 2100. It's 2022, and we're nearly at 1.5 degrees of warming on this continent.

When we look at what's happening in our backyard, we've had three La Nina events in a row and two negative Indian Ocean dipoles in a row. That has never been recorded before. We've had some of the worst bushfires this country has ever seen in the last couple of years and just about every temperature record you could think of has been broken. We've had marine heatwaves and the loss of biodiversity in places like the Great Barrier Reef and off the coast of my beautiful state of Tasmania, where we have lost most of our giant kelp forests—critical habitat for our fisheries. And I could go on: droughts, pestilence and disruption to our supply chains in our agricultural communities. These things are all happening at 1.4 degrees of warming.

I just want to step through a couple of quick things that the state of the environment report said today, and there are some great articles that I recommend people read, including in both the Guardian and the Age today. It said that sea levels are rising at an accelerating rate; day- and night-time temperatures are rising; we're seeing record downpours, or deluges, in our rainfall patterns; glaciers in the west Antarctic are destabilised; glaciers and ice around the planet is melting; in our oceans we're seeing longer and more frequent heatwaves; and the acidification of our oceans by carbon dioxide is happening 10 times faster than at any time in our recorded history. We're seeing more heat, more droughts and more intense rainfalls.

What about the outlook? What do we know about the outlook from this report? Expect more misery, more suffering, more loss of biodiversity and more economic damage if we don't act. It was good to hear the government today in these reports—Mr Husic in the other place, and our environment minister, Ms Plibersek, in the other place—talk about taking climate action. But talk is cheap. What about the action that this government and previous governments have taken? Well, we've seen one piece of legislation since this new parliament has convened, to set a 43 per cent emissions reduction target that the science tells us will limit warming to two degrees.

An analysis by think tank Climate Analytics earlier this year said the government's commitment to cut emissions by 43 per cent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 found it was consistent with two degrees of warming. Mr Bowen, at COP27 in Egypt, specifically said that the difference between 1.5 and 1.7 degrees of warming for the planet was enormous and implored other nations to up their efforts to cut emissions. Mr Bowen also said:

If we're not trying to keep to 1.5 C, then what are we here for?

I would like to know why we only have legislation and ambition in this country to cut emissions that equate to two degrees of warming. You can understand why Mr Albanese yesterday, when he went to visit flood affected communities in New South Wales, was asked where he was and why he wasn't there earlier, supporting them in their darkest hour. And he said, 'I was overseas at international meetings.' You can see why people are getting sick and tired of talkfests.

The Paris protocol was set well over a decade ago. Why are we nearly exceeding that temperature in 2022 when we were supposed to be able to hold this planet's warming across all countries to 1.5 degrees by 2050? We're there nearly 30 years early. It's because we talk, and we don't act. We know we need to cut emissions by 75 per cent by 2030 to have any chance globally of meeting these targets. What is half a degree, you may ask? This is where I think it gets lost in the mire. If we're globally at one degree or 1.2 degrees, a two degrees warming is a hundred per cent increase. It's a 100 per cent increase of trapped heat in our atmosphere. Somehow, we think 1.5 degrees warming, which is a 50 per cent increase, is a good thing. Well, it's not.

You can look at a whole range of scientific information. It was interesting that Mr Husic was quoted in the papers this morning as saying, 'We listen to the science, and we act.' Well, the science tells us that the difference between 1½ and two degrees—for coral reefs, for example—is that, if we limit warming in our oceans and around the planet to 1½ degrees, we're going to see an expected 70 to 90 per cent decline in our coral reefs. If we limit warming to two degrees, expect to see a 99 per cent decline in the Great Barrier Reef and in the world's coral reefs. It couldn't be any more serious.

That is the backdrop to the legislation that we are debating today to facilitate offshore renewable energy and an offshore electricity industry. We support the rapid transition to renewables. We support stopping all new fossil fuel projects and phasing out fossil fuels.

It's estimated we have around 3,000 gigatonnes of fossil fuels already discovered on this planet, and, if we are to meet our carbon budget for Paris, we can only extract 500 of those gigatonnes in the next 50 years. And yet we're still out exploring for more oil and gas in our oceans. We are still giving public money to open up new fossil fuel projects in this country at the same time as our leaders are overseas talking about keeping global warming to 1½ degrees. It is bullshit, absolute and utter bullshit!


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