Senate debates

Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Questions without Notice

Climate Change

2:24 pm

Photo of Kerry NettleKerry Nettle (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

My final question is to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, and it relates to the issue of climate refugees and the recent visit by the President of Kiribati last week. He said that the people of Kiribati will have to evacuate their whole country within the next 50 years and that the process of migration needs to start now. What system does Australia have in place now in order to help our Pacific island neighbours whose countries are disappearing under rising sea levels?

Photo of Chris EvansChris Evans (WA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank Senator Nettle for what will be her last question. When I knew that would be today, I figured I would get it. I bet my staff that I would get it, but I did not pick the question though. You are not that predictable, Senator!

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

How do you know that she will not have a question tomorrow?

Photo of Chris EvansChris Evans (WA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

She said it was her last question, Senator—you really ought to wake up.

It is an important question, and I know the issue of potential climate-change-driven refugees is one that there is a great deal of focus on at the moment. As a government, we do recognise that environmental factors can contribute to displacement. Climate change impacts primarily by exacerbating existing challenges and pressures such as access to fresh water, storm inundation, and frequency of cyclones, and it may in time pose serious challenges in the Asia-Pacific region, including for Kiribati.

Australia is committed to assisting regional neighbours to adapt to the long-term effects of climate change, including sea level rise and erosion. The best response, where feasible, is adaptation and well-supported internal relocation, rather than resettlement. If, at some point in the future, this is not feasible then Australia has the flexibility to assist with international resettlement. We do recognise that we have a leadership role to play. Australia is working on a range of climate initiatives that include that of Kiribati, providing support for the World Bank’s Kiribati Adaptation Project to reduce the islands’ vulnerability to climate change, climate variability and sea level rise. There is also the sea level and climate monitoring project, which collects high-quality, long-term data on absolute sea level movements across the Pacific, and the climate prediction project, which is strengthening the capacity of the Pacific national meteorological services, including Kiribati, to interpret weather and climate data and provide climate predictions to support industry, government and the community. Additionally, the government has committed $150 million over the next three years to meet high-priority climate adaptation needs in vulnerable countries in our region.

We are committed to reducing emissions in our own country, to adapting to the impacts of climate change and to helping to shape a global solution. What we do in our country will also be important to that contribution. As I say, we do recognise that a range of Asia-Pacific countries in particular do face very serious, immediate issues. We are trying to work with them to address those. There is a dialogue commencing with those countries in addition to the measures that I have outlined. They will, no doubt, be taken up at the meeting in Niue, which I think is in August.

In terms of my own specific portfolio responsibilities, we are doing some work inside the department, but, as I say, the focus is very much on adaptation at the moment. Any response in terms of immigration would only come when we think we are much closer to dealing with some sort of immediate problem. We are doing what we can to assist on the adaptation front and with the funding of research. That is a program of work that will, obviously, continue over the coming years as part of our engagement with those nations. I am sure it will be a focus for the government for quite a while to come.

Photo of Kerry NettleKerry Nettle (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. It relates to the comments by the President of Kiribati that the migration must start now. I want to know when we are going to put in place an actual mechanism to accept climate refugees—and not just from Kiribati. Nicholas Stern predicts that there will be hundreds of millions of climate refugees within the next 40 years. When are we going to start actually creating a system for accepting climate refugees?

Photo of Chris EvansChris Evans (WA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Government in the Senate) Share this | | Hansard source

I thought I had made clear in my answer that we are actually focused on the adaptation—that we are focused on trying to deal with the issue at source. I also indicated, though perhaps I should do it more directly, that we have not got a current plan for, if you like, relocation of those peoples to Australia. Clearly we understand that, if things reached an emergency level, Australia and all the other nations in the region would have to take their responsibilities seriously. But our focus is on adaptation. We cannot fight climate change by merely abandoning various parts of the landmass. We have got to address it much more proactively than that, and that is where the focus is currently.