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Wednesday, 21 September 2011
Page: 11008


Mr MURPHY (Reid) (13:32): Global warming is a reality that is already with us. The CSIRO, the weather bureau and scientists around the world are recording that the planet is warming and that high levels of carbon pollution risk environmental and economic damage. The first decade of this century was the warmest on record. Each decade in Australia since the 1940s has been warmer than the last. Australia faces significant damage in a warmer changing climate, leading to extreme weather events such as droughts, heatwaves, bushfires, floods and cyclones, which are becoming more frequent and severe. These deadly events are also threatening our homes, businesses and communities, and our supplies of food and clean water are becoming less secure.

According to Warnings from the Bush, prepared by Anna Reynolds and published by the Climate Action Network Australia, material that was peer reviewed by Dr Lesley Hughes of the Department of Biological Sciences at Macquarie University and Dr Mark Howden of CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, climate change is a threat to the diversity of life on the Australian continent and to many of our great natural icons, including our World Heritage area: Kakadu, the Wet Tropics, the Great Barrier Reef and the Blue Mountains.

What does this material warn us about? I only have enough time today to provide their summary of their findings, and they are as follows:

90 Australian animals have been specifically identified as at risk from climate change, including the State Emblems of Victoria (Leadbeater’s Possum), South Australia (Hairy-nosed Wombat), and Queensland (Koala). However the number of animals at risk could be far higher if broader studies were undertaken.

Animals identified as at risk include mammals, birds, reptiles, frogs, fish and invertebrates from all Australian States and Territories.

Many of Australia’s remaining native forests will change or be damaged by the effects of climate change. For example, Australia’s wet tropical mountain rainforests will decrease by 50% with only a 1°C rise in the global temperature. …

Within the next few decades many species of Australia’s famous gum trees (Eucalyptus) will have their entire present day population exposed to temperatures and rainfalls under which no individuals currently exist.

Mount Kosciuszko, Australia’s highest mountain, will lose its alpine environment.

Current efforts to repair the Murray Darling river system will be undone by 2050, with climate change causing a reduction in the river’s mean flow of up to 30 percent.

Few of Australia’s diverse environments, from the ocean to the deserts, will be immune from climatic stress and loss of species.

Many of our national parks that currently protect endangered species may not have a suitable climate in the future for these species.

Regional communities that rely on the natural environment for tourism income, fresh water and local recreation will be affected by the impacts of climate change on these ecological services.

The damage caused by climate change will have a negative economic impact on the tourism, fishing, forestry and agricultural industries in regional Australia.

Finally, in their summary of findings, they said:

Most of these changes will occur within our lifetimes and will be difficult to stop if greenhouse gas emissions continue to accumulate in the atmosphere at higher and higher levels.

Now let me turn to the bushfires like those experienced in New South Wales in 2002 and 2006. Such fires will continue to occur more regularly, causing serious and irreversible damage to national parks, forests and private property. The fire of November 2006 in the Grose Valley kept burning, even at overnight temperatures down to zero, because the fuel load was completely dry. Every year the Blue Mountains are becoming hotter. Snow in winter is becoming a rare event.

The Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria on 12 February 2009, when 173 people died and 414 were injured, are a good example of what a three-degree warming scenario will look like. Most animals find it difficult to survive even a two-degree temperature rise in their environment. Before the fire started on Black Saturday, possums were dropping dead out of the trees. The three-degree rise was enough to completely dry out the normally fire-resistant wet sclerophyll areas of bush so that the temperature of the fire fronts rose from the normal 1,100 degrees to a staggering 1,500 degrees. This was enough to melt steel structures. As we have seen, such fires are unstoppable.

There is plenty of other available evidence for those prepared to look for it. According to the American Institute of Biological Sciences, before the industrial age the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was about 280 parts per million; today it is over 360 parts per million. That is an increase of about 30 per cent in fewer than 300 years. The institute has pointed out that there is now much more carbon dioxide in our atmosphere than ever before in human history. For the earth, this is an unprecedented rate of change—about 10,000 years worth of change compressed into 100 years. The earth has been able to adapt to slow changes, not fast changes. Slow changes allow the biosphere and earth's species time to adjust. Quick change may cause biological chaos and disrupt agricultural production. Carbon dioxide is critical to controlling the atmosphere's temperature because it absorbs infrared radiation, better known as heat. Mr Deputy Speaker, to illustrate the greenhouse effect, try sitting in your car in the sun with the windows rolled up. The sun's rays pass through the car's windows and hit the car's seats. There, the visible light is absorbed and reradiated to the interior of the car as heat. The car's glass windows, while transparent to visible light, are opaque to heat, so the heat is trapped within the car and the car's interior temperature can quickly become that of an oven. That is why scientists think that increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the air will cause the earth's atmosphere to get even warmer.

The issue of rising sea levels is of direct interest to some of my constituents. At the northern boundary of my electorate is Sydney Harbour. The institute is telling us that the global sea level rise is caused by two factors. The first factor is water running into the ocean through the melting of surface ice such as mountain glaciers and polar ice caps. Current evidence of global warming includes the melting of glaciers on five continents. The second factor is the thermal expansion of water within the oceans. As the temperature of the water in the oceans rises and the seas become less dense, they will spread, occupying more surface area on the planet. Increased temperature will accelerate the rate of sea level rise.

Since the end of the last ice age, 18,000 years ago, sea level has risen by 120 metres. Geological data suggest that the global average sea level may have risen at an average rate of 0.1 to 0.2 millimetres per year over the last 3,000 years. However, tide gauge data indicate that the global rate of rising sea levels during the 20th century was one to two millimetres per year—that is, 10 times as fast. Low-lying Pacific island nations will be inundated as the rising sea level invades their drinking water reserves. What the institute has been telling us is not new. We know that as the sea level rises some Pacific Islands are under threat. Tuvalu has experienced low-land flooding. It comprises nine coral atolls. Its highest point is only five metres above sea level. Saltwater intrusion is adversely affecting drinking water and food production. Tuvalu's leaders predict that the nation will be submerged in 50 years. In March 2002, Tuvalu's Prime Minister appealed to Australia and New Zealand to provide homes for his people when his country is submerged. The Cook Islands and the Marshall Islands are also under threat and, in addition to island countries, low-lying coastal areas of other countries, including Australia, are threatened by rising sea levels.

I now turn from the American Institute of Biological Sciences to Geoscience Australia, a government organisation which tells us that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has found that warming of the climate system is unequivocal and that human induced greenhouse gases are very likely responsible. The IPCC's approach is very conservative. Geoscience Australia predicts that global warming will accelerate into the future due to continued human induced greenhouse gas emissions, and this will affect the sea level. Global average sea level rose at a rate of 1.8 millimetres per year from 1961 to 2003. From 1993 to 2003, this rate increased to approximately 3.1 millimetres per year. This is a high degree of confidence that the sea level will continue to rise and possibly accelerate over the next century and beyond through thermal expansion of the oceans, melting of glaciers and ice caps, melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets and changes in water storage on land. Changes in sea level will be felt through increases in intensity and frequency of storm surges and coastal flooding, increased salinity of rivers, bays and coastal aquifers, increased coastal erosion, inundation of low-lying coastal communities and critical infrastructure, loss of important mangroves and impacts on coral reefs. Geoscience Australia concludes that any or all of these changes may have a severe impact on urban communities if unmitigated.

Australia generates more carbon per person than any other developed country, including the United States of America. Of the world's 195 nations, Australia is the 15th highest polluter overall. Australia's carbon pollution is high because our electricity is generated mainly by burning coal. We need to produce and use energy in a cleaner and smarter way. Under a business-as-usual scenario and the do-nothing policy of the opposition, future generations face a very bleak future. Nevertheless, the worst effects of global warming can be avoided if we reduce carbon pollution before it becomes too difficult and too costly. That is why we are acting with this legislation. Countries around the world are already taking action—35 countries have already started carbon pollution reduction schemes. Some have carbon taxes as well. Globally, more money is now invested in new, renewable power than in old, high-pollution energy. China is now the world's largest maker of both solar panels and wind turbines—you would not know that from some of the contributions by the opposition—and Germany is not far behind. Both are reaping the economic benefits, as we will with this legislation in the future.

The government's clean energy plan will cut pollution by at least five per cent by 2020, compared with the 2000 levels. This will require cutting net expected pollution by at least 23 per cent in 2020. The government wants pollution to be cut by 80 per cent of 2000 levels by the year 2050. Large-scale renewable electricity generation, including hydro, is projected to be 18 times its current size by 2050. Total renewable generation, including hydro, will be around 40 per cent of electricity generation by 2050. Millions of tonnes of carbon will be stored in the land through better land and waste management. Between now and 2050, around 460 million tonnes of carbon pollution will be reduced or stored instead of entering our atmosphere under the Carbon Farming Initiative. Putting a price on carbon is the most effective and cheapest way to cut pollution. This is recognised by economists around the world, the OECD and the Productivity Commission. Why does the opposition not get it? Currently, there is no charge for polluting the air despite the fact that it is harming our environment. Charging Australia's largest polluters creates a powerful incentive for all businesses to cut pollution by investing in clean technology or operating more efficiently.

The carbon price is not a tax on households. Around 500 of the biggest polluters in Australia will need to pay the charge, and every dollar raised will be used to support households, jobs and to reinvest in clean energy and climate change programs. There will be tax cuts and increases in pensions, allowance and benefits. You do not hear that from the opposition, do you?

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! It being 1:45, the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour, and the honourable member for Reid will then have the opportunity of continuing his remarks.