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Christine Milne: It's essential that we keep the Climate Change Authority

Speeches in Parliament
Christine Milne 10 Dec 2013

The Australian Greens Leader, Senator Christine Milne, gives a speech in the Senate in support of the Climate Change Authority (CCA), and to speak against its abolition.

Senator MILNE (Tasmania-Leader of the Australian Greens) (17:43): I rise this afternoon to oppose the Climate Change Authority (Abolition) Bill 2013. The Climate Change Authority plays an absolutely critical role in the framework of legislation that we have to reduce emissions in Australia and to address climate change. I would like to begin by giving some history of where the Climate Change Authority came from and how it was configured. When the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme came before the Senate in 2009, there was a fundamental disagreement between the position that was put by the Labor government of the time and the Greens and scientists and people in the whole conservation movement. What we argued at the time was that Australia needed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions consistent with the target that was set in Bali-the Bali Road Map 2007.

Everybody will remember that in 2007 there was the ratification of the Kyoto protocol by Australia following the 2007 election. At that Bali meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, it was agreed that developed countries should reduce their emissions by 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels, and that would give headroom to developing countries to be able to continue their path of development and have the world stay below two degrees warming and stay with a safe climate.

So, when the Labor government of the time brought forward an emissions trading scheme with a target of five per cent, I still remember the day at the Press Club when then Prime Minister Rudd announced his target of five per cent. There were some young activists there at a table, and one of them screamed in distress and disappointment at the complete inadequacy of the target. To have an emissions trading scheme, a cap-and-trade scheme, you need to have a cap on the amount of emissions that you can emit. That means you have to have a target in the legislation, and five per cent was put forward.

The Greens argued that five per cent was woefully inadequate and there should be a minimum of 25 per cent in the 25 to 40 per cent range. The negotiation in the political process was impossible because there was no movement in relation to that, so it became obvious that there had to be a process outside the parliament to get independent, evidence based advice on what an appropriate reductions target for Australia would be in the context of global action to keep global warming to less than two degrees.

So, in early 2010, after the legislation had been defeated, the Greens put forward a compromise and said to the Labor government of the day, 'Why don't we have a fixed-price period'-as Professor Garnaut had recommended at that time-'and resolve the issue of the targets at a later time?' That compromise was rejected, unfortunately. Then, after the 2010 election, of course, we had a minority Labor government, and the Greens made it a condition of Prime Minister Gillard becoming Prime Minister that Australia adopt a carbon price and that a multiparty climate committee be set up to design the suite of legislation that would give effect to a carbon price.

It is no surprise that in those negotiations the Greens put forward the idea that we do what the British had done, in fact, and establish, as Britain had done, a committee on climate change. It was to give independent, evidence based advice to the parliament in Westminster, to give recommendations on what the emissions targets should be and to report to the parliament on progress made in reducing emissions and in preparing for climate change. The situation that was occurring in the UK was working very effectively. The Committee on Climate Change there was made up of experts. So we said: 'Let's do exactly the same in Australia. Let's depoliticise the process of setting targets. Let's adopt the architecture for an emissions trading scheme'-which we have done, and it came into effect on 1 July 2012-'and at the same time let's set up a climate change authority which does the same as is being done in the UK and advises the government on the appropriate target, taking into account the latest science and taking into account what other countries are doing around the world, and which comes back and recommends what Australia's fair share is.'

The Climate Change Authority was set up to do just that. It was asked to provide a draft of its recommendations this year, which it has done. It will now report early next year. In fact, on 28 February 2014 it will make its final recommendation to the parliament as to what Australia's fair share should be in reducing emissions, and that target will then be able to be transported into the emissions trading scheme legislation. The cap would go into the legislation, making way for flexible pricing to be able to take place and trading to take place.

That was how the whole thing was designed: start with the architecture of emissions trading, start with a fixed-price period, get the Climate Change Authority set up, have it recommend to the government of the day and the parliament the appropriate targets, put that in the legislation and then go to flexible pricing in 2015. And that is precisely what should occur.

The Climate Change Authority then had to be populated by a board, who then had to determine what Australia's fair share is, and that is what they have been doing in this last 12-month period. It is a critical time for Australia because there is a lot happening around the world. We have just been through the COP in Warsaw. We are moving to a ministerial meeting early next year and then into Ban Ki-moon's-the UN Secretary-General's-summit in September next year, moving into the G20 and then the climate COP in Lima, which will have the preliminaries to go into the negotiation of a global treaty in 2015 to take effect after 2020. So now is the time that the Secretary-General of the United Nations is asking countries like Australia to put in a higher target than the five per cent. It is not the time for Australia to be abandoning the meagre five to 25 per cent range which had previously been registered; rather, we are being invited to step up.

The Climate Change Authority were tasked with that job of assessing what is going on around the world, what needs to happen for a new international agreement involving all major emitting economies and what Australia would be expected to do to participate in that process. Of course, they have done that over the last year, and I am very pleased to say that they have adopted a budget approach, because that is the only way you can look at this. You look at the science and you say: in order to constrain global warming to less than two degrees, what is the maximum amount of CO2 that can go to atmosphere, in what time frame, and then how do you divide up that limited budget amongst countries around the world?

So the Climate Change Authority has come to a view about what Australia's fair share will be and has said very clearly that the five per cent target is completely and utterly inadequate and that a lot more needs to be done. In fact, in its final report in February next year it will be required to say what the single target is for 2020 for Australia, what the trajectory range is out to 2030 and what the long-term emissions budget is out to 2050. That is what it is tasked to do.

Clearly the first conclusion it has come to is that the scale and pace of international action suggests that Australia should be pursuing a stronger target. That is clearly the Greens' position as well. It has gone on to say that five per cent is considered an inadequate first step if Australia is to play its part in limiting global warming to below two degrees. It has also said that Australia would spend a large part of the proposed long-term emissions budget earlier, leaving little for the rest of the period out to 2050. A five per cent target would require an implausibly rapid acceleration of effort beyond 2020. Failing to do more in the short term is likely to increase future costs and cause unnecessary disruption to the economy and community more broadly. To keep open the option of acting in accordance with the goal of below two degrees, Australia needs to do more in the short term than is implied in the five per cent target. It also went on to say that the authority considers that moving to a stronger target now could be accommodated at a relatively low cost to the economy based on modelling of Australia's economy and emissions outlook.

We have a situation now where what we all know is true: the sooner you move, the harder you go, the deeper you cut, the cheaper it is going to be in the longer term. This is not just about 2020. It is the trajectory to 2030 and then to 2050. We have to make sure that we cut early so that we leave many more options open for efforts out to 2030 and 2050. The less we do now, the fewer options we will have, the greater disruption to the economy there will be and the more stranded assets people are going to be left with in Australia. That is bad for future generations. It is bad for the climate. It is certainly bad for our environment.

There is a report out today saying the Great Barrier Reef will be dead by 2100 if we are on a trajectory to four degrees, which we are. I believe that is the case. There is a complacency in this parliament which fails to look at the science and recognise that we have to act. The only reason you can say that the Abbott government is trying to abolish the Climate Change Authority is that it does not want to have independent, evidence based advice.

The options that the Climate Change Authority has put on the table are a 15 per cent emissions reduction by 2020 or a 25 per cent one. Frankly, I think the option of 15 per cent should just be binned. Twenty-five per cent was the minimum of what it should have been in 2007, and we have lost six years. We need to go beyond 25 per cent to 2020 in order to have a smoother trajectory beyond that, because major disruption is coming.

I heard in question time today Nationals member Senator Nash talking about the cost to the hospital system of carbon pricing. The cost to the hospital system is going to balloon beyond all measure if Australia is hit with four degrees of warming. We are going to have extreme heatwaves, weather events and bushfires. We are going to have loss of life. We are absolutely going to have emergency departments overflowing.

Senator Ian Macdonald: All because we don't have a carbon tax?

Senator MILNE: It may interest Senator Macdonald to know that, in the heatwave that occurred in South Australia at the same time as the Black Saturday fires in Victoria, Adelaide had to get a temporary morgue because so many people died as a result of the heatwave. That was because extreme heat exacerbates existing health conditions that lead to the sick, elderly, frail and vulnerable then not being able to cope in the circumstances. I have spoken to doctors who tell me that they are being called back from leave when the weather forecasts come out and they are being put back into emergency departments because of this influx of people. So to hear Senator Nash talk about the cost of energy for hospitals-that is nothing compared to the cost in lives, let alone the cost in managing the health consequences of global warming. That is exactly what is happening. That is why it is extraordinary to hear the denialism in this chamber, failing to recognise what we have already experienced in extreme weather events.

We have had the climate committee out here this week talking about the link between extreme weather events and loss of life and property and about the fact that we are going to have hotter days, more high-danger days and more extreme fires in Australia with more loss of life. That is the reality.

Senator Ian Macdonald: What a load of rubbish!

Senator MILNE: I know Senator Macdonald is in total denial, but that is the reality and Senator Macdonald does not wish to acknowledge it. He is a climate denialist, and that is a fact. He will not accept that we are on a trajectory for four degrees of warming and the consequences that that is going to have for the environment, people and health. On the spread of disease, for example, we know there is going to be a change of range for certain diseases. We are going to find dengue fever coming much further down the Queensland coast than has previously been experienced. We are going to have all kinds of changes that are going to cost the hospital system dearly and cost the community in terms of health and wellbeing. We are not even imagining the number of extra firefighters we are going to need by 2030-we will need to double the numbers-let alone all of the other emergency services.

This is a serious issue. This is going to change life as we know it. That is what is so frustrating about the level of denial in here. That is why we have to have independent advice. Of course we know the government does not want to hear that if the Bowen and Galilee basins are fully exploited for coal that would be the equivalent of the seventh-largest emitter in the world. Those resources have to stay in the ground. That is why we need the independent, evidence based advice from the Climate Change Authority.

Let us look at the ignorance that is put forward by the Business Council of Australia, the Institute of Public Affairs and the like in relation to the economy. If you are going to make an investment now you need to know what the carbon constraint is going to be, otherwise you are going to be invested in stranded assets. You are going to set the economy back. If we fail to listen to independent advice we are going to end up with a rust bucket economy in Australia. That is the way the government is going to take this if it does not anticipate the trends. Anticipating the trends means listening to the science, seeing what the rest of the world is doing and moving accordingly. That is where the Climate Change Authority is charged to take us. Unfortunately, the authority has been way too conservative in the draft recommendations it has made. As I have said, I would ditch option 1, the 15 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020, and absolutely go for a higher level than the 25 per cent, because that allows us more options into the future. I want to make sure that the community has the maximum amount of options available to adapt and to make transitions, anticipate and benefit from the opportunities that will come from the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Failure to act now means we use up our budget early, which means people in 2030 will have very few options out to 2050. That is the kind of work the Climate Change Authority has done with its report. It has also pointed out the complete inadequacy of Direct Action, which is no doubt one of the reasons the government wants to abolish the authority. They do not want to hear the independent, evidence based advice showing what is wrong with Direct Action. The report makes clear that Direct Action is not scalable. It is too expensive. There is no way you can scale up with Direct Action.

Equally, the Climate Change Authority has said that you need to deal with issues like deforestation. If you look at the greenhouse inventory report, you will see that the increase in emissions is coming from deforestation from land clearance, for example. Fugitive emissions are coming from coal mines and from gas-coal seam gas and the like. They are the facts of the matter; they have to be dealt with. Those fossil fuel resources need to stay in the ground.

From the Greens point of view, you cannot talk about the emissions trading scheme without talking about the Climate Change Authority, because it is the authority that will recommend the target-the cap-that will go into the emissions trading scheme and that will enable the trading scheme to trade in a flexible way. Of course, the linkage with other trading schemes around the world opens up lots of opportunities in Australia. That is the way that this was put together. They are integrated in their operation as a package. The Clean Energy Finance Corporation is there to put money into renewables and efficiency, to transform and to accelerate that transformational change. The Biodiversity Fund was there to help protect the landscape and keep the carbon stores protected-I am sorry to say Labor was happy to abolish it in the same way as the government is the authority.

It is essential that we keep the Climate Change Authority. With the slashing of the Public Service, including getting rid of the Department of Climate Change, there is not the expertise in government to do this. The only expertise we have left is in the Climate Change Authority. That is why it has to be kept. (Time expired)

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