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Thursday, 21 June 2007
Page: 107

Mr TURNBULL (Minister for the Environment and Water Resources) (3:54 PM) —I thank the honourable member for Kingsford Smith for reminding me of James Hansen’s recent paper on climate change—

Mr Garrett interjecting

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. IR Causley)—The member for Kingsford Smith was not interjected on at all and I will not tolerate an interjection from him.

Mr TURNBULL —Dr Hansen has produced a paper which argues that the consequences of climate change will be more extreme than the forecasts set out in the most recent IPCC report. The IPCC is the leading body that addresses climate change. It is a consensus process that involves many, if not most, of the world’s leading climate scientists, including many from Australia. Obviously everybody is entitled to a point of view, but the IPCC represents the most solid and reliable basis upon which to form government policies, planning decisions and so forth. It is very interesting that the member for Kingsford Smith embraced Dr Hansen’s paper so enthusiastically, because one of the things that Dr Hansen said, when his paper was released, was that the world has to stop burning coal. That reminds me, of course, of the member for Kingsford Smith, who said that there can be no certainty about the future of the coal industry. I think he was referring particularly to the Hunter Valley. Ultimately, where the member for Kingsford Smith is coming from is essentially a position that deeply dislikes and distrusts a modern and growing society with strong economic growth, such as we have in Australia. It is quite interesting. He tries to change his spots all the time. He ducks and weaves. He has abandoned almost all of the positions he has had in his life—or has purported to abandon them.

I noticed that the other day, on 14 June, in responding to the emissions trading task group report—which, of course, has stressed the gravity of the economic consequences of climate change and how careful we have to be in calibrating our response to it; all perfectly rational and sensible comments and insights that any businesslike person, any non-fanatical person, would take—that the member for Kingsford Smith said to CEDA:

... the Coalition is falling back on the outdated notion that you can either have a healthy economy or a healthy environment; but that you can’t have both.

We have a healthy environment and a healthy economy in Australia. The fact is that our environment would not be as healthy as it is if it were not for the healthy economy. We would not have been able to spend $20 billion on environmental endeavours in the last 11 years without a strong economy, without the surpluses that the strong economic management of the Howard government has delivered. We would not have $10 billion to invest in the National Plan for Water Security, let alone $2 billion in the Australian Government Water Fund, without a strong economy. So, quite plainly, our position and our track record demonstrate that we believe that a healthy economy can support a healthy environment, because you need to have the wherewithal for the measures to be able to afford the investments to protect the environment.

The member for Kingsford Smith was in fact criticising himself. It was only a few years ago—three years and one month ago—in May 2004, when he said in the Herald Sun:

... economic growth is almost always accompanied by a commensurate increase in environmental degradation.

That is really the key to the member for Kingsford Smith. He does not like economic growth. He is determined to be pure by his fanatical lights. He has no regard for the economic consequences of the policies he argues for. He argues from his own self-imagined moral position. He does not care how poor we have to be in order to become pure.

The member for Kingsford Smith and the Leader of the Opposition have no understanding of the environmental realities of climate change or the economic consequences of dealing with it. Firstly, Labor do not recognise the global nature of climate change. It is called global warming for a reason. A tonne of CO2 that goes into the atmosphere has the same impact on the world’s temperature, regardless of where it comes from—whether it is emitted in Australia, Europe, China or the United States. So an effective global response is vital. Labor is wedded to the Kyoto protocol. They see it as a sacrament. Again, that is a key to Labor’s response. It is all about symbols and it all comes from the heart; there is no head or clear thinking.

Think about this: the first phase of the Kyoto protocol, or the first commitment period as it is called, has comprehensively failed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. How do I know that? Because we know that the consequence of the measures encompassed in the first phase of the protocol will be a reduction in the growth of greenhouse gas emissions by one per cent. That is nothing. That is so far away from what the world needs to achieve by mid-century. It is a failure. Why did it fail? It failed because of attitudes that are personified by the member for Kingsford Smith. It is a fantasy that developed countries, riven with the sort of middle-class guilt that the member for Kingsford Smith manifests, should reduce their greenhouse gas emissions unilaterally and there should be no obligations on the fastest growing economies.

The lack of a pathway for the fastest growing economies in the developing world, particularly China and India—and China is an industrial giant the like of which we have never seen before in the world’s history—to reduce their emissions is the key to understanding what is wrong with Kyoto. That is why the United States Senate refused to ratify it. It is why President Clinton and Vice President Gore never submitted it to the Senate, any more than their successor, President Bush, did. And it is the reason that Australia did not ratify it. That failure in Kyoto, that flaw, is contained in a clause of the treaty—the treaty which at this juncture the Labor Party believes we should ratify. Article 3.9 says that in the subsequent commitment period—and the next commitment period is what we are discussing now because the first commitment period begins next year and ends in 2012—obligations to cut emissions should only be imposed on countries in annex 1—that is, developed countries. That does not include China or India. China and India’s negotiating position is, ‘That’s it! You in the developed world keep making cuts.’

The problem is that if the world is to achieve a massive cut in global emissions by mid-century—whether it is 40 per cent, 50 per cent or 60 per cent; whatever it may be it is a big number so take your pick—it cannot achieve that without substantial action from the developed world. In fact, as the emissions trading task group sets out, if the developed world were to cut its emissions by 2050 to 50 per cent of 1990 levels and there was business as usual in the developing world we would still be way over 1990 levels in 2050. Even to keep ourselves at the existing level—that is, no increases from today—the developing world has to make a substantial cut in emissions. What is happening in the developing world? Some interesting statistics have come out from the Dutch government, which show that China’s emissions from fossil fuels have now overtaken those of the United States. They grew last year by nine per cent while the United State’s emissions were minus one per cent.

Mr Garrett —What about per capita?

Mr TURNBULL —That is a very good intervention from the member from Kingsford Smith. He said, ‘What about per capita?’ This again is where the Labor Party’s position on climate change fundamentally betrays Australia’s national interest. The member for Batman knows I am dead right. Because if you buy the argument that we should wait until China has the same per capita levels of emissions as Australia, emissions will be at a level not even imagined by the most dire scenarios. This of course is what I suspect the member for Kingsford Smith would like, because he cannot wait to get that hairshirt on and to suffer a bit—or at least get others to suffer. If we were to reduce our emissions to the per capita level of China’s it would devastate our economy. The fact is that the problem with Labor’s climate change policy—there are two main planks—is, firstly, the Kyoto protocol, as it stands, is a mechanism that has failed. By the way, everybody now recognises that except for the Australian Labor Party. At the G8 summit, which the member for Kingsford Smith referred to, the largest developed nations of the world endorsed a new approach and it is exactly the same approach that the Australian government has been pursuing bilaterally and multilaterally through the AP6—that is, a process of engaging the developing countries and recognising that they need to be part of the solution because we have to get global reductions. The communique said:

We recognise, however, that the efforts of developed economies will not be sufficient and that new approaches for contributions by other countries are needed.

Again, Labor do not understand that. They think they can continue with the same old failed approach because it is a sacrament. It is like putting a ‘Save the whales’ sticker on your car and not being prepared to do anything about it. It is empty symbolism, but it is very expensive symbolism.

If we as a nation were to follow Labor’s policy and commit ourselves to a very large cut in emissions by 2050 unilaterally and unequivocally—and that is what Labor proposes—then that would mean we would be putting a substantial cost on our carbon and energy intensive industries. Remember that thousands of Australian workers have jobs—many of them belonging to members of trade unions who pay for the advertising of the Labor Party—that depend on low-cost energy from coal. If we impose an additional cost on those industries which is not matched by the countries with which they compete, all that will happen is that the industries will move offshore with the emissions, so the world will be no better off, and we lose the jobs. The phenomenon of carbon leakage is a fundamental economic factor that the member for Kingsford Smith simply does not understand.

If you look at the industrial growth in China, you will see that in the last five or six years China has become the producer of nearly half the world’s cement, nearly half the world’s flat glass, 35 per cent of its steel and 30 per cent of its aluminium. What has been happening is that developed countries, particularly in Europe, have been deindustrialising, thereby reducing their emissions, and, instead of making the cement themselves and having the emissions go up into the atmosphere from their own countries, importing it from China. Now, the world is no better off. The men and women that worked in the cement plant have lost their jobs, but the world is no better off from a climate point of view because the emissions have still gone up into the air.

That failure to recognise the global reality of climate change and the dire economic consequences Labor’s policy could impose on Australia is again a reminder of how you cannot trust the Labor Party with economic management—because climate change is an enormous challenge and probably the biggest one our country faces, the world faces, at the moment.

By contrast, the government’s emissions trading task force in its report says that the targets must be set after careful economic analysis. And, while a long-term aspirational target can be set—and that will be informed in the course of the next year by the G8 discussions and the discussions that are going to happen between the 15 largest greenhouse-gas-emitting economies, including Australia and led by the United States, at the meeting in Bali—every target along that time line has to be reset and calibrated in light of the cost of technology, the economic consequences of setting it and the reactions and attitudes of other countries. In other words, meet the challenge, reduce our emissions, but do so in a way that ensures we do not indulge in a futile, self-destructive exercise in moralising, which is what the Labor Party’s policy is all about. It is all about sacrificing Australian jobs, sacrificing the Australian economy, in an effort to be pure by the member for Kingsford Smith’s lights, regardless of how poor we must become to do so.