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Thursday, 30 May 1996
Page: 1459


Senator CHAMARETTE(4.23 p.m.) —The greenhouse effect and climate change are, combined, one of the gravest threats facing humanity. Greenhouse may irrevocably change our atmospheric systems and weather patterns, creating a whole suite of knock-on effects: rising sea levels; changes to landscape and land habitability; changes to food crops; an increased spread of disease, especially tropical pathogens that thrive in wet, hot climates; an increase in weather extremes such as floods, hurricanes and droughts; and mass extinctions. A rise in the average global temperature of 0.3 per cent per decade is predicted if current production trends for greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide, CFC, methane and nitrous oxide—continue to a two per cent mean increase by the year 2100.

What would a greenhouse warmed world be like? Before we make a decision on Australia's position on greenhouse measures at the COP—conference of parties—conference, let us do a bit of projection. In a world where average global temperature has risen by up to two per cent, the planetary resources we take for granted will be dramatically altered. Lakes will shrink or dry up, water supplies will be dramatically altered, streams and aquifers will disappear. The current crisis facing the Snowy River won't even compare with the massive scale of alteration to the world's water systems. Populations will have to move to where water is available—if it is available at all.

Forest cover would be changed, or significantly reduced, even more than has already been effected by humans. At a migration rate, through the slow growth of new trees along forest edges where seeds fall, of 900 metres per year, most forest belts won't move fast enough to avoid being wiped out. If climate belts move faster than this, or migration is blocked by cities and other human barriers, entire forests of deciduous trees could die out and release carbon dioxide as they decompose. This large-scale forest loss would be accompanied by a concomitant biodiversity extinction. Fish would die in warmer streams and pesticides would concentrate in the lower water level.

If we compare the last 10,000 years of human habitation of the planet since the agricultural revolution to a minute of real time, this havoc will have been wreaked by a single species, us, in only three seconds of that minute.

In the midst of the alarming predictions I have just shared with you, and in opposition to most of the OECD's determined action to prevent those predictions, Australia has the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per capita of the industrialised world. Australia's position on reducing these levels in domestic and international fora is inadequate in the extreme. The IPCC has stated that carbon dioxide cuts of 60 to 80 per cent are needed to stabilise global warming, yet we did not support legally binding targets for emissions at the ad hoc group on the Berlin mandate negotiations.

We alone in the member nations proposed a non-legally binding outcome for other major initiatives. Australia was perceived to be not just a laughing stock but a disgrace. All other OECD countries have reduced their emissions by 12 to 17 per cent against the baseline standard; Japan by 25 per cent. We have increased ours by one per cent. The hypocrisy within this stance is obvious. Ready to be a vocal supporter of the protests of the Pacific Islands against French nuclear testing, we show a scathing indifference to the tragedy that faces those island nations under climate change. I use that term of phrase intentionally. Projected sea level rise could submerge some 80 per cent of the land of the Majuro Atoll in the Pacific, and many of these islands will be dramatically altered, if not rendered uninhabitable.

The urgency motion just moved in this place outlines a clear and decisive way in which this government can save the future for the next generation. This generation is very likely to be the last generation that can do it. We have a responsibility to act and to achieve credibility in proposing the necessary measures. In order to do that, Australia must have an equivalent domestic position in line with the following commitments: a legislative framework for climate policy, including domestic implementation of the framework convention on climate change; legislative and budgetary support for effective limitations on further land clearing; increased urban planning and budgetary measures that reflect a lessened dependence on the private car and a high emphasis on public transport; a commitment to increased fuel efficiency for motor vehicles; and revision of the national electricity market code to remove discrimination against energy efficiency and renewable energy. We need to clear our record up considerably. (Time expired)