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Tuesday, 10 March 2009
Page: 1030


Senator MILNE (3:26 PM) —I rise to particularly take note of an answer given by the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong. I want to point out to the Senate that we are reaching the global tipping point from which there will be no return. This is a matter that shows how serious the climate crisis has become. There are other senators in this chamber who joined me only a week ago in Tasmania at the CRC for Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems. We heard from the scientists there with regard to acidification of the ocean. Their study is published today in the journal Nature Geoscience. They pointed out to us last week that microscopic creatures in the Southern Ocean have shells that are already 30 to 35 per cent thinner than they were in preindustrial times. They know that from the shell samples that were taken when they were first discovered a couple of hundred years ago.

Looking at those samples, we find that today their shells are that much thinner. In a very chilling moment, the scientists said that 450 parts per million is the tipping point. We will reach a point where we will have saturation of the oceans and, if we want to prevent collapse of the ecosystems by 2030, we have to prevent reaching a tipping point of 450 parts per million. That was the context in which I asked Senator Wong today to confirm the parts per million of the government’s target of 15 per cent—forget the five for a minute; let us assume they would take it out to 15 if the rest of the world acts—reflects. It is 510 parts per million. So even the very best of what the government are offering us is a target which is beyond the tipping point for the Southern Ocean, for the world’s oceans.

Does it matter that these creatures are losing their shells at this rate? Yes, it does, because at some point they will not be able to create those shells anymore. Once you have corals dissolving and ocean creatures unable to grow shells, you are going to see a collapse of the ocean food chain. That is where we are up to and that is the significance of this. Forget saving the whales and the Japanese whale hunt, because they will be starving to death in our oceans by mid century! Without the microscopic organisms in the Southern Ocean, you do not have the food for krill. If you do not have krill then you do not feed penguins, you do not feed whales, you do not have the whole marine ecosystem, so we are at the point of rapidly reaching a tipping point.

Secondly, the minister said last night, ‘This is a game over a number of decades.’ This is not a game. This is a matter of life and death. This is a matter of the collapse of ecosystems. It is not a game, and we do not have decades; we have only a few years. The IPCC, which was extremely conservative in its estimates on climate change, said we had until 2015 for global emissions to peak and then come down. Now the world’s scientists say we are tracking above the worst-case scenario of the IPCC in our greenhouse gas emissions. So it will be sooner than 2015. We do not have decades. And this is not a game: we are talking about the climate system of the planet and we do not have the decades that the minister seems to think we have.

In relation to the news about the Southern Ocean, in terms of the marine ecosystem you are also talking about the collapse of fisheries. And, if you are talking about the collapse of fisheries, you are talking about the collapse of communities around the world because so many people depend on getting fish in order to get protein in their diets. We are going to see social and economic collapse in many island communities in particular. I cannot imagine life on earth with the collapse of fisheries. The social and ecological ramifications are huge. So the government had better think again—15 per cent, 510 parts per million, way over the 450 parts per million which the scientists have now declared is the tipping point. It is a big move for the CRC to say 450 is the tipping point— (Time expired)

Question agreed to.