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Wednesday, 10 February 2010
Page: 952

Mr ZAPPIA (11:23 AM) —I too rise to support the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill 2010 and the related bills. I begin by quoting a well-known scientist:

The danger of global warming is as yet unseen, but real enough for us to make changes and sacrifices, so that we do not live at the expense of future generations.

Our ability to come together to stop or limit damage to the world’s environment will be perhaps the greatest test of how far we can act as a world community. No-one should under-estimate the imagination that will be required, nor the scientific effort, nor the unprecedented co-operation we shall have to show. We shall need statesmanship of a rare order.

…            …            …

In recent years, we have been playing with the conditions of the life we know on the surface of our planet. We have cared too little for our seas, our forests and our land. We have treated the air and the oceans like a dustbin. We have come to realise that man’s activities and numbers threaten to upset the biological balance which we have taken for granted and on which human life depends.

We must remember our duty to Nature before it is too late.

That is a quote from a speech given at the second World Climate Conference in Geneva on 6 November 1990 by former Conservative British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who also held a degree in natural sciences and chemistry. It is clear that Margaret Thatcher took no notice of her low-level adviser Lord Christopher Monckton.

Climate change, its causes and its consequences, have now been globally debated for decades. In more recent years, global warming has been at the forefront of political debate and policy making across the world and here in Australia. Why? Because the quantum of reliable scientific advice, available over many years from across a range of scientific institutions in many countries and spanning generations of scientists, alerting us to global warming and warning us of the consequences, simply cannot be ignored.

The University of New South Wales Climate Change Research Centre in Sydney last November, through the contributions of 26 of the world’s leading climate experts, summarised the science on climate change in their publication The Copenhagen Diagnosis. I urge all members of this House to have a look at that document.

In the limited time available, I will endeavour to summarise the issues surrounding the climate change debate by briefly touching on its causes and its consequences and the international response. Scientists have been researching and analysing data relating to global warming for decades. International focus was drawn to global warming initially with the first World Climate Conference in Geneva in 1979. That conference led to the eventual creation of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. That was followed by the second world conference, again in Geneva, in 1990 and then by the Rio summit in 1992, Kyoto in 1997, Bali in 2007 and lastly Copenhagen in December 2009.

Over the past two decades, scientific climate studies have been more intensive and more precise. Notably, no country that I am aware of refutes global warming. I understand that 192 countries attended the 2009 Copenhagen conference. Governments from all sides of politics—conservative, liberal, socialist and communist, including former Prime Minister John Howard—have accepted the science on global warming. As with all science, there will always be different opinions, inconclusive evidence and doubt. But you do not have to rely solely on scientists. The evidence is with us, around us and visible.

The decade 2000 to 2009 was the hottest decade on record, continuing a trend of the last three decades. Data from NASA shows that the 20 warmest years on record have occurred since 1981 and 10 of the warmest years have occurred in the past 12 years. The last four years of Murray inflows have been about one-quarter of the long-term average. These are undisputed facts, not scientific predictions. I have observed the weather changes in my own lifetime.

If we accept that global warming is occurring, the question then is: what is causing it? Clearly, the answer to that question determines what our response should be. Scientists tell us that taking into account solar factors and other natural phenomena, human-caused greenhouse gas emissions—mainly carbon dioxide—are contributing significantly to the climate changes that we are seeing. A diversity of scientific researchers—including weather scientists, atmospheric researchers, oceanographers and ice core samplers—all confirm that carbon levels are rising. That carbon levels are rising should be a matter of commonsense. You simply cannot have the extensive land clearing of the past century and increased burning of fossil fuels and population growth without causing rising levels of carbon dioxide—unless of course you simultaneously have a carbon emissions reduction strategy.

Carbon dioxide is undeniably a plant food source. A heavy concentration of it in the atmosphere, however, traps in heat. Higher concentrations of carbon dioxide mean that more carbon dioxide will be absorbed into ocean waters. That in turn leads to ocean acidification. Global warming inevitably and logically leads to rising sea levels, melting ice, hotter summers and extreme weather events. That is not complicated science. Those trends are already with us. I note that at Copenhagen, while there was no agreement about a universal carbon reduction target and about who should shoulder the burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there was no disagreement from among the 192 countries represented that carbon levels should be reduced. Both advanced and developing countries across the world agree on that.

That brings us to what can be done and what our options are. We can change the way we live and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, of which carbon dioxide is the major contributor. We can look for cost-effective ways of capturing and storing carbon emissions. We can look at long-term population reduction strategies. I believe we should consider all options. Taking all factors into account—including the need to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, provide long-term business certainty, encourage alternative energy investments, assist households with additional costs, have the ability to trade carbon internationally, have a scheme with a built-in flexibility on lifting carbon dioxide emission reduction targets and not to jeopardise Australia’s international exports—the CPRS scheme ticks all the boxes.

Whatever response we adopt must be part of a global strategy, because we are dealing with a global problem in which atmospheric greenhouse gases are not contained within the borders of individual countries. The Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme provides the most efficient and most cost-effective option under consideration. That is why Dr Peter Shergold recommended an ETS to the Howard government, that is why Professor Ross Garnaut recommended an ETS to the Rudd government, and that is why some 36 countries around the world, and many US states, have adopted an ETS or are in the process of doing so.

Put simply, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme places a limit on the carbon emissions of Australia’s 1,000 or so largest polluters—that is, those who emit over 20,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide per year. It puts a price on carbon, and it compensates households who are anticipating cost-of-living increases, expected to be around 1.1 per cent. After the first year the carbon price will be determined by the market. By putting a price on carbon, we encourage investment in alternative energy sources and technologies. We discourage wasteful use, and we can participate in a global carbon trading scheme. By capping or limiting carbon output, we can manage the process and make our contribution to global emission reductions.

I now turn to the coalition’s alternative policy—a disingenuous policy which has no substance, no credibility and no commitment. Firstly, the policy does not cap emissions—fundamental to the success of any scheme. In fact, independent analysis of the scheme estimates that CO2 emissions will rise by 30 per cent or more. Secondly, the largest polluters get off scot-free. Those who are causing the problem pay no penalty whatsoever. For them it will be business as usual if they choose to do nothing. Thirdly, the coalition’s scheme imposes a $3.2 billion direct tax on the Australian people. Furthermore, the full cost to the community of the coalition proposal has yet to be established and may well be much greater than $3.2 billion. Fourthly, it continues business uncertainty with respect to future capital investments in this country—a point well made by the member for Wentworth when he addressed the House on this very matter. While business investment is held back, Australia slowly falls back in its competitiveness with overseas countries in a range of areas.

I want to comment on two other key features of the coalition’s policy, and they are the issues of planting trees and soil carbon sequestration. There is nothing new in those proposals. Governments around the world and certainly within Australia have been planting trees for decades in order to try to restore our environment. Carbon sequestration in soils is also a matter that has been under consideration for a long time. Both rely on the environmental absorption of carbon dioxide. The problem is that you cannot rely on environmental issues because they are uncontrollable. How many of the proposed 20 million trees will die because of floods, winds, droughts and fires? How many hectares of farmland will be lost the same way in a bad year? These are risks which, with all the best intentions in the world, simply cannot be controlled. In other words, we cannot ever guarantee how much carbon dioxide will be absorbed by trees and soil, because we are dependent on climatic factors. Conversely, we can manage how much carbon dioxide will be emitted by large polluters—you simply control the amount that they are permitted to emit.

I also want to comment on the soil sequestration of carbon dioxide from another perspective. I said earlier that the concept is acknowledged as having merit. The reality, however, is that we are a long way off managing and measuring the effectiveness of terrestrial sequestration of carbon. Again, claims made by the opposition about soil sequestration of carbon are being grossly exaggerated. I quote a recent paper on this topic by Professor Spike Boydell, Adjunct Professor John Sheehan and Senior Research Consultant Jason Prior:

The science about sequestered carbon in soil and other forms of biota is still dubious, requiring considerable further research, particularly in respect of the time dynamics of soil carbon responses to land use changes and soil-plant interactions.

Clearly we still have a great deal of work to do in respect of the agricultural sequestration of carbon. How can the coalition be committed to an emissions reduction policy when the coalition’s key leadership group—their leader, the member for Warringah, Tony Abbott, Senator Nick Minchin and Senator Barnaby Joyce—do not believe that global warming is real? The member for Warringah, the Leader of the Opposition, has said he thinks climate change is ‘absolute crap.’ Senator Minchin thinks it is a left-wing conspiracy. Senator Joyce is not convinced by the science. If you do not believe in global warming or that carbon emissions are a problem, then how can you seriously commit to a carbon reduction policy?

What the coalition have committed to is a political strategy, not a climate change strategy. It is a strategy based on a deeply flawed scheme, a fear campaign and personal attacks on the Prime Minister. It is a climate policy that does less, costs more and is unfunded. The saying ‘If something sounds too good to be true it usually is’ certainly applies to the coalition’s climate change policy. We are aware of the difference of opinion on the detail of the government’s Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme bill. In good faith we attempted to negotiate with the opposition on the differences over recent times. In that regard I commend the member for Groom for the considerable work he put in on behalf of the coalition in the lead-up to Copenhagen. I also congratulate the member for Wentworth for his honesty and courage in taking the position he has and for the way he articulated the case for an ETS in a speech on this bill.

It would be politically convenient to ignore the science and do nothing. That would be the easy option, but it would be politically irresponsible and politically weak. Australia is the world’s largest per capita emitter of carbon emissions. Recent data from the US Department of Energy shows that Australians emit an average of 20.6 tonnes of carbon per person per annum compared to 19.8 tonnes for Americans, the second highest polluters. We have a responsibility and the ability to act. We went to an election with a commitment to act on climate change, as did the coalition, by introducing an emissions trading scheme. We are delivering on that commitment; the coalition is reneging on their 2007 election promise. I notice that a number of speakers in this debate were not only members of the coalition that went into the 2007 election with that commitment but they were ministers of the government of the day. What has changed since then? The science certainly has not changed. What has changed is their political opportunism that they see in opposing the government’s scheme today and putting up their Clayton’s scheme as an alternative.

Each year we delay action in respect of climate change the problems mount and the response becomes more costly and more difficult. The opposition have been opposed to an ETS right throughout the term of this government. If we look at their track record even in this place since the government first put the CPRS on the table, they have used one excuse after another in order to justify deferring making a decision. They first wanted to wait for the Garnaut report. Then they wanted to wait for the Treasury modelling. Then they wanted to wait for the white paper on the CPRS. Then they wanted to wait for the Pearce report, one of their own reports. Then they wanted to wait for the Senate inquiry. Then they wanted to wait for the Productivity Commission report. And then they wanted to wait for Copenhagen. But the reality is that they never wanted the scheme to be approved even before Copenhagen, and that has been made abundantly clear as we look back on their track record over the last couple of months. The whole purpose of the leadership change was related to blocking the CPRS from getting up in this parliament. Now they say we need to defer and delay again because things have changed as a result of Copenhagen. The science has not changed as a result of Copenhagen. Yes, the politics have, but our obligation to act on behalf of the people of this country and on behalf of the people of this world has not changed one iota. And the science continues to tell us that climate change is real and we have a responsibility to act.

Finally, I say this to members opposite, many of whom I know agree with the government and with their former leader, the member for Wentworth, that the government’s CPRS should be supported. If you accept the science of climate change, and I know that many of you do, this issue should be above politics. If we are overreacting, the result will be a cleaner global environment. It may also be a restructured economy. But it will be a better world for having done so, and that can only be a good thing. If the climate change science is right, however, and we fail to act then we will rightfully be condemned by future generations. I commend this bill to the House.