Senate debates

Thursday, 7 September 2006

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Climate Change

3:55 pm

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

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance and Administration (Senator Minchin) to a question without notice asked by Senator Milne today relating to global warming.

I refer to the answer that Senator Minchin, the Minister representing the Prime Minister, gave in response to my very reasonable question about what the Australian government believes is the degree of temperature rise that would constitute dangerous climate change. Senator Minchin said in his answer that he does not know of any country which has done that. As I pointed out in the question, the European Union made that decision 10 years ago. They put to themselves that question: what constitutes dangerous climate change? They decided it was two degrees and, in order to achieve something, set the target of a 60 per cent reduction by 2050. Perhaps Senator Minchin is not aware that article 2 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, a convention that Australia has signed and ratified, says very clearly:

The ultimate objective of this Convention and any related legal instruments that the Conference of the Parties may adopt is to achieve, in accordance with the relevant provisions of the Convention, stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.

That is the obligation of all signatories to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. We as a nation are supposed to make that decision. Scientists cannot decide; governments and societies have to decide what level of climate change they regard to be dangerous and therefore set in place targets to make sure we do not drive the global temperature higher than that.

Australia is abrogating its responsibility under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change by not doing that. Every day Senator Minchin and others in the government are saying, ‘Oh, if we address climate change and if we reduce emissions then the economy will be a mishmash.’ He might have a look at the Financial Review, which points out that Ford and Holden have lost their contracts with Australia’s largest rent-a-car business because it has gone offshore and signed a contract with Subaru; all its future rental cars will be smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. What is happening is that Australian manufacturers’ workers are being put out of jobs because the government will not keep up with global trends in terms of both greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle fuel efficiency. In the course of the oil inquiry, we had numerous people come before us saying that they were going to have to go overseas because they were not getting the support that they required from the Australian government—so new technologies are going offshore.

More importantly, let us talk about the impacts of increased temperatures. The current temperature has increased by 0.6 of a degree. With that we have got the most appalling drought affecting the whole country, we have got Melbourne on critical water restrictions, we have got south-east Queensland drying out, we had the highest temperatures all over New South Wales last summer and we have already got failed crops. We are anticipating an earlier bushfire season. In Victoria they are already training volunteers for it.

So let us count the costs of more extreme droughts, floods and fires in Australia, not to mention storm surges. If you build a new apartment block on the coast in Queensland, you have to put life rafts in the building in case there is a huge storm surge. That is in response to what occurred in New Orleans. We have the reality of climate change in this country. The insurance industry know it is there and that is why they have changed their provisions to no longer insure people against storm surges, tsunamis et cetera—anything related to climate change.

The business roundtable has set out the fact that the Great Barrier Reef will become bleached and the Kakadu wetlands will be lost. Just as importantly, we are going to see this country drying out to a point where we will have serious conflict over water and serious losses in our agricultural sector. These are the impacts of climate change. That is why the Greens are taking this up to the government. This is going to affect every Australian and we need an answer to that question. (Time expired)