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Monday, 3 November 2003
Page: 21823

Mr MARTYN EVANS (8:47 PM) —It is the case that the world has recently started to confront a number of global problems in relation to the environment, and the Ozone Protection and Synthetic Greenhouse Gas Legislation Amendment Bill 2003 and related bills deal with two of the most serious of those problems. The first one I want to refer to is the challenge of the depletion of the ozone layer by a number of chemicals which have been entering the atmosphere—such as the chlorofluorocarbons—and which have been released over recent decades as a result of industrial processes. This has brought about the well-known problem of the ozone hole. It has increased the amount of ultraviolet radiation which can strike the earth, particularly in Australia where we are most vulnerable to the problem.

The challenge has been met by the Montreal protocol, although the history of that has been somewhat chequered since the world first started to address this issue. Indeed, it is worth noting that, at the time this problem was first identified by scientists, it was the United States government which first wanted to address it seriously. The European Community to some extent resisted that challenge by the United States and actually took some time to come on board to meet that global challenge and agree to a worldwide measure that would seek to prevent those chemicals from escaping into the atmosphere and depleting the ozone layer. Finally, a protocol was adopted which has had a relatively significant impact on the escape of those chemicals into the atmosphere and which has been fairly much accepted by the worldwide community. It has had some degree of success by way of scientific and verifiable measure. It has had a degree of achievement, although it will be many years—from recent reports, I understand probably up to 50 years—before we can declare victory and move on from that particular challenge and see the ozone hole repaired. As is the case with many of these environmental challenges, it is relatively easy to release these compounds into the atmosphere, into the water or into the soil, but it is quite difficult to see those chemicals degraded and removed from the global environment. Of course, that is especially the case with many of these chlorofluorocarbons and related compounds. They are long-lived compounds in the environment and they take some time to break down, whereas they readily mop up ozone and easily remove ozone from the atmosphere. Their deleterious impact on the environment is quite quick. It is much harder to take them out of the equation that it is to put them into the equation. So we will have to wait a little longer for the cure to take effect.

However, the fact that the world has been able to agree, in the relatively short space of a decade or so, on a global protocol which has had reasonable success in being enforced throughout the world at a practical level in terms of stopping the trade in those chemicals, stopping the production of those chemicals and seeing the introduction of a reasonable range of substitute chemicals and industrial practices which will prevent the release of those chemicals, as other members have indicated in this evening's debate, I think is a great credit to global organisation. It is also a great credit to global science in identifying the problem in the first place, in cooperating on a collaborative basis, in tracking the problem, in bringing it to the attention of the world's governments, in seeing the problem through in terms of enforcement, cooperation, and prevention of the manufacture and distribution of those chemicals, in seeing the outcomes through and, finally, we hope, in tracking the gradual reduction of the ozone depletion in the atmosphere and in measuring the gradual and total closure of the hole. However, more than that, because that is just a final symptom of the ozone depletion, I suspect there will be total resolution of the problem in a decades-long time frame, and we are well on track to that.

That relates quite well to the other aspect of this legislation, which is of course greenhouse, but the two are more interrelated than that. They are both global problems which relate not only to the global science community, the global diplomatic community and governmental communities but also to the global industrial communities and the global economic community, because all these things are interrelated in how we deal with them. Just as the world comes to grips with environmental problems at this level, to some extent we also fortunately have the infrastructure at the scientific and diplomatic levels to begin to grapple with these problems. I would certainly accept, as many other members would as well, that we do not have the infrastructure at the scientific, diplomatic and governmental levels to resolve them as such, but we certainly—fortunately—have the infrastructure at those levels to at least make a reasonable effort to come to grips with them.

That is why we have before us, in another context, treaties such as Kyoto as well as those like the Montreal protocol. As a member of the treaties committee of this parliament, I have seen many other related documents which at least show the world's governments are making a serious effort to deal with all these interrelated efforts. Of course, many of the same chemicals which we have had to deal with at an industrial and scientific level in relation to the ozone problem are also greenhouse gases, and vice versa: those gases which contribute significantly to the greenhouse effect also contribute to ozone depletion.

It is very much the case that we need to bring some serious science to dealing with both of these problems. But it is not only science that needs to be brought to bear when dealing with them. It was the case with ozone and it is much more so the case with greenhouse that we need to apply much more than just science, although science of course is fundamental to identifying and quantifying the problem and looking for solutions. But economics and statistics are also vital parts of this fundamental equation. It is those to which I would like to turn the balance of my remarks this evening and when I later resume my remarks.

As is the case with the greenhouse issues, with which this bill also deals, statistics and economics will play a fundamental role because the greenhouse question, like the ozone question, will be played out over a very long period of time. Part of the reason for that is a statistical and economic question. While it is the case that ozone-depleting chemicals are in the atmosphere for a long period of time doing the damage that they do to the ozone layer, it is also the case that carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases—there are at least six major greenhouse gases that we have identified, along with water vapour, that do serious harm to our planet in the context of greenhouse and accumulating heat—remain in the atmosphere for a long time. We need to look at the statistical base of how those who are looking at the greenhouse issue have done their calculations because this will have a significant policy impact on how parliaments and governments deal with this issue.

I would like to draw the parliament's attention to the work of Ian Castles and David Henderson because it is very relevant to the way in which we approach this. Ian Castles is well known to Australians and Australian government officials. He is now at the National Centre for Development Studies at the Australian National University but he was formerly the head of Australia's national office of statistics, the ABS. David Henderson, who is now at the Westminster Business School in the UK, was formerly the Chief Economist of the OECD. So both gentlemen are very substantial figures in the statistical world with very significant backgrounds.

Both have been recently doing some work on the way in which we might look at the background calculations which underlie the Special report on emissions scenarios. This report was put together by the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was the base work for the Kyoto treaty—the base work on which everyone looks at climate change. So it is very important that when you look forward at the projections—the temperature change projections which underlie all the work on Kyoto, greenhouse and temperature change—you look at the underlying statistical work which projects forward the CO2 increases in the atmosphere and you look at the underlying statistical work which supports it. These two gentlemen have done a lot of work on that and they have looked at the economics and the statistics which underlie that basic work.

While I and my colleagues on this side of the House could not be described in any way as greenhouse sceptics—far from it—I take the view very strongly, as do my colleagues, that we face a very serious challenge from greenhouse and global warming on planet earth; that climate change, like ozone before it, is the most serious environmental challenge that the planet faces at the moment; and that the Kyoto treaty is one of the best ways we have of addressing that challenge. So now we have to look forward and see how we can address these issues in a very serious and stable way.

To do that we have to look very closely at the emissions scenarios that underpin these challenges. We need to be certain that the statistical bases and the projections which underlie them are as sound as they possibly can be so that, when we make projections about the temperature changes and we ask governments, populations and voters to make sacrifices and changes to the underlying economy that supports our own country and other people's economic bases, we do it in a way that we have confidence in and that we can ask them to have confidence in. To do that, we have to be very certain of the projections we make. That is a very important basis for the work which Henderson and Castles have done and which I would like to share with the House in this context. The work they have put forward is very fundamental to this. In fact, some of those projections do cast doubt on the basis of the work of the IPCC.

Debate interrupted.