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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 685


Ms OWENS (8:23 PM) —I rise to speak on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2010 and related bills. Climate change is perhaps a more important issue than any we have faced in many decades. Human activity is damaging our climate and the world needs to minimise the impact on future generations and our world. Listening to the member for Dunkley, I am reminded once again of how difficult this issue is, because it is not a cost-free issue. If we do not act, there will be significant costs to future generations; if we do act, there will be costs now. In the political environment, where we face the people every three years, it is very easy to take an easy road and not act now. That is not something the government are prepared to do. We will meet our obligations to future generations.

Given that there has been so much muddying of the waters lately, building a climate of fear and confusion around this issue, I thought that it would be worthwhile to go back to the basics, to the things that most of us—perhaps excluding members of the opposition—agree on. Firstly, climate change is real. That is a view backed by longstanding science which has been extensively peer reviewed. The consensus view among scientists and governments around the world is that the evidence on warming is unequivocal, that average surface temperatures have risen by 0.74 degrees Centigrade in the last 100 years. Thirteen of the 14 warmest years on record occurred between 1995 and 2008. The projected global average warming to 2100 is around 1.1 to 6.4 degrees Centigrade, and the projection for sea level rises is up to 0.8 of a metre. More recent reports suggest that it may be higher.

It is true that there are a small number of scientists who dispute the science. Around the world, a number of people without a scientific background have been swayed by that, including, it seems, many on the opposition benches. To some extent, I can understand it. The issue is scary; it really is. The impact that we have already had and the damage that we will do without action is scary. It is difficult to believe, and there are days when I would rather not believe it either. I have talked to scientists, too, who want the science to be disproved, who look almost with great longing at alternative opinions and hope for them to be true. Nobody in their right mind wants climate change to be true, but look at the sheer number of scientists who support the science of climate change. The evidence is overwhelming and we are obliged to believe it, no matter how hard that may be.

The world is warming. Human activity is contributing to that warming. Unless we act, increasing temperatures will have catastrophic consequences for our environment, our way of life and our standard of living. True, there are best-case and worst-case scenarios, but there is general consensus that even if we manage to hold temperature increases to two degrees, a target set at Copenhagen, it is most likely that there will still be serious changes to the climate that will impact significantly on our children. The world needs to act and the world has agreed to act. In fact, many years ago it agreed to act. As difficult as the change has been and will be, we are part of that world and must play our part, not as a follower that waits for the rest of the world to tell us what to do. That is not what we do here. It is not what we have done historically on the major issues that have faced the world. We should act as a country looking after its own interests by participating at the forefront of the design of new methods for combating climate change, making sure that as the world moves forward we have our economic systems in place and sufficient investment to ensure that we have a strong future in a new, cleaner age.

We need to act sooner rather than later. Actually, I suspect we needed to act a few years ago. I think the electorate understands that absolutely. We need to act because the costs of inaction are greater than the costs of action. Some of the impacts we are potentially facing without action are quite catastrophic for our nation. By 2070, up to 40 per cent more drought months are projected in eastern Australia and up to 80 per cent more in south-western Australia. Exports of key commodities could fall by up to 63 per cent in the next 20 years and by up to 79 per cent by 2050. Up to 247,000 residential buildings, worth around $63 billion, are at risk from sea inundation by 2100. Climate change related coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef may cost $37.7 billion in lost economic value and the loss of 60,000 jobs. Irrigated agricultural production in the Murray-Darling Basin will drop by over 90 per cent by 2100, and there are 90,000 people employed in agriculture in the basin. The Stern review found that if we do not act the overall cost will be equivalent to losing between five and 20 per cent of global GDP each year. They are all significant costs of inaction—something that the opposition seems to fail to grasp. If these figures are alarming, that is because the consequences of not taking serious action on this are alarming. We should be frightened of inaction on this. We should be afraid of the economic costs of failing to act and we should be ashamed of the lost years.

While the costs of inaction are high, in environmental damage, in social costs and for our economic future, there are of course also costs associated with action. Unfortunately, in a catastrophe of this size there is no cost-free solution. But all serious reports indicate that the cost of delay is high. Treasury modelling shows that economies that defer action face long-term costs around 15 per cent higher than those that take action now. To put this into a global context, the International Energy Agency predicts—


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 34. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting. The honourable member for Parramatta will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.