Senate debates

Wednesday, 7 February 2007


Climate Change

7:28 pm

Photo of Lyn AllisonLyn Allison (Victoria, Australian Democrats) Share this | | Hansard source

This has been a big week, indeed a big six months, for greenhouse. Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, the Stern report and the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report by 2,500 scientists worldwide have delivered a wake-up call. Australians are now convinced that serious action is needed from government and it is needed fast. It is no longer tenable, if it ever was, to sit back and wait to see what the rest of the world does to contain emissions.

It is no longer believable that Australia could wait 15 to 20 years for clean coal or nuclear power to make the sorts of cuts that are going to be necessary. The AP6 agreement, cooked up by Mr Bush, Mr Howard and countries that buy our coal, was criticised because of the gap between emissions reduction activity proposed and the need to prevent global warming from exceeding dangerous levels.

It is also not convincing to suggest, as Mr Howard does, that taking action would harm the economy or our competitive advantage. And it is not satisfactory for Mr Howard’s task force to today release a flimsy discussion paper on emissions trading that purports to be about a global trading scheme that would involve developed and developing countries rather than getting our own house in order. Australians quite rightly see this as yet more procrastination: a knee-jerk response to public criticism that the government is not doing enough—indeed, is not doing anything.

The Prime Minister is slowly moving from being a sceptic on climate change; now he reluctantly accepts the link between human activity, carbon emissions and climate change. He has been forced to eat his words of warning to not be mesmerised by Stern. People were mesmerised and they still are, because Stern showed that the impact of doing nothing was at least 10 times more than the cost of fixing the problem.

The Prime Minister withdrew his answer in question time yesterday saying he thought the question being asked was about the link between greenhouse emissions and drought, and that the jury was still out on that link. This too is rubbish. Reports for 10 years have said we can expect lower rainfall in most of Australia and only the most northern regions will have more rain. This warning has come to pass: they have got floods and we have got drought. He lashed out at what he said were climate change zealots and repeated the mantra that he would do nothing that would damage our economy, intimating that action to reduce emissions would do so. He said he was concerned about the workers in coalmines and power stations. Most Australians understand it is more to do with the $26 billion a year that is earned in the exports of coal. His actions this week proved that he is yesterday’s man, defending and protecting a fossil fuel economy instead of taking Australia into the new world order of sustainability.

Let’s just look at the facts. On average, around 45 per cent of all greenhouse emissions remain in the atmosphere and the rest are absorbed by natural systems. This has been the case for the last 50 years—7.9 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide went into the atmosphere worldwide in 2005. Levels are now 430 parts per million—up from 300 part per million in pre-industrial times. This has already caused 0.9 degrees Celsius warming since 1910. Concentrations of carbon dioxide grew by two parts per million in 2005—the fourth year in a row of above average growth. At this rate, 450 parts per million will be reached within 10 years, bringing a very high probability of a two degrees Celsius increase in temperature. Scientists tell us that a two-degree increase will take the earth into dangerous climate change.

The challenge for Australia and the world is to lower CO concentrations to levels that avoid dangerous climate change and to keep them that way. This means massive and urgent cuts followed by a balance in which CO emissions match the earth’s capacity to absorb them. Most of the action needed will have to happen in the next 10 years. Achieving that sustainable balance is a monumental task and will require an unprecedented level of global cooperation, but it must be done.

The government’s preferred course, to fund research into so-called clean coal technology—carbon capture and storage—is unproven and expensive, and would be too late to stop emissions escalating. It makes no sense either to promote nuclear power or to say that it is clean. Wind power is already cheaper than nuclear power in the United Kingdom and is far lower in emissions, uses no water, requires little land and produces no waste. It is also wrong to suggest wind cannot provide base load. Australia is the tenth largest emitter in the world and one of the most vulnerable to climate change. Governments worldwide must make it possible for greenhouse emissions to equal the earth’s capacity to absorb them.

Today the Climate Institute circulated a very useful paper which I hope all senators and members will read, and I draw it to the attention of the Prime Minister and members of the coalition in particular. It dispels the myths being put by the Prime Minister and others about carbon trading, and quotes the CSIRO, ABARE, the Australian Business Roundtable on Climate Change, the World Bank, Sir Nicolas Stern and the Australian Greenhouse Office.

Myth 1: that carbon pricing will hurt the economy—wrong. The business roundtable report found GDP continues to grow 2.1 per cent per annum with early action and will increase from $0.8 trillion in 2005 to $2 trillion in 2050. This occurs while Australia reduces emissions by 60 per cent. ABARE expects GDP to grow by 2.1 to 2.2 per cent per annum, even with a 15 per cent to 40 per cent reduction in emissions. Even if Australia cut emissions by 60 per cent, by 2050 real income per person would be more than $15,000 higher than in 2005. The business roundtable say delaying action may lead to a major disruptive shock to the Australian economy. GDP growth would be limited to an average of 1.9 per cent per annum by 2050, compared with that 2.1 per cent for early action. They say delaying action will cost jobs—around 250,000 less than the 3.5 million predicted between 2013 and 2050. CSIRO says the economic impacts of climate change could be between five per cent and 15 per cent of global GDP, compared to around three per cent for early action.

Myth 2: that carbon pricing would make electricity more expensive—again, wrong. The amount that households spend on electricity will increase by between seven per cent and 20 per cent by 2050, while incomes will increase by 100 per cent, according to ABARE and the CSIRO.

Myth 3: that Australia should wait for a global market—wrong. There is already a multibillion dollar international carbon trading market, involving countries like China and India. Access to this market would likely reduce the cost of Australia meeting its Kyoto commitments as companies invest in cheaper reductions in other countries. Exclusion from this trading would add $1.25 billion to the cost of meeting our target. According to the World Bank, in 2005 the global carbon market was worth $13.3 billion. The UN says clean development mechanisms will deliver cuts of nearly 1.5 billion tonnes of emissions in China and other developing countries by the end of 2012—this equals the present annual emissions of Canada and France combined. In the first three quarters of 2006, $2.9 billion was invested, 60 per cent of that in China.

Myth 4: there is no point in Australia doing anything unless China does—again, wrong. Stern said China was amongst those countries with the most ambitious policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. China plans to reduce energy used for each unit of GDP by 20 per cent between 2006 and 2010. Its renewable energy target is 15 per cent by 2020. This will avoid almost 400 million tonnes of emissions in 2020—equivalent to shutting down a third of China’s coal-fired power plants and around three times more than Australia is projected to achieve over the same period.

Myth 5: ratification of Kyoto or carbon pricing will hurt the coal industry. The future of our coal industry will be determined not by Australia’s internal policies but by international action. Most of Australia’s coal is exported, so how much we sell depends on the greenhouse policies of countries like Japan and China.

Mr President, I urge you and the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives to look at that report. It demonstrates absolutely that those myths need to be dispelled and we need to be on a sustainable course of action and we need to be on it now.