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Thursday, 30 October 2003
Page: 17352

Senator BROWN (3:42 PM) —I have, along with Senator Lundy, great pleasure in opening the debate on the Kyoto Protocol Ratification Bill 2003 [No. 2]. This is a marvellous joint presentation by the Greens and the Labor Party and I want to thank Senator Lundy and the shadow minister for the environment, Mr Kelvin Thomson, for the cooperation we have had in ensuring that, in the absence of government being responsible about this, the opposition and the Greens take the responsible move to introduce legislation into the parliament to effectively, were it to pass, have the government ratify the Kyoto protocol.

I should say at the outset that almost every other equivalent nation on the planet has signed the Kyoto protocol, not because it is going to fix global warming but because it is the first small step towards reversing the pollution of the atmosphere which is going to lead to massive social, environmental and economic dislocation in the coming centuries if we do not do something. That means making quite extraordinary measures towards reversing what we as human beings are doing in this generation.

Let me begin by acquainting the Senate with the most recent fact sheet from the Worldwatch Institute in the United States on the impacts of weather and climate change so that we can see what the situation is now regarding climate change. That fact sheet says:

The following examples demonstrate the impacts of recent weather and climate extremes. Although it is impossible to precisely link individual catastrophes to global warming, the frequency and intensity of these kinds of events is projected to increase as the world warms.

A heatwave hit Europe in August this year and led to as many as 15,000 deaths, mostly among the elderly, in France alone, where temperatures hit 40 degrees Celsius.

Germany received as much rain as it normally gets in a year in less than two days in August last year. Those floods killed at least 108 people in Europe and forced 450,000 to evacuate. Total economic losses were estimated at $US18.5 billion.

Weather related disasters, including floods, droughts and windstorms, are growing in frequency and intensity. According to the Worldwatch Institute—and all figures are given in US dollars:

Since 1980, 10,867 weather-related disasters have caused more than 575,000 deaths and have forced many more people to flee their homes. Since 1980, the cost of weather-related disasters has totalled more than $1 trillion.

In 2002, economic losses to homes, businesses, and crops from weather disasters approached $53 billion worldwide, a 93 percent increase over 2001 losses.

By 2050, mega-catastrophes, which used to appear every 100 years, are predicted to occur every 25. In the United States alone, the number of weather disasters has increased five-fold over the past three decades. With these losses, insurance costs are expected to skyrocket; some insurance experts expect some single “worst case” disasters could exceed $100 billion.

Worldwatch goes on to say:

Some 20 percent of the increase in water scarcity in the coming decades will be caused by climate change according to recent estimates.

I might add that it will be much more than 20 per cent in the Murray-Darling Basin here in Australia. Worldwatch goes on to say:

In poor countries, the consequences of climate change could be dire—erratic weather patterns have already been the primary cause of famine for millions around the world.

Diseases tend to spread in warmer, wetter climates, and some experts predict a return of malaria by 2050 to Brazil, the southern United States, western China, and regions across Central Asia due to climate change.

We can add to that Northern Australia. It goes on:

West Nile virus, another mosquito borne disease, has spread rapidly across North America over the past three years, killing birds and mammals as well as human beings.

That includes a number in New York City. Finally, Worldwatch points to small island nations which are at risk of inundation due to climate induced sea level rises:

The Maldives, an island country in the Indian Ocean where 65 percent of the land is less than 1 meter above sea level, has already evacuated residents from four of the lowest lying islands over the past few years.

Closer to home, I cannot go into just the economic impact on Australia from our trailing behind and holding back world moves to fix global warming, but I can give you the executive summary from a paper by the Australian Wind Energy Association and Climate Action Network Australia. This paper is by Dr Robert Passey and was published in May this year. It says:

Global warming is occurring at a rate that will clearly affect biological systems in Australia. The net effect for the majority of Australian agricultural sectors will be significantly negative. Farmers can expect less rainfall on average, increased evaporation and the increased frequency and severity of extreme events.

That is storms, droughts, fires and so on. It goes on:

These effects will combine to decrease productivity in many parts of the nation. Many commercial crops and livestock in Australia are already at the limit of their natural range and are vulnerable to this added stress. The annual costs in gross revenue due to climate change could be as great as $152 million per annum for the Macquarie Valley region of New South Wales alone by around 2030.

Let me just interpolate. That is $152 million per annum for the Macquarie Valley, which is one tributary catchment of the Murray-Darling Basin. I think all of us here would know it well. It extends from Bathurst, north-west through the Macquarie Marshes to the Darling. Within the next 30 years, a $152 million impact is the current forecast for global warming. If you extrapolate that for the nation, you are into a multibillion dollar impact on our rural industries by the time kids currently starting school get into established full-time jobs and relationships. And I add to that: how can we turn our back on such an onrushing economic impost for that next generation? Do not care about the environment, do not care about the social dislocation, but what about this massive economic impact? I am saying that because the government runs on dollars. Dr Passey goes on to say:

The severity of the 2002 drought has been clearly linked to climate change and has led to a forecasted 21% decline in the gross value of farm production for 2002-03. The worst drought on record, it may be considered an insight into future droughts as El Nino-southern oscillation (ENSO) events intensify with global warming.

We have an extraordinary impact coming up, not just on the world but on Australia, its economy and, therefore, its society. We know about the environmental impact. The question is what to do about that. There has been a lot of anguishing international discussion amongst the major polluters—the Western developed countries. Unfortunately, during the term of this government, Australia has gone to the forefront as the worst per capita greenhouse gas emitter on the face of the planet. It was decided, in a process which led to the Kyoto protocol, that there should be restraints put on the worst polluters. In that process Australia, along with Iceland, got the best deal. It said that, unlike most other countries, which had to reduce the emission of global warming gases—including carbon dioxide—below 1990 levels, Australia could continue to increase by up to eight per cent over 1990 levels until the years 2008-12.

Instead of that and instead of becoming part of the global responsibility—this first small step in turning around the disaster with which global warming threatens human society on this planet—the Howard government has said no. It will not sign. New Zealand, Canada, France, Iceland, Poland, Britain and Italy, like countries all round the world, have signed, but the Howard government has said no and, with it, the Bush administration in the United States—even though President Bush indicated in his election campaign that he would be signing. It came under the influence of big corporations like Exxon and has now reneged and refused to sign. Over at the margins is Russia with President Putin refusing to sign. Observers there believe that is because he is trying to get a much better deal in economic terms out of a worried Europe before he signs up. But Russia's signing up will become inevitable. When it does, this Kyoto protocol will come to life and that is when the penalty clause will come in for Australia. At the moment, it seems okay that Australia has not signed, because the protocol itself has not come into effect.

This bill is to get the Australian government to ratify it—firstly, because it is the moral thing to do. It is the essential first step in trying to get the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 60 and 100 per cent during this century. The Minister for the Environment and Heritage—and, therefore, I presume, the Howard government—recognises and has taken heed of the CSIRO that that figure of a 60 per cent reduction in global warming gases by mid-century is the minimum if we are not going to have the most disastrous destruction of the world's environment since the dinosaurs' extinction. That is under way at the moment. That is not a future prospect, that is occurring now, and it is being made manifestly worse by global warming. And global warming, besides the spread of human forest clearance and fisheries of the great oceans, is the biggest impact on the biodiversity of this planet that there has been since the dinosaurs became extinct.

But the Howard government stopped short and said, `We won't.' Why did they do that, Mr Deputy President? It is because of the coal and aluminium industries in Australia. Indeed, there is a press release today from the Minerals Council of Australia. This self-invested, greedy, short-sighted, dollar-driven industry puts its interests not just before this nation and its natural biodiversity, its living circumstances and its agricultural capability in the future but worse, I submit, before the interests of all future generations. What is the solution from the Minerals Council of Australia, which represents of course the coalmining industry? It says it is `technology', a techno-fix. It does not say what it is. It has no answer. We will get no answer from the government opposite. We will listen carefully, but I can tell you there will be no alternative answer but `international cooperation' on this matter. The Minerals Council has an open door to the Prime Minister's suite. When you see this stuff coming from that institution, you get an idea as to why the Kyoto protocol is not being ratified by our country. Indeed, the Minerals Council says the Kyoto protocol is an impediment to its getting its way. It does not say how, it does not say why; it is interested in monetary return rather than the interests of everybody's grandchildren. That is the way it goes in the market-driven world that we have today. And the Prime Minister accepts that, and this government accepts that.

What this side is saying is: let us be global citizens. Let us have Australia—the world's worst per capita polluter—join with the rest of the world's nations in responsibly taking this first step by signing the Kyoto protocol. That would mean we would limit the global warming gases being emitted by this country—33 per cent of them from the Mineral Council's coal-fired power stations. Let us contribute to a world which is going, in using its brains and having a good heart, to change direction. Sure, technology will be part of the answer to that. But when it comes to that, due to lobbying agencies like that institution and Rio Tinto, instead of this government putting our money into renewable energy, wind energy, solar energy, hydrogen alternatives—which are not based on coal-powered production—and other alternatives in this country, the dollars have been flowing out of those areas of research into geosequestration, which I spoke about a minute ago. Geosequestration tries to tap the carbon dioxide coming out of burning coal and put it underground. This is far from being a proven technology; it is simply a concept at this stage and a long way from being an available technology.

The world is rapidly warming. The news coming from the scientists around the planet is not getting more reassuring but getting more alarming. We now have predictions that the planet may warm between two and eight degrees this century. There is a wild-card possibility of the planet warming between 10 and 12 degrees this century. Whatever it is, the sea levels are rising. There has been a 10-centimetre rise over the last century. It is estimated that it could be up to 80 centimetres, if the best range of predictions comes into play, this century. But the inertia of warming global oceans is there for centuries to come. Even if we stop polluting the atmosphere by the end of this century, the oceans will continue to warm and, therefore, continue to expand and, therefore, continue to rise.

A simple question I would put to senators opposite is: where do you really think 30 million Bangladeshis who will be displaced by a one-metre rise in sea levels this century are going to go? What do you think is going to be seen as the responsibility of a nation like ours, which was the worst per capita polluter and which refused to sign the Kyoto protocol? How do you think the world is going to look upon countries like Australia and the United States, which have five per cent of the population, when 95 per cent of the people of the world are prepared to tackle this issue or have to suffer the consequences?

The problem is that we have a government which is dollar driven, which does not have another field of ethics and which is not prepared to plan for this nation, let alone this planet, 50 or 100 years from now. We Greens have a different philosophy. We say that in everything you do in this parliament, in any business or in any decision making enterprise you must take into account people 100 years from now. If you do not, you are ultimately going to incur their wrath as they look back and see what miserable, selfish, small-minded souls we were.

What is remarkable about this debate today is that it took the Labor Party and the Greens—and the Democrats will support this—to bring legislation into the Senate to say to the government, `You should ratify the Kyoto protocol with the rest of the world.' I predict a couple of things. First of all, the government will talk this out today because it is ashamed of allowing this to be brought to a vote. The Prime Minister, John Howard, is ashamed of not signing the Kyoto protocol and will be worried by the fact that the Senate has the power to bring in legislation and to outnumber the government in any vote. What would happen, if integrity were used in here, is that it would come to a vote, would go the House of Representatives and be introduced there, and the government there could argue as it voted it down. The consequences are the same. It is patently obvious that we are not going to have this country sign the Kyoto protocol, at least not in the next year. Instead of being a fundamental driver in the development of such things as solar power in the coming year, with all the jobs and investment—(Time expired)