Climate Change Policy - Adjournment Debate

November 12, 2009

Climate Change Policy - Adjournment Debate

HON ROBIN CHAPPLE (Mining and Pastoral) [5.01 pm]: In my contribution to the adjournment debate, I would like to touch on the malaise of climate change and climate change policy. I will refer to the general malaise affecting policy on climate change in this state, this nation and the world. Two reports with which I have recently come in contact prompted my desire to do this. I refer to a report from the German Advisory Council on Global Change—WGBU—which makes for alarming reading, and the recent report on Four Corners on Monday, 9 November, on the debate over Australia’s emissions trading scheme. As for the latter report, I could easily spend 10 minutes going after the climate sceptics on the other side of this house who appear to dominate thinking on climate change, but I will not. Perhaps I will do so in the future. However, I will make reference to one or more of the interesting quotes from that program. My notes indicate that Senator Cory Bernardi said —

The earth is not actually warming, we still have rain falling … we can go outside and not cook.

He has a complete misunderstanding of what climate change is about. I am curious about whether the good senator has visited the agricultural regions of New South Wales in the past decade. What struck me more forcibly about the Four Corners coverage was how the emissions trading scheme debate has almost exclusively hijacked the climate change discourse in Australia. This is the sort of wedging issue in which the media and pitbulls of the major parties love to indulge. Possibly, it is the only form of policy-making that they understand. Their actions have had the effect of muddying an issue that is exceedingly important to Australians and the world. No wonder Australians have become increasingly apathetic about climate change. They must be thinking that if the politicians are using climate change as an excuse to sling mud at each other, it cannot be serious.

The approach by Australian governments towards mitigating global warming has become so facile, so weak, so childish, so divisive and so removed from the reality of dangerous climate change that it is difficult to believe that either of the major parties has a mature understanding of the challenge that we, as a nation and a member of the global community, indeed as a species, face in the coming decades. I fear that at the centre of the major parties’ approach to climate change is either a lack of serious concern or—I will expand on this later—a profound lack of insight into the roots of the climate crisis.

I am aware that the other crisis, the fear of recession, has displaced climate change from the top of citizens’ list of concerns. The recent Lowy Institute poll makes that very clear. However, the waning of public concern over climate change versus the state of the economy can, at least in part, be attributed to the comparative vigour with which governments worldwide have responded to the financial crisis. Although the measures employed by governments to steady the economy have been fiscally and morally questionable, these measures demonstrate that public representatives—politicians—remain capable of responding to crises in a proactive, bold and authoritative manner.

The course plotted by the world’s leading economies in response to the 2008 financial crash not only has been painful to the populace, but also has in many respects transcended traditional party and ideological lines. The fact remains that the leading economies made these choices because their leaders knew that to waver in their leadership was to surrender, if not to fail. We have seen also that many governments have been capable of at least partially reining in the excesses of the private sector, where those excesses have pushed nations to the brink of fiscal oblivion, reversing 30 years of economic convention by nationalising private institutions. If the events of last year taught us anything, it is that the parliamentary institutions are, at their core, still capable of bold action, of transcending or at least suspending petty politics and of curbing the irresponsible practices inherent in a laissez-faire economy.

What strikes me as this year comes to a close is the contrast between the boldness of action on the global financial crisis and the lack of boldness in tackling the causes of climate change. In particular, I am struck by the reluctance of major parties in this country and this state to come to grips with the reality of dangerous climate change and the measures required to mitigate it as far as is still feasible.

My notes indicate that the latest German report by WGBU stated —

The vast majority of scientists —

These are the scientists who are part of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change —

now agree that if global warming exceeds a mean temperature of 2 ºC it will lead to dangerous, irreversible and practically uncontrollable consequences for both nature and mankind.

A total of 133 countries, including the 16 major economies and the European Union, have acknowledged the significance of this temperature limit.

As I said, this is a brand-new report that has just been released on behalf of the IPCC and WBGU. To continue —

Many of these countries have made it their target to limit the rise of the global mean temperature to 2 ºC or less as a guard rail for their endeavours in climate policy.

Latest research shows that there is only a realistic chance of restricting global warming to 2 ºC if a limit is set on the total amount of CO2 emitted globally between now and 2050 …

It has become widely accepted that the world must work towards climbing down from the current atmospheric CO2 equivalent levels of 384 parts per million. A widely quoted goal to achieve climate stabilisation has been 350 parts per million; a pragmatic target that would not, for example, have much chance of saving the Great Barrier Reef from bleaching but would keep us within the two degree guardrail set out in the German report. What have we seen as a response to the stark figures encapsulated in that report? We have seen a laughable carbon pollution reduction scheme. The response by the Australian government and the states to the reality summarised in that document shares one significant aspect with the response to the global financial crisis: it fails to penalise the worst perpetrators of the crisis or provide significant incentives to reduce emissions. In fact, Australia’s emissions trading scheme goes one step further and encourages the big emitters to continue to emit carbon. It is not for nothing that the Greens have labelled the CPRS the “continuing pollution regardless scheme”. Yet those in denial in the federal coalition will not even support these measures.

We have seen the freezing out of the renewable sector from significant commonwealth or state support, whilst the big emitters gain huge subsidies. We have seen the weak commonwealth and state incentives for Australians to reduce their carbon footprint. We have seen much rhetoric and consistently pathetic action on the part of every government in Australia.

What we have seen points to a malaise at the core of climate policy. The global despair over Copenhagen, even before the conference commences, indicates to me that, with some honourable exceptions, this policy malaise is a global one.

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