Climate Change

Climate Change

(Matter of Public Importance, 6 August 2014, Legislative Assembly, NSW Parliament)

Last year was Australia's hottest on record. We had the hottest January and September. We also had the hottest summer and spring, and the second-warmest winter ever recorded. Climate change makes hot days hotter and heatwaves longer. A recent article in the Nature Climate Change journal predicts that El Niño weather events associated with drought, heatwaves and bushfire, will occur twice as often this century. Bushfires across the country, including the Blue Mountains bushfires in October last year, demonstrate how devastating dry hot conditions make bushfires.

Around the world there have been floods, typhoons and cyclones. An article in the November issue of the New England Journal of Medicine titled "Natural Disasters, Armed Conflict, and Public Health" stated there were three times as many natural disasters in 2000 to 2009 than there were in 1980 to 1989, with climate accounting for nearly 80 per cent of the increase and about 217 million people affected each year since 1990. Since 1850 average temperatures have risen by 0.8 degrees Celsius and each of the last three decades has been warmer at the earth's surface than any preceding decade since 1850. There is scientific consensus that the changing climate is caused by human induced greenhouse gas emissions—a view shared by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the CSIRO. The joint CSIRO and Australian Bureau of Meteorology paper titled "State of the Climate 2012" reported rising sea levels and the highest concentrations of carbon dioxide in 800,000 years.

Climate change threatens our environment, health, food and economy, and the life of future generations. The draft Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] report leaked in April warned that we are running out of time and that the cost to avoid warming above two degrees Celsius is less than trying to adapt. Most members of Parliament believe induced climate change is real and poses a major threat, but we have failed to establish the urgent action needed. Climate change is a major challenge. It will require leadership from each level of government in all developed, and many developing, countries. Governments must do all they can to significantly cut emissions. New South Wales should establish a plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The price on carbon emissions should not have been scrapped. It had been in place for more than a year with limited impacts and households received compensation to offset increased costs.

A price on carbon makes low carbon energy more financially viable and competitive, generating green innovation and jobs. Around 33 countries have some form of carbon pricing. Without a price on carbon it is vital that State and Territory governments take strong action. The New South Wales Greenhouse Gas Reduction Scheme was one of the first mandatory emissions trading schemes in the world. It began in 2003, but was withdrawn on 1 July 2012 when carbon pricing began. It required big polluters to offset emissions through investment in small-scale mitigation measures like efficient lighting or shower heads in homes. I share the call of environment groups for reinstatement of the scheme given the price on carbon has now been scrapped.

New South Wales should legislate for a strong 10-year greenhouse gas reduction target with annual goals. We should close the most polluting power plants immediately and plan for the long-term replacement of coal-fired power with greener renewable power. The State and Federal governments are co-investing in a massive solar energy infrastructure project at Broken Hill and Nyngan, but we must move beyond isolated projects. We must remove red tape and unnecessary regulations that limit investment in and uptake of renewable energy. I share the concerns of environment groups that homes as far as two kilometres away could prevent approval of new wind farms. We need a wind power policy that encourages investment and recognises its minimal impacts compared to coal.

I strongly welcome the New South Wales Renewable Energy Action Plan, but it must set a target for local generation, not just support achieving the national 20 per cent by 2020 target that the Federal Government could remove or weaken. There are no incentives for households to install solar panels since the closure of the Solar Bonus Scheme. The Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal [IPART] recommended price is only guaranteed for households already under the Solar Bonus Scheme. New households installing photovoltaic panels must negotiate with retailers for a price on excess solar energy returned to the grid, but some retailers rip off households. Energy efficiency provides enormous potential to cut emissions.

A 2008 McKinsey report suggests Australia could cut its greenhouse emissions by 20 per cent by 2020 from energy efficiency alone, and California's energy consumption has remained virtually static since the mid-1970s due to energy efficiency. We should strengthen energy efficiency targets and introduce ways to encourage more efficient buildings, including retrofitting older buildings and strengthening the Building Sustainability Index for apartments. New appliances should be subject to higher efficiency performance standards. Electricity company budgets should allocate a mandatory minimum for demand management given peak demand drives most infrastructure construction. Combatting global warming is essential to our economy, way of life and our children's future. This is the critical decade and the sooner we cut emissions, the cheaper the reductions will be. New South Wales, the Premier State, should lead nationally and globally.

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In reply: I thank the member for Port Macquarie and the Parliamentary Secretary for Renewable Energy for her contribution to the debate and for the Government's focus on renewable energy, which will result in opportunities for jobs and business growth in New South Wales. I thank the staff of the Minister for the Environment for meeting with me to discuss this issue. I thank the member for Marrickville for her contribution. I agree with her that this is one of the most pressing challenges that we face today. I thank the member for Balmain for his contribution. I know he is passionate about this issue.

I thank the member for Northern Tablelands for pointing out the importance of local communities taking action on this issue. The City of Sydney also does a great job in thinking locally and acting globally. As the member for Northern Tableland mentioned, Germany is moving ahead with a switch to renewable energy. I was recently in Germany as my husband comes from Germany. It is wonderful to see what is happening there. New South Wales can learn a lot from that example.

This is the critical decade. We must take effective action now to combat climate change or we will suffer the severe impacts. Tim Flannery, head of the Climate Change Council, stated on the release of the recent "Heatwaves: Hotter, Longer, More Often" report that "… when looking at heatwaves over the last 60 years things are getting worse. In a stable climate that would not be happening." The report finds that recent hot weather in Adelaide, Melbourne and Canberra has already reached levels predicted for 2030.

Drought has returned to parts of Australia and the rest of the world is experiencing catastrophic weather, from drought in California to floods in the United Kingdom. The ocean acidification caused by greater concentrations of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere threatens world fish stocks and the bleaching of protected coral reef sites. With climate change impacts being felt already, apathy is waning for many leaders. Recently China and the United States agreed to address climate change, work together on a common platform ahead of the global summit in Paris next year and share post-2020 greenhouse gas mitigation plans. This represents a major step forward in global climate change negotiations and brings real hope for future generations.

Australia's target to reduce emissions by 5 per cent by 2020 is inadequate, yet it is still uncertain how or even whether we will get there. The shift in approach from the United States and China, which collectively represent 40 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, I hope, will charge leaders here into action. Importantly the China-United States agreement will likely create a rapid increase in global demand for green technology and green energy, and New South Wales should be at the forefront of developing and exporting green innovation.

In an op-ed in the New York Times on 24 July Julia Baird argued that repeal of the carbon price proves that politicians in Australia "rarely choose to take the lead on tackling climate change" but instead "whip up fear". She refers to an Australian National University study showing a 1 to 2 per cent drop in carbon emissions from power generation due to the carbon price. Why, if it was working, was the price repealed, so leaving Australia with no clear climate policy? The gap in Federal action opens opportunities for State action. This Government must lead on policy and action with support across the Chamber. Human-induced climate change has catastrophic impacts for our economy and way of life but, because it is human induced, we can prevent it. We must act before rapid climate change commences.


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