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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8532

Senator MOORE (2:05 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Climate Change and Water, Senator Wong. Can the minister advise the Senate on progress on climate change science and give us some idea about how long scientists have been making the link between carbon emissions and global warming?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —I thank Senator Moore for the question. The need to act is patent. It is in everybody’s interests, and Australians demand it.

Senator Nash —Not the ones talking to us.

Senator Williams interjecting—

Senator Joyce interjecting—

Senator WONG —The need for action on climate change has been clear for quite some time; it is not new. Leaders and policymakers have had plenty of time to get their heads around it—even those at that end of the chamber. It has been more than 115 years since the realisation that increased carbon dioxide concentration could cause increases in global temperatures. Ever since then the evidence has been getting clearer that climate change is directly linked to carbon pollution, culminating two years ago in the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, including the work of around 1,250 climate experts from over 130 countries—a rigorous, peer reviewed scientific exercise there for the world to see.

This report found that there is a more than 90 per cent chance that most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. No matter how much some senators down that end of the chamber or opposite want to rail against the science, the fact is that is what the weight of scientific opinion internationally tells this government, just as it tells other governments around the world. Since that time there have been fresh warnings from scientists, notably through the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change in Copenhagen this year, that climate change is only accelerating, with the ANU’s Professor Will Steffen saying:

The climate system appears to be changing faster than earlier thought likely.

Senator MOORE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate on how the debate on how to tackle climate change has been developing, and what has been the advice to government on how to tackle climate change at the lowest cost?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —In 1999 the Australian Greenhouse Office, which Senator Abetz loves to remind us was set up by the Howard government, released a series of discussion papers on the design of an Australian emissions trading scheme as the lowest-cost way to reduce Australia’s emissions. In 2007 Prime Minister Howard—

Senator Cormann —Why did you can your inquiry in February?

Senator WONG —I would have thought, Senator Cormann, that you would listen to what Prime Minister Howard did. Prime Minister Howard finally accepted the advice of the Prime Ministerial Task Group on Emissions Trading, a group of leading business representatives and senior officials, to act on climate change with an emissions trading scheme. Those on the other side might like to recall the comments of former Leader of the Government in the Senate Robert Hill, who said in July:

Well I started work on a potential cap and trade for Australia almost a decade ago. And the political time wasn’t right then. Perhaps it’s getting closer. But basically, as with most Western nations, I think a cap and trade is the way to go.

(Time expired)

Senator MOORE —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate on what business is saying about action on climate change?

Senator WONG (Minister for Climate Change and Water) —One of the things that those who oppose action on climate change conveniently gloss over is the fact that many Australian business leaders have called for action on climate change and have called for certainty. Last week Heather Ridout wrote:

It is time for the government and the opposition to ... bring this exhausting game to a conclusion so Australia can get on with the real business of reducing emissions while maintaining our prosperity.

Just today, the Managing Director of Origin Energy, Grant King, has made it clear that a lack of certainty is having a serious impact on investment. He said:

An emissions trading scheme is the lowest cost, most flexible mechanism for driving the necessary change in the operation of existing assets, informing capital investment decisions for new assets and stimulating development in new technologies necessary to meet the long term challenge of climate change.

Those are not the government’s words; they are the words of a senior Australian businessman. (Time expired)