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Tuesday, 8 November 2016
Page: 3249

Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (17:43): In speaking on this Report 163: Paris Agreement, Kyoto Protocol—Doha Amendment, I notice that recommendation 1 states:

The Committee supports the Paris Agreement and recommends that binding treaty action be taken.

I assume that means ratifying the agreement, because it does not explicitly say that. But I would hope that that is the intent of the recommendation.

I also note that there were additional comments by the Labor members on that committee. In particular, I want to quote paragraph 3 of the additional comments, which state:

While Labor members of the Committee support ratification of the Paris Agreement and the Doha Amendment, we believe that Australia can and should participate more meaningfully and effectively in the global effort, and that treaty actions covered by this report are weak, poorly founded, and not supported by an adequate basis for implementation.

I quote that paragraph because that is exactly the conclusion I draw about the government's approach to climate change. And can I say that, ever since climate change has become a topic of international discussion, the coalition has continuously resisted any acknowledgement of the reality and consequences of climate change or acceptance of Australia's responsibility as to it. Indeed, just prior to the 2007 election, the Howard government succumbed to community pressure and finally accepted that an emissions trading scheme was necessary in order for Australia to play its part in combating climate change across the world.

Subsequent to the 2007 election, which the coalition lost and which Labor won, we saw the coalition then revert back to its old position, opposing Labor's emissions trading scheme when it was introduced. Indeed, the member for Wentworth, who is now the Prime Minister, lost his leadership over that very decision. But in 2013, when the coalition was returned to government, it again did away with its Howard-government-era commitment to an emissions trading scheme and brought in a very ineffective direct action plan—a plan which, the evidence suggested, would not work and would cause emissions to rise. In fact, from the latest report on that, I see that, by the year 2020, emissions are expected to rise by about six per cent, which confirms what many of the experts have predicted and continue to say. As we all know, the now Prime Minister, the member for Wentworth, has done a complete backflip and now supports the direct action policy which he was an intense critic of back in 2013 or shortly thereafter.

This particular agreement is about Australia playing its part in the globe in terms of doing something about mitigating climate change. We know that, as of last week, 87 countries—covering 61 per cent of all global emissions—had ratified the agreement. Again, Australia is left trailing behind in that it has not ratified the agreement as yet, and it is trailing behind with a very weak emissions reduction target of somewhere between 26 and 28 per cent on 2005 levels by 2030. The real question is: 'Are we even going to reach those 26 to 28 per cent targets?'—let alone the questions of whether the targets are in themselves adequate and whether they reflect the level of responsibility that Australia has to play its part.

Evidence about climate change continues to grow. CO2 concentrations around the world now have surpassed 400 parts per million, which is the highest figure in two million years. In fact, in the pre-industrial era it was only 280 parts per million; it is now over 400 parts per million in most parts of the world. Terrestrial temperatures have risen by one degree over the last 100 years, and that is when most of the heat is absorbed by our oceans. The year of 2015 was the hottest on record, and July was the 15th consecutive month of record high global temperatures.

Extreme weather events have become a regular occurrence around the world. In May we saw extreme fires in Canada and extreme heat in India. In June we saw extreme rainfall in Paris and, in Louisiana, we saw a one-in-500-year rainfall event—and that was the eighth such event in the USA in the past 12 months. The facts speak for themselves, and Australia is no different. Here in Australia we have seen fires, floods, heatwaves and cyclones, one after the other, almost every year for the last seven or eight years that I have been in this place, and earlier this year we saw the extensive coral bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef.

The problem is that Australia is dithering while other countries are acting. North American leaders jointly pledged to reach a target of sourcing 50 per cent of their continent's electricity from clean power sources, which included renewable energy sources. Eighty one corporations have now pledged to reach 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources, and 173 countries now have a renewable energy target, but not Australia. Instead, what this government has done is go in the opposite direction. This is a government that has attempted to shut down the Australian Renewable Energy Agency—one of the agencies put together in order to try and help Australia transition into a clean energy environment and into a new era where renewal energy was the way of the future. We saw this government try to close down the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. Worst of all, we have seen this government turn on and criticise state governments who have taken the initiative upon themselves to increase their own renewable energy targets when the federal government would not. I was most disappointed at seeing the Prime Minister, in his first response to the power loss in South Australia, initially try to blame it all on the wind generators in that state.

The consequences of Australia doing nothing are very, very serious, as they are for the rest of the world. Not only will we be left behind with respect to the clean energy jobs and the growth of that industry—the growth which other countries are forging ahead with and which is creating huge opportunities for those countries that are taking the initiative—but it means that we will continue to be using the kinds of energy system that simply add to the pollution that causes the problem in the first place.

The economic costs of not doing anything and of continuing to have to deal with the extreme weather events, whether they are floods, fire, heat or even sea level rises, will continue to rise. The figures in respect to the economic costs are very difficult to quantify. I have spoken in this place previously about those costs. They run into tens of billions of dollars. Because they have dissipated across a whole range of areas, it is difficult to say, 'We can save this amount of money by doing this or that amount by doing something else.' The reality is that every time there is a flood, a fire or a cyclone, there would be tens of millions of dollars of costs expended in the states where they occur simply to fix the problem—before you even look at the productivity losses that might have arisen from it.

The other area of serious costs that is very rarely spoken about is the health cost to the nation. We know that heatwaves in particular cause a lot of people in this country to suffer very ill health and, in many cases, die. We also know that disease may well rise as a result of changing weather patterns. The CSIRO has put together some very good information about all of that if members care to have a look at it. We also know that as a result of climate change we will see huge environmental losses of flora and fauna. As a member of the standing committee on the environment in this place for the last eight years prior to this year—because I am not on it in this term of parliament—I have been involved in one inquiry after the other which all highlighted the environmental costs and losses as a result of climate change that we as a nation, in my view, are not doing enough about in trying to protect.

The last matter that I wish to very briefly talk about is the intergenerational cost that the member for Grayndler referred to earlier. All of these costs continue to rise. The more we do nothing about what should be done the costs will continue to rise and be passed on to future generations. That is the greatest type of intergenerational theft I can think of—to leave future generations to sort out and manage a problem that we refused to take responsible action about.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr Buchholz ): Debate is now adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order for the next sitting day.