This morning, perhaps the most famous naturalist in the world, David Attenborough, addressed that conference and said: ‘It is a man-made disaster on a global scale and our greatest threat in thousands of years of human existence.’
Sir David Attenborough’s Address to COP24
This very grave statement by the most legendary naturalist on the face of the planet follows the recent publication of a confronting report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, which laid out the impacts of climate change at a level of two degrees Celsius of global warming on the one hand and 1.5 degrees Celsius following the Paris climate agreement of 2015.
That report shows that two degrees of global warming will have a devastating impact on our natural environment and human society as we understand it.
Just as one example, the IPCC has said that, at two degrees of global warming, more than 99 per cent of the world’s coral reefs will be destroyed—almost all of our world’s coral reefs will be destroyed.
Our own coral reef, the Great Barrier Reef, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, has already been subject to two major bleaching events in the last three years. And the Bureau of Meteorology only recently advised that there is a 70 per cent chance of an El Nino building in the Pacific over the course of the coming summer, which would place the reef under threat of a third major bleaching event in just four years. Before these last three years there has been only one major bleaching event in the recorded history of the Great Barrier Reef.
It’s not just the IPCC report that has underlined the gravity of even two degrees of global warming. The World Bank only a couple of years ago indicated that two degrees of global warming would wipe out as much as 20 per cent of global cereal production, including fully 50 per cent of cereal production on the continent of Africa, which, as we know, is already struggling to feed its people and will be the area where most of the world’s population increase over coming decades occurs. The grave thing about these reports is that we are not even close to tracking to keeping global warming below two degrees. At the moment we’re advised that we’re currently tracking to somewhere between three and four degrees of global warming, whose impacts are barely able to be imagined.
The world is now facing a climate emergency. This emergency won’t unfold over the course of the coming year or even few years; this emergency will unfold over coming decades, but we are starting to see the impacts of climate change now. Much earlier than 20 or 25 years ago we were advised that we’d see those impacts. We’re starting to see them now and they are frightening. Barack Obama said when he was President of the United States:
We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.
Last week here in Australia literally thousands of students, overwhelmingly with the permission of their parents, decided to take a day off school and march in the streets to protest at the lack of reasonable action by this parliament and this government. We all want kids to go to school, but I think on this side of the parliament we also understand the deep frustration that young Australians at school and beyond school age feel at the lack of action by our generation on climate change, particularly in this building. I talk to young Australians, as I know members of this House across the aisle talk to young Australians, all the time. I hear them saying just how let down they feel by our generation in dealing with something that they feel is going to be such a substantial issue over the course of what we hope will be their very long lives. They feel let down in an unforgiveable way.
None of us should fall for the rubbish that is often spouted by commentators—and unfortunately some on the other side of the House—that what Australia does doesn’t matter in this debate.
Yes, we are a small nation.
We don’t even rate in the top 50 of the world’s nations in population, but we rate in the top 15 in the total amount of greenhouse gases emitted from this economy.
We are a wealthy nation that has, along with other members of the OECD, grown wealthy on the back of long-term industrialisation.
We are the highest per capita producer of greenhouse gases.
If Australia won’t act and take responsible strong action on climate change, which nation on the face of the planet should be expected to act?
We have a deep responsibility in this area, as a good global citizen, a friend and a neighbour to communities in our region for whom climate change poses a threat.
As parents, grandparents, uncles and aunties we have a generational responsibility to do everything we reasonably can to ensure our children and grandchildren enjoy a natural environment at least as good as the one that we enjoy.
We are a wealthy nation, but it is in our own self-interest to act on climate change, because our continent is deeply vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
This continent already pushes us up right against the limits of human tolerance to heat.
This continent has agricultural regions that are deeply vulnerable to very clear structural trends, already identified by the Bureau of Meteorology and the CSIRO, in rainfall, particularly the Murray-Darling Basin region in eastern Australia and the Wheatbelt in the South West of Western Australia.
We largely live on coasts, with coastal communities that are deeply vulnerable to very quickly accelerating sea level rise, which over time will pose risks to literally billions and billions of dollars of assets. And we know that already the increase in heat events and other extreme weather events is posing a substantial risk to the health of Australians.
In this area, government action and government policy matter. When we were in government, carbon pollution levels came down by more than 10 per cent in those six years. We were the fourth most attractive investment destination in renewable energy. We had state governments in New South Wales and Queensland finally acting on an end to broadscale land clearing of remnant vegetation.
This government’s record could not be different. Carbon pollution has been rising since this government came to office and is projected to continue to rise all the way to 2030, which is as far as the government’s projections go.
The new climate change minister can’t even pinpoint a day on which she thinks carbon pollution might eventually peak.
We are now pretty much the only major advanced economy where carbon pollution and greenhouse gases are going up rather than coming down.
In spite of the Prime Minister and all of his ministers getting up at the despatch box and doing media conferences to say that we’ll meet our targets in a canter, no-one believes them.
Their own data doesn’t show it and the United Nations Emissions gap report 2018 from a couple of weeks ago doesn’t show it, because it simply is not happening. As Malcolm Turnbull said again today, as Rob Stokes said on the front page of The Sydney Morning Herald, this federal coalition is simply genetically incapable of taking climate change action. It is so deeply divided that it is incapable of taking action in this policy area.
It doesn’t have to be that way. The UK Conservatives understood that this was in the national interest. They’re tracking to a budget at around 2030 of not a five per cent reduction in carbon pollution, which is this government’s track record, but a 61 per cent reduction in carbon pollution. At the same time, they’re producing about three times as much steel as Australia and have 800,000 workers still working in the automotive industry—an industry that this government shut down in Australia—which demonstrates that decarbonisation and the maintenance of a strong industrial base are possible and are consistent with a strong, growing economy.
As Malcolm Turnbull has said, this coalition is just incapable. Its division, its ideological obsessions, are holding this nation hostage on a critically important policy area. The division in the coalition party room is holding future generations hostage. That’s why they were marching in the streets last week. Labor isn’t just ready. We’re not just ready to take action here; we are impatient to take action, because we know that this is in the national interest, that this is in our children’s interest, and that this is in our grandchildren’s interest. But to look after those interests, we need a change of government.
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