Budget Reply - on the crucial issue of climate change

HON ROBIN CHAPPLE(Mining and Pastoral)[8.52 pm]: I rise tonight to make my contribution to the 2011–12 budget statements, laid upon the table of this house on 19 May 2011. My main focus tonight will be on where we are going with subsidies within the budget on the crucial issue of climate change. The Climate Commission has dubbed this decade the “critical decade”, and this budget is one that is critical to addressing climate change, yet it does not appear that this government considers it so. I am saddened for my grandchildren, as future generations will live with the consequences of decisions that we make in this house now and over the coming years.

I will touch on some of the threats that we face. The risk of sea level rise for a country of beach-loving Australians with suburban sprawl around our sunny coastline is clear. Perth’s jewel the Swan River winds through our suburbs and is a major attraction from the hills to the beaches. The sea level rise threatens to cause inundation right through the heart of our city. The major consequences of sea level rise are the damaging results of high tides and storm surges, which are very sensitive to even small sea level rises. These factors combine to create an exponential multiplier effect. Modelling of a half a metre sea level rise around Australia shows that we can expect a 100-times increase in extreme high sea events across most of WA, with a thousand-times increase in the regions of Albany and Kununurra. Let me explain what a “100 times” means. A 100-times increase of inundation would mean that we would have a one-in-a-100-year event every year. An increase of 1 000 times means that we would have a one-in-a-100-year event every month. The consensus among climate scientists is that we expect a half a metre to a one-metre rise by 2100. That is plausible, although it is difficult to predict. We have issues in that the level of prediction of these sorts of things ranges quite dramatically. Therefore, I have charted a course through the middle of the predictions. Across the world, sea level rises of this magnitude will result in millions of people’s homes being underwater. In Bangladesh, about 15 million people would be affected. The impacts on our neighbouring island nations of East Timor, Papua New Guinea and Indonesia must also be considered.

Along with this comes ocean acidification. Increasing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere leads to more of it dissolving in the ocean, which in turn increases the acidity of the oceans. This affects organisms with hard calcified shells and crusts, such as corals, planktons and snails, because the higher acidity means that they cannot form their calcified shells to the same density. There are some interesting examples, such as the Terebralia shell. The Terebralia shells that are closer to the coast and in less dense saline water are much thicker and much harder than Terebralia shells that are found in the deep ocean. Acidification is occurring at rapid rates that scientists fear will place very severe pressure on food chains in the oceans and severe evolutionary pressure on marine organisms. The ocean pH is changing so rapidly that marine life might not be able to cope. The Climate Commission highlights that ocean acidity has varied considerably over the past 25 million years and the level of acidity today is already as high as it was 25 million years ago, the previous most acidic state in the records. The commission concluded that previous ocean acidification levels are likely to have been a significant factor in mass extinction events in that marine ecosystem.

I think many of us would be aware of the impact of rainfall on the south west. Climate scientists in Australia are grappling with the challenges of modelling rainfall. It is a difficult science, and rainfall has different effects at different levels. For the rainfall and weather predictions in the eastern states there is variability and conjecture—perhaps drier, perhaps wetter. The Kimberley experiences the same argument—perhaps wetter, perhaps drier. However, it is generally agreed across all models and predicted with a high level of confidence that the recent drying trends in the south west of Western Australia will continue and will intensify. Hydrological modelling that looks at how rainfall interacts with the environment to create water availability indicates that water availability is most likely to decline for us here in Perth. There may also be a wetting trend in the north of the state, although I pointed out that a couple of models indicate different things with that. The Climate Commission highlights that most certain of all is that rainfall patterns will change as a result of climate change and often in unpredictable ways. The one thing we have learnt when it comes to climate change is that the notion that suddenly everything now gets hotter or colder or wetter is not the norm; what we find is that the incidence of high variability comes into play. The consequences for agriculture and basic food production across our growing regions and across the world are plain to see. The impacts on our way of life, our society and our economy are clear. Agricultural food production is threatened. This has more to do with our lack of ability to predict where it is important for us to grow food than we do at the moment. We know where the food bowls are and we base our production there. Water scarcity is the next issue and one that has been raised significantly by Shell. I referred to Jan VanderMeer, the head of Shell, about a year and a half ago, and the global political insecurity as a result of climate change and the demand for water and food and where that may lead.

We all need to adapt to these pressures. The tipping points are runaway climate change and catastrophic, unpredictable change. Some of the risks that I have discussed are ones that we will need to adapt to. We certainly need to put in place adaptation plans because we cannot deal with the problems that we have already created. These are facts that our children and grandchildren will have to work and learn to live with in the future. Some of them are consequences we seek to avoid by taking strong action on carbon emissions now. If we fail to take action now, we face continuing increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, and increasing global average equilibrium temperatures. Down that path are the tipping points of abrupt, irreversible, runaway climate change. When I say irreversible, I mean in the time frames that are relevant for human beings. These things are reversible in the long term but we need to be dealing with them in a time frame that acknowledges our human existence.

Beyond a narrow range of temperature increase, the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will be committed to irreversible meltdown. If this occurs, there will not only be very significant sea level rises—there have been many predictions around that—but also fundamental changes in the ocean currents which today dictate much of our weather. I take members back 17 500 years to the last ice mass. At that time we saw 500 to 1 000 years of drought here in Australia. We also saw in the European region ice sheets that did not start retreating until about 17 000 years ago. It might amaze members that even in our recent history, in the past 10 000 years we have seen the ocean come in from 140 kilometres further out. Indeed, it came in to an even higher level, about a metre higher, about 2 000 years ago. Up until about 50 years ago, it has been retreating again. In fact, if we look at our whole global cycle, our oceans should be retreating at this time. Now they are rising.

Scientific modelling shows that there is a threshold of about a two-degree temperature rise after which dieback in the Amazon rainforest rapidly increases from 20 per cent to 60 per cent and compounding impacts of drought, fires and insect infestation, in essence, destroys the “lungs of the earth”. The Indian summer monsoon is influenced by the temperature of the Indian Ocean. Some modelling predicts sudden switches in strength and location of the monsoonal rains. Over one billion people are reliant on these rains each year for food production. If the rains suddenly switch or change their pattern of deposition, the consequences are catastrophic. That is why internationally there is talk of a two-degree guardrail. This is something that all the climate change modellers and governments around the world are working to ensure that we do not go above. We are talking about a two-degree change in the global average temperature, not a two-degree change here in Australia or a two-degree change in the Antarctic. The average temperature of the planet is approximately 15 degrees. Again, there is a little bit of debate around that—it ranges from 15 degrees to about 15.24 degrees. Even with a two-degree temperature rise we are already talking about a 13 per cent change in global climate. Two degrees does not sound like much, but historically the difference between an ice age, and a warm age like ours is five to six degrees in the average equilibrium temperature of the Earth. Even a two-degree increase will see climate change impacts that we need to adapt to. An increase of more than two degrees and the scientists warn of dangerous, catastrophic climate change. This is not a question without answers. It is not a picture without hope. It is an urgent call for action.

Scientists hand the question of what to do over to us—politicians and leaders of our community. Scientists do not dictate policy to governments of any sort. It is up to governments to listen to the scientific community, hear what they have to say, assess their evaluation and act prudently on them. Scientists pass on this clear message: humanity has a budget of 1 trillion tonnes of CO2 that can be released from the year 2000 to the year 2050 and retain a 75 per cent chance of keeping temperature rise to two degrees or less. Already we have used 30 per cent of the budget, and we are only 10 years into a 50-year budget period. We need to be working towards a zero carbon economy by 2050. Some would say, “Why a zero carbon economy? That sounds so extreme. Surely a reduction in carbon emissions is sufficient.” The sobering reminder is to understand that reducing emissions does not reduce CO2. It merely slows the rate of accumulation. We need to cut emissions to zero or very near to zero to stabilise the CO2 in the atmosphere at levels that it is now. Cutting emissions to zero does not mean the CO2 that is already released will disappear. That is why this decade is critical. We need to take action now so that 2020 is the peak of total emissions, not the peak of our emissions, and there are steady reductions from there.

I think the message of why it is so necessary is coming most clearly from young people in our community. The Australian Youth Climate Coalition has 2 815 members here in WA. They are all young people. When one compares that with political parties, it suggests that an organisation that was formed in late 2010 has more members than just about any political party in the state. This is a part of a message from them. Somewhere in Australia today there is a young person, and she has learned about climate change. She feels overwhelmed. She is worried that the world she is seeing now is not the one she wants to inherit. She sees that the people who are supposed to protect her are leaving her generation to clean up the mess. Like many young people, she believes that the old way of doing things does not have to be the only way of doing things. To change things will take courageous leaders—leaders prepared to listen to the voice, to do what is necessary, to take on the lobbyists, the opinion makers, the rich and the powerful who are used to calling the shots. It will need leaders who realise that in the competition between the past and the future, it is a better idea to back the future; leaders who are prepared to protect her generation, a generation who demand they be brave. That is a message from the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. I hope that this house can show some of that leadership, because it is most definitely needed in Western Australia.

It is business as usual in Western Australia. At the last official count, as stated by Australia’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory, Western Australia’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions were 79.5 million tonnes per annum. Under current government policy, greenhouse gas emissions are likely to double. If projected annual greenhouse gas emissions from five new gas and five new coal projects already planned in WA are combined with the likely emissions resulting from Western Australia’s increased per capita energy demand, projected population increases and the emissions of numerous other small resource projects, Western Australia’s total annual greenhouse gas emissions could double within the next five years to more than 150 million tonnes of CO2 per annum. This will be our contribution in this critical decade.

Our national Kyoto commitments were to not exceed an eight per cent increase on our 1990 emission levels. From my recollection, our 1995 emission levels were around about 54 million tonnes per annum, and we are looking at trebling those levels. We are a boom state in a prosperous nation; we can afford to make the changes now that we will need to make. To continue with business as usual is inexcusable, and it will rightly make us pariahs on the international stage. Already, Belgium is indicating the possibility of sanctions against countries that do not take climate change seriously. Those views are permeating among the European Union.

But solutions are within our reach, and bring with them very real opportunities for our community and economy. Western Australia has abundant—excessive—renewable energy sources. We have some of the best solar radiation resources in the world, with eight to 10 hours of sun a day. We live in one of the sunniest places in the world, and we have the land space available to establish concentrating solar thermal power plants—one of the ways of the future. Solar thermal power plants now have the capacity to store energy and provide around-the-clock power. There are plants already operating around the world on a commercial scale with the same, or larger, capacity as a typical coal-fired power station. The future is bright for decentralised solar photovoltaic power as well. In spring 2009, a standard crystalline silicon photovoltaic module cost about $4.20 per peak watt; today it is $1.70. Its forward pricing is $1.35 for the end of 2011, and its forward pricing for mid-2012 is $1.

Wind power is one of the cheapest and most commercially advanced renewable energy technologies, and it is used as a major power source in more than 70 countries. Western Australia has abundant wind resources on the south west and west coast, and in many inland areas. Although wind currently makes up only two per cent of electricity generated in Western Australia, it could provide much more.

We have all heard of Carnegie Wave Energy. Wave power, although not as commercially developed as wind and solar power, is widely recognised to have major potential as an electricity source for Western Australia. Regular storms in the Southern Ocean deliver constant swells to our shoreline, making our wave energy highly predictable and reliable. Near-shore wave energy could meet Australia’s current electrical needs four times over. That information comes from the Office of Energy’s renewable energy handbooks. Fremantle-based company Carnegie Wave Energy has developed the CETO wave energy system, which will cause waves in excess of one metre to produce reliable energy. Most of the southern half of Australia receives two-metre swells for at least 90 per cent of the year. Carnegie estimates that the coastline between Geraldton and Bremer Bay could produce more than five times the peak power demand on the electricity grid supplying the south west interconnected system.

Geothermal energy has great potential to meet Western Australia’s energy needs, either in the form of geothermal electricity or through a variety of direct-use applications, in which heat from the earth is used to replace other forms of energy. WA is one of the oldest granitoid cratons in the world and provides some of the best environments for this technology. Although relatively undeveloped in Australia, geothermal energy is widely used around the world. Unlike intermittent renewable energies, such as wind and solar photovoltaic, geothermal is a constant source of energy. There are also vast amounts of it. Geoscience Australia calculates that there is sufficient energy within five kilometres of the earth’s surface to supply 2.6 million years of energy to Australia, based on current energy supply.

In relation to bioenergy, mallee eucalypts have long been recognised in Western Australia as beneficial for improving dryland salinity. More recently, the Verve Energy one-megawatt integrated wood processing plant at Narrogin demonstrated that mallees could be burnt using pyrolysis to produce bio-oil and syngas for generating electricity, along with a by-product of high-quality biochar, which is a form of charcoal that can sequester carbon from the atmosphere. A recent study found that 10 per cent of the Western Australian grain-growing region planted with oil mallees could produce 17 per cent of the current annual electricity generation on the grid supplying the south west interconnected system.

It is therefore critical to support these industries. Critical to supporting these industries is a clear policy framework; targets for renewable energy production; and a gross feed-in tariff to ensure that renewable energy generators receive a fair price, which drives innovation in the sector. The growing renewables industry can also bring significant jobs growth to WA.

The Climate Institute assessment of the prospects for renewable energy in WA predicted 4 700 new jobs by the year 2030, with more than 1 000 permanent ongoing jobs, 3 000 construction jobs and 660 manufacturing jobs. Under the Beyond Zero Emissions national stationary energy plan—a fully costed plan developed by engineers—construction of solar plants would create 65 000 direct jobs across Australia during the peak installation period, based on real world employment figures from SolarReserve’s molten solar power projects announced for Rice in California and Tonopah in Nevada. In addition, if just half of the heliostat manufacturing occurred within Australia, another 7 000 jobs would be created nationally in this industry, which could then be continued by offshore exports once domestic demand declined. Once the solar plants were brought online, another 28 000-plus jobs would be created in operating and maintaining the plants, including both on and off-grid plants. The BZE plan proposed two of the 12 Australian solar thermal plants in WA; therefore, we could expect to see thousands of those jobs in WA over the coming decades.

Much of Western Australia’s population is concentrated along the south and lower west coasts, which are also where the best wind resources are. Under Beyond Zero Emissions’ national plan, which assumes 50 per cent of wind turbines are made domestically, initially more than 22 000 manufacturing jobs would be created nationally, and these would grow as the wind energy industry grows at 1.5 per cent a year thereafter. Another 7 000 jobs would be created installation and more than 17 000 permanent jobs would be created in operating and maintaining the wind farms. Beyond Zero Emissions proposes that four of the 22 wind generation sites nationally would be situated in Western Australia. This would mean that, proportionately, there would be 4 000 jobs in turbine manufacturing in Western Australia initially, which would grow thereafter, and more than 1 200 jobs in turbine installation and more than 3 000 permanent jobs in operations and maintenance. The BZE plan rolls out construction over 10 years, so the construction job figures are high. I agree with its urgency, but if it is rolled out over a longer period, construction jobs will be lower per year with sustained jobs demanded over a longer period.

This is a state government that prides itself on supporting industry, facilitating development, growing business and cutting red tape. Where is the support in this budget for renewable energy and the renewable jobs that come with it? What we see in this state budget is a limited feed-in tariff first halved and then suspended indefinitely. My office has received many calls from the solar industry operators who are very concerned about the prospects for their businesses. I will address these in detail in my response to the motion before the house. Suffice to say, the government’s decision to axe the feed-in tariff risks sending renewable industry to the wall, with significant job losses and with lost opportunity for significant regional development, because it is in this region that the renewable energy industry will boom when supported properly by government.

Where is the funding in the budget? The funding in this budget is overwhelmingly skewed to fossil fuel development. The amount of $124 million is the government’s committed funding for the James Price Point gas hub. The Browse Basin development is projected to emit 7.1 million tonnes to 32 million tonnes of CO2 per annum. We are therefore subsidising CO2 emissions. The amount of $8 million is committed to Anketell North, which is projected to emit 10 to 15 million tonnes per annum once it hits production of 25 million tonnes of LNG per annum. Verve has been allocated $225 million over the forward estimates for its fossil fuel portfolio, including $88.9 million for the Muja power station; our state is reopening the oldest, dirtiest, most carbon-intensive part of this power station. In comparison, Verve has a budget of $21 million for renewables to complete one wind farm. This budget, which I remind members is the budget of the critical decade, shows no investment in sustainable energy over the forward estimates—beyond this year. Simply no investment is budgeted beyond this year. This is the kind of decision that the next generation is rightfully furious about. Let us redirect to renewable energy the massive subsidy this government is currently pumping into fossil fuels. It is a subsidy whichever way we look at it and, if it is redirected in the proper manner, it is a subsidy for our future and our future generations.

Energy efficiency is well regarded as the low-hanging fruit—the easy, quick and effective way of reducing our energy consumption. That is how to maintain our enjoyable quality of life without it costing the earth. KPMG prepared an Australia-wide report for the Brotherhood of St Laurence, which costed a proposal for a national energy efficiency program to assist low-income households. The rollout is proposed to deliver energy efficiency improvements valued at $2 000 to 3.5 million low-income households. The energy efficiency improvements include compact fluorescent light bulbs, insulation and other weatherproofing and, in some cases, efficient refrigerators. This plan alone was projected to lead to the creation of 40 000 new jobs nationally, in direct employment of program workers as well as manufacturing and retail. This is the kind of project we should see funded in our state budget.

Our public housing currently operates at an average two-star rating, meaning the poorest families in our state have some of the highest electricity costs and little capacity to change that. The rest of the country has already adopted a mandatory six-star rating for new housing, yet this state government has sought a two-year phase-in for the boom state of WA. Why, when we are in boom times? Let us make the down payment on the future needs of our community. Let us invest in energy efficiency. We turn to the state budget only to see that the Office of Energy no longer has targets for energy efficiency. Questioned in estimates, the minister accepted there were no longer any targets because there were no funded programs addressing energy efficiency. This is in the critical decade. This is in the decade that scientific consensus tells us is the decade that will determine the future not only of this state and this nation but also the future of our world.

I refer to public transport. Perth has long held the tag of a city of cars; a moniker that is hard to shake given our urban sprawl and dependency on roads, but one we have been doing well to shift with the development of our public train system. After all the brickbats, I congratulate the government on plans for light rail feasibility studies. What we need to see now is the plans backed with funding and an implementation plan. This again is one of the new, clean, green technologies that is climate friendly. This also brings great benefits to our capital city. Light rail promotes thriving communities with hubs and nodes for small business and entertainment areas. It promotes safer streets and a more vibrant community life. Light rail cities can cut 25 per cent of transport-related carbon emissions, so it is an investment in the future.

Let us see the investment in public transport that communities are calling for. That is what this critical decade demands. Fossil fuels were laid down during the era of the dinosaurs, and before that. We must now step out of that mindset into a new era lest we sacrifice our planet for short-term profits.

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