Senate debates

Thursday, 13 February 2020


Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Climate Trigger) Bill 2020; Second Reading

11:48 am

Photo of Sarah Hanson-YoungSarah Hanson-Young (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I seek leave to table an explanatory memorandum relating to the bill.

Leave granted.

I table the explanatory memorandum and seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated into Hansard.

Leave granted.

The speech read as follows—

I rise today in favour of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Amendment (Climate Trigger) Bill 2020, the Australian Greens' Bill that looks to introduce a climate trigger impact assessment into the Environment Protection and Biodiversity ConservationAct1999 (EPBC Act).

The time to act is now. We have just seen the most horrific summer of fires across the nation — fires which have ravaged our once-breathtaking landscape, from the coastal shores of New South Wales to the World Heritage-listed Blue Mountains, to East Gippsland where I grew up, and where my family lost their property just a month ago, and to Kangaroo Island in my home state of South Australia, where 48 per cent of all land mass was affected.

Make no mistake: these are fires fuelled by climate change and carbon pollution. These are climate fires. What we've seen, and what we've heard from fire chiefs, scientists, ecologists, wildlife carers and locals alike is they have never experienced anything like this before. And while the fire season continues, what we know is these fires are not normal. Australia has always experienced bushfires, but these fires have been worsened by climate change. The reality is these climate fires have been exacerbated by extended droughts, extremely dry soil and record breaking heat — all trends that had been forewarned by climate scientists for decades.

In fact, the Garnaut Climate Change review, published over a decade ago in 2008, warned of exactly this:

"…projects of fire weather suggest that fire seasons will start earlier, end slightly later, and generally be more intense. This effect increases over time, but should be directly observable by 2020."

Predicted over a decade ago and frighteningly true today, a mere two months into the new year. But this isn't the stuff of prophecy. This is the strength of science. Indisputable science that shows that the use of fossil fuels is driving up global temperatures, leading to hotter, drier and longer fire seasons.

Research from the Climate Council shows this. Since the mid-1990s, southeast Australia has experienced a 15 per cent decline in late autumn and early winter rainfall, and a 25 per cent decline in average rainfall in April and May. Rainfall for January to August 2019 was the lowest on record in the Southern Downs in Queensland and the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales.In just 90 days, over 206 temperature records were broken, including the record-highest summer temperature in 87 locations.

And the link is clear. One of the most visible consequences of climate change is an increase in the intensity and frequency of extreme weather events. We've seen it in Australia, and we also see it globally — where, for example, just last week, Antarctica recorded its highest temperature on record at 18.2 degrees Celsius. This is not normal.

We have already reached over 1 degree of warming in Australia. The science tells us that we need to cap the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius to avoid the impacts of climate change escalating, which we are already seeing. Current government policy has us on track for a rise in temperatures of 4 to 6 degrees Celsius.

Yet successive governments have not paid attention to the warnings, heeded the science or listened to the experts.

We have a government that is beholden to the coal industry and the fossil fuel lobby. We have an opposition that has been paralysed by inaction. And we are desperately running out of time. If we don't act now, scientists warn that we could experience double the number of fire danger days rated at 'very high' and above. Remember: this is not prophecy. It is science.

We must stop taking one step forward, two steps back by stopping new polluting projects, while enabling a just transition from what already exists to a clean economy. We must stop making it harder to clean up carbon emissions by ensuring that projects that are emissions-intensive receive the thorough climate impact assessment that is needed to fully assess its environmental impact, not just through an existing, outdated framework. We must bring in policy that is fit for the climate crisis we're in. A climate trigger would ensure exactly this: that projects and developments will be fully assessed for its impact on the climate before approval was given.

We know that a lot needs to be done to reduce pollution and put Australia and the globe on a transition from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy. While we work to reduce carbon emissions, we must stop making pollution worse.

If we don't act now, we risk a crumbling social fabric. The impacts of climate change often amplifies other stressors. We have already seen this. If we don't act, we'll continue to see extreme pressure on natural ecosystems including urban encroachment, fragmentation, deforestation, invasive species, introduced pathogens and increasing pressure on scarce water resources. As the Australian Academy of Science warns, multiple stressors do not simply add to each other in complex systems like the one we live in; instead, they collide together in a multiplicity of unexpected ways.

We are already in an extinction crisis.

Right now, we have 517 animals, 87 distinct ecological communities and over 1 370 unique plant species that are listed as nationally threatened. And these numbers are trending in the wrong direction. Globally, the UN tells us there are a million species under threat of extinction. Add to this the pressure of the scale and impact of the fires on already-vulnerable species — the extent of which we do not yet fully know.

Yet our environmental laws have not kept up with environmental reality.

The EBPC Act is the Commonwealth's key environmental legislation in relation to the protection of threatened species of flora and fauna, as well as ecological communities and heritage sites. As the key instrument within the Government's power to assess actions that are likely to have significant environmental impact, the EPBC Act is empowered to list and manage threatened species and protected areas under nine matters of national environmental significance. These range from world and national heritage places, to wetlands, threatened and migratory species and marine areas, yet glaringly, climate and emissions impact is not considered a matter of national environmental significance.

This is a disgrace.

For all the talk about meeting Australia's emissions "in a canter", this Government is burying its head in the sand by ignoring the clear link between burning fossil fuel, carbon emissions, and worsening climate change. Climate change is at the heart of the threats we are facing today. These are twin crises and this is why I am introducing this Bill.

Make no mistake. What we experienced this summer is climate change. And we are the last generation of lawmakers and decision-makers who can do something about it. We will not stand helplessly by as the Government and what little semblance of an Opposition squabble over petty politics and factional lines.

This Bill, today, makes a clear and unequivocal statement: that climate change is here, it is real, it must be stopped and most importantly — it must be reversed. Just as we must act now to halt the extinction crisis, this Bill introduces the crucial ability for the EPBC Act to assess major developments and scrutinise the emissions and climate change impact of industrial activity.

We must stem the tide of extinction. We must take decisive action on climate change now. I urge you to support this Bill for all our futures — human, animal, plants and for all ecosystems great and small.

I seek leave to continue my remarks.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.