Senate debates

Thursday, 7 September 2006

Questions without Notice

Climate Change

3:19 pm

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

My question is directed to Senator Minchin, the Minister representing the Prime Minister. I refer to the Prime Minister’s recent comment that he accepts the broad theory about global warming but is ‘sceptical about a lot of the more gloomy predictions’. I ask the minister: given that the European Union decided 10 years ago that avoiding dangerous climate change would require limiting the temperature rise to two degrees and thus establishing the target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent by 2050, have the Prime Minister and the Australian government decided what temperature rise constitutes dangerous climate change as opposed to ‘gloomy predictions’? If so, what is that temperature rise and, if not, have the Prime Minister and the government failed to address or make a decision about this most fundamental question: what temperature rise constitutes dangerous climate change and when will they decide?

Photo of Nick MinchinNick Minchin (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance and Administration) Share this | | Hansard source

We understand the Greens’ complete obsession with this issue of climate change. I think it is a matter of record that the government accepts that the climate is changing; indeed, I think it is obvious that the climate has been changing since the planet was formed. But we do understand that there is evidence that there is global warming occurring. I think what the Prime Minister was referring to in his question was that he acknowledges that there remains some dispute about the extent of that warming and the causes of it. That is a matter of scientific dispute and I think I noticed just this week that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has significantly reduced its forecasts for temperature rises over the course of the 21st century.

We do not, I am advised—Senator Ian Campbell may wish to correct me—have a particular temperature rise which we say would trigger certain consequences. But I should state for the record the very substantial commitment by this government to seek to mitigate the effects of climate change and to ensure Australia’s adaptation to climate change. Indeed, Senator Campbell has done an outstanding job as the minister for environment in ensuring that Australia is at the forefront of international efforts to seek to ensure we have practicable, sensible and affordable proposals, initiatives and policies to deal with this particular issue.

It is a fact of life that we have not signed the Kyoto protocol. We have said on many occasions we see no point in that. When substantial greenhouse gas emitters like the United States, China and India are not party to it, there is absolutely no point in signing that protocol. Nevertheless, we are one of the very few countries in the world, through our initiatives, commitment and investment, that are actually meeting the targets that were set for Australia. Other countries, which have signed, are nowhere near meeting their targets.

We are also signed up to the new Asia-Pacific initiative, which we think has enormous potential. The real key to this, as Senator Campbell has so eloquently put it on many occasions, is to ensure that there is the investment in the technological solutions required to ensure that our planet is able to adapt to climate change and to do what we can, realistically and affordably, to mitigate and contain the extent of climate change.

I think the Prime Minister was quite proper in his remarks. We stand entirely behind and beside his remarks in which he acknowledges the effects of, but properly acknowledges the continuing dispute about, the global warming forecast through the 21st century and, indeed, the extent to which both human activity and other forces are contributing to climate change.

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

Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I thank the minister for his answer and inform him that his conclusions drawn from the IPCC report are absolutely wrong: they related to climate sensitivity and not to the projected climate temperatures expected by 2100. Now that the minister has conceded that the Australian government has not made a decision about what constitutes dangerous climate change and therefore does not have a target—if you have not made a decision about what your objective is then you have not got a target—can the minister explain how he makes decisions on climate change policy, including subsidies to various technologies like clean coal? How does the minister contribute to international discussions on the post-Kyoto emission abatement task if he does not have a clear sense of what the upper temperature increase ought to be?

Photo of Nick MinchinNick Minchin (SA, Liberal Party, Minister for Finance and Administration) Share this | | Hansard source

I am not conscious of any country having a particular temperature target. What we have done is accept the Kyoto protocol targets in relation to emissions; and we are meeting those targets, unlike most other countries that have actually signed the Kyoto protocol.

The Greens are a one-issue party. They have no interest in any other issue but this. They are prepared to see the Australian economy trashed in order to pursue their mindless pursuit and single-minded obsessions. We are a government concerned about the welfare of the nation and ensuring that Australians continue to live a prosperous life, consistent with a sustainable environment. We have made a massive investment in ensuring that we mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and that we work globally and internationally. There is no point in Australia trashing its own economy, simply seeing its industries move offshore and creating even greater greenhouse gas emissions. That is what would happen if we pursued the Greens’ mindless policies.