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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4207

Ms NEAL (6:25 PM) —The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties conducted an inquiry following the government’s signing of the Kyoto protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This report is a result of that inquiry. The report, entitled Report 100: Treaties tabled on 25 June 2008 (2), examines issues arising out of Australia’s ratification of the Kyoto protocol in December 2007 and recommends an approach for Australia to adopt at the 15th conference of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Thirty-two submissions were received and 33 witnesses were examined at nine public hearings conducted by the committee in Canberra, Brisbane, Darwin and Perth from August to December 2008. Contrary to the views of the previous speaker, the member for Mallee, it was a very exhaustive inquiry and that a large range of views were taken into account and considered. I congratulate the chair, Kelvin Thomson, for making such huge efforts to ensure that anyone who had a view in relation to the protocol was allowed an opportunity to provide evidence to the committee.

It was not my intention to raise the issue of the dissenting report when I first thought about speaking on the report here today, but I cannot help but be reminded of an inquiry I was involved in in the early nineties where coalition members tried to put forward a minority report which argued that there was no scientific evidence linking the effects of smoking to people’s health. The acrobatics of the members and the views that they attempted to express on that occasion were extremely similar to the sorts of views that they are expressing today. I find it disappointing that members of the committee who heard evidence that I think is so overwhelming and so extensive have failed to admit in the light of that evidence that their previous position not to sign the Kyoto protocol was an incorrect decision and that they are not wise enough to admit their mistake and support the government in its signing of the protocol.

The committee was presented with evidence obtained from ice cores which demonstrated that over the last 400,000 years global temperatures have varied in alignment with glacial and interglacial periods. Carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere over this period have ranged from 180 parts per million to 280 parts per million, cycling in parallel with temperature changes, but they have remained below 300 parts per million for at least 420,000 years. However, in the last 150 years, the long-term trend has been an increase in global temperatures, both on the surface of the planet and in the oceans. There has also been an increase in carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, which are currently around 380 parts per million.

With the industrial revolution, humans began transferring the carbon that was effectively locked away in the earth’s crust to the atmosphere—and 60 per cent remains in the atmosphere. As a result, atmospheric CO2 concentrations have increased from 280 parts per million at the start of the industrial revolution to their current concentration of over 370 parts per million. Anyone who can seriously argue about that change, which has occurred over a relatively short period when there had been little change over 420,000 years, is really rejecting reality. The committee concluded that the current rate of atmospheric CO2 accumulation is approximately two to three times that of the early 1960s. So I suppose the view that can be seen from that is that the effects of carbon in the atmosphere are actually accelerating.

In its fourth assessment report, the ICCC stated that warming of the global climate system is ‘unequivocal’, as demonstrated by increasing global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level. There was also extensive evidence that temperatures are rising, oceans are rising and Arctic ice is melting. As is set out in the report, the IPCC expressed the view:

… there is a greater than 90 percent probability that most of the warming since the mid twentieth century has been caused by the rapid increase in greenhouse gas concentrations resulting from human activities since the industrial revolution.

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The IPCC has stated that human activities are responsible for emissions of four long-lived greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and halocarbons. These gases are chemically stable and persist in the atmosphere for up to centuries or longer. Emission of these gases therefore has a long term influence on climate.

It will not go away. It goes on:

… The atmospheric concentration of CO2 … in 2005 exceed by far the natural range over the last 650,000 years.

If someone can argue that that is a mere coincidence, I think they are in denial. Despite the previous speaker saying that he is not a climate sceptic, he is going a long way to ignoring the evidence that was put before the committee, which I found overwhelmingly convincing.

Global greenhouse gas emissions increased by 70 per cent between 1970 and 2004. Carbon dioxide is considered to be the most important human caused greenhouse gas, with its annual emissions growing between 1970 and 2004 by about 80 per cent, from 21 to 38 gigatonnes. The global atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide increased from a pre-industrial value of about 280 parts per million to 379 parts per million in 2005. Similarly, methane increased from 715 parts per billion to 1,774 parts per billion, and nitrous oxide also increased.

Greenhouse gases reduce the radiation of heat from the earth’s atmosphere into space, trapping more heat in the atmosphere and thus increasing global temperatures. Australia has had an increase in temperature of about 0.9 degrees Celsius over the last 100 years, which in the scheme of things is a very large increase over a very short time. Evidence to the committee is that:

Air temperature increases have been accompanied by marked declines in regional rainfall, particularly on the east and west coasts of the continent.

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The CSIRO provided evidence on annual rainfall trends for the period 1950 to 2007, which illustrated a strong drying trend in south-west Western Australia and … in eastern Australia.

The committee was confident that some of the rainfall decreases that we are observing in southern Australia could at least in part be attributed to greenhouse gas emissions. It received evidence from Dr Ash that a one per cent decrease in rainfall can lead to a three per cent to four per cent decrease in run-off. A five per cent decrease in rainfall can lead to quite significant declines in run-off into storage areas and dams. In other words, a higher reduction in storage of rain from a smaller level of rainfall is occurring in Australia.

While the exact scale and speed of future changes in the global climate are still uncertain, the direction of change is considered to be clear. The IPCC concluded that continuing greenhouse gas emissions at or above current rates will cause further warming and induce larger changes in the global climate system during the 21st century than those observed during the 20th century. The CSIRO in particular pointed out:

… on our current track of emissions we are heading for a higher emissions scenario result for 2030 than that number reflects.

By 2070 predicted temperature increases could be between 1.8 and 3.4 degrees Celsius. That would have a dire impact on our natural environment, including some of our iconic environmental areas such as the Barrier Reef, some of the rainforests in the northern parts of Queensland as well as some of the more pristine areas in Tasmania such as Cradle Mountain.

Essentially what can be concluded from all this is that action is necessary in Australia. But it is also absolutely necessary that we take an international approach and work in unison with governments of other countries that are committed to reducing greenhouse gases and reducing the impact of climate change. The committee firmly recommended and endorsed Australia’s ratification of the Kyoto protocol, and I certainly share their view.

Debate (on motion by Mrs Gash) adjourned.