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Bob Brown On Climate Change

This is the transcript of Senator Bob Brown’s Second Reading Speech on the Climate Change (Implementation) Bill 1999.

Senator Bob BrownHow’s the weather? Getting hotter, according to most of the world’s scientists!

The World Meteorological Organisation records 1998 as the warmest year worldwide since reliable measurements began in 1860. Seven of the 10 warmest years have been in the 1990s, and the mean surface temperature of the planet has risen by 0.7° C in the last century. In Australia, 1998 was the hottest year since records began in 1910.

El Nino, drought-causing scourge of Australia’s farmers, has become more frequent and more severe since the mid-1970s. The El Nino that finished in 1995 was the longest in the last century, and perhaps the longest in the last 2000 years. Researchers conclude that the changed pattern is probably caused by global warming.

Coral reefs are showing the signs of stress – widespread bleaching and death following rising sea temperatures. According to Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, ‘The rapidity and extent of these projected changes, if realized, spells catastrophe for tropical marine ecosystems everywhere and suggests that unrestrained warming cannot occur without the complete loss of coral reefs on a global scale.’

There is little doubt that human activity is causing the Earth to get hotter by increasing the amount of gases that trap heat in its atmosphere.

We are tampering with the very systems that sustain life on Earth. In 1995, the thousands of scientists who make up the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that " the balance of evidence suggests that there is a discernible human influence on global climate". In 1997, 1586 scientists from 63 countries, including 110 Nobel Laureates, pleaded for "scientists and citizens around the world to hold their leaders accountable for addressing the global warming threat".

Australia’s performance has been disgraceful. Per capita, we are one of the top three emitters of greenhouse gases in the world. Yet Environment Minister Robert Hill coerced the global community into allowing us to increase our greenhouse gas emissions by 8% over 1990 levels, when most developed countries agreed to a 5% decrease by 2008-2012.

Even this meagre target looks beyond the Australian authorities’ grasp at the moment, with emissions from burning fossil fuels having increased by 13% by 1996.

Dozens of projects with major greenhouse implications are already on the drawing board around the country. Queensland for example plans coal-fired power stations at Milmerran and Kogan Creek, and a shale oil plant on the Great Barrier Reef. These three projects alone will add 4.5% to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Also in Queensland, clearing of native vegetation is continuing at outrageous rates of 300 000 to 400 000 hectares per annum, not only releasing greenhouse gases but destroying the capacity of plant and animal communities to resist the impacts of changing climate.

In the nation’s south, emissions caused by logging of old growth forests have not even been factored into the equation yet. About 70% of all the carbon stored on the land is in forests and wetlands. Older trees store very much more carbon than younger trees. Logging old forests drastically depletes the pool of stored carbon, which can only be replenished over hundreds of years. Plantations do not make up for logged wild forests.

It is time for Australia to get serious about tackling global warming. Governments do not rely on voluntary action to meet international trade commitments. Why should environmental commitments be treated differently?

This bill will ensure that Australia meets its commitments under the Framework Convention on Climate Change and the 1997 Kyoto Protocol — the international agreements which commit the global community to protect the Earth’s climate for present and future generations.

The bill puts the Australian Government’s own targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions into law, provides a mechanism for assessing individual proposals, and gives industry taskforces the opportunity to work out their own plans for meeting greenhouse targets. The Greenhouse Office steps in if they fail.

This law will stir Australia into a brighter future, with sun power instead of fossil fuels, efficient energy use instead of waste, a halt to clearing native vegetation and protection of old growth forests. It will stimulate new industry, new investment and new jobs, especially in regional Australia.

It will help us reap the benefits of the best solar energy research in the world by turning attention to renewable instead of fossil energy. For example, removing the subsidies for diesel generation in remote parts of Australia will open a 600 MW domestic market for solar and wind energy. That in turn is a stepping stone to a far larger export market in the myriad islands of Indonesia and the Philippines to our north.

Efficient energy use saves money as well as the environment. Local government could halve greenhouse gas emissions and save $78 million a year in electricity costs, just by installing more efficient street lights around the country.

Householders could each save around $1000 in energy bills over a 15-year period, if they had access to a super-efficient fridge. That is no small saving because fridges and freezers consume about 20% of the electricity used by the average Australian household. The electricity industry would benefit by reducing summer peak demand.

In a hopeful sign, the Worldwatch Institute in Washington reports that 1998 was the first year when the world’s carbon emissions fell, unprompted by a major economic downturn. The amount of carbon emitted to produce $1000 of income declined by 6.4% — in other words, less fossil fuel was used but the economy still expanded.

There is advantage in being first. Newcastle City Council in NSW grasped the opportunity early, has set a target of reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions by 68% in 2001 compared with 1995, has already saved $600,000 in the process, and has created the Australian Municipal Energy Improvement Facility to train other councils.

Australia as a whole can replicate the Newcastle achievement. We can set ourselves on a path of industry innovation, play a leading role in protecting the world’s environment and, by passing this bill, be the first country in the world to implement the Climate Change Convention through legislation.

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Malcolm Farnsworth
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