GREENS MOTION: Climate Change

Today Mark moved a motion noting the release on 8 October 2018 of the Special Report on Global Warming by the International Panel on Climate Change, which confirms that we need to act fast to avert a climate catastrophe.


That this council—

1. Notes the release on 8 October 2018 of the Special Report on Global Warming by the International Panel on Climate Change, which confirms that we need to act fast to avert a climate catastrophe;

2. Recognises the clear and urgent recommendation in the report that the entire planet needs to move to zero emissions by the middle of this century, including rapidly phasing out fossil fuels and in particular the burning of coal for energy, if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change;

3. Acknowledges that South Australia has led the nation in the development of alternative renewable energy sources but that leadership is being undermined by the state government's continued support for the fossil fuel industry, including the exploitation of new fossil fuel reserves and new fossil fuel power stations; and

4. Calls on the South Australian government to develop a roadmap for decarbonising the South Australian economy by 2050, including the phase-out of fossil fuel exports and all grid-scale fossil fuel power generation, together with a firm commitment to no more bad investments that harm the environment.

When the international panel on climate change released its latest report on global warming just last week, the gravity of its findings and the enormity of the task ahead appears to have been so shocking to the federal government that it was reduced to a catatonic state.

According to medical literature, a person in such a state often appears to be in a stupor. They may be observed holding a rigid position; they may be affected by mutism; and, again, according to medical authorities, this mutism may manifest itself as a complete inability to speak, or it may be partial. In those cases the sufferer may repeat meaningless phrases or speak only to repeat what someone else says.

Being in a catatonic state is an awful predicament and urgent treatment is required. I use this medical metaphor because it so accurately describes the government's response to the most significant existential threat facing life on this planet. Whilst other nations' leaders have been spurred into action by this report, the Australian government is hopelessly unresponsive, inadequate and ineffective: it is catatonic.

The motion I have moved today is in four parts, and to paraphrase the motion: it notes the report; it recognises the task ahead of us to stabilise the world's climate; it acknowledges South Australia's declining reputation in responding to climate change; and, it calls on the state government to get with the program and lead our state into a bright future by being part of the solution to climate change rather than the problem.

So let us look, first, at what the world's scientists have said. The report has been widely reported in the media since it was released on 8 October. One of the more succinct summaries was from journalist Sophie Vorrath from Renew Economy, and she says:

As Australia's Prime Minister plays with lumps of coal and prays for rain, a major new scientific report has called for the urgent world-wide phase-out of fossil fuels, as the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5ºC drifts rapidly and dangerously out of reach.

The report—more than three years in the making, via more than 91 authors and editors who reviewed more than 6,000 scientific papers and 42,000 comments—was tabled on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

And it makes for sobering reading.

The key finding is that, if we are to have any hope of stabilising global warming at 1.5ºC, global emissions of carbon dioxide must reach net zero by [the year] 2050.

One of the authors of the report, co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Jim Skea, said in the press conference from South Korea on Monday:

Limiting warming to 1.5ºC requires changes on an unprecedented scale. It means deep emission reductions in all sectors, the use of a wide range of technologies, behaviour changes and a significant increase in investment in low carbon options.

The report also points out that the scale of action that is required is unprecedented on a global scale. While there had been examples in the past of where rapid change is required, and specific technologies have advanced at a rapid rate, there is no precedent in our documented history for the rate of change at the scale required for limiting warming to 1.5º. In other words, we have never before witnessed such widespread, rapid transitions, and they will need to be made across the energy, land, industrial, urban and other systems, as well as across technologies and geographies.

So it is a sobering report. Some people might say that the heart of it was about the difference between 1.5º of warming and 2º of warming; surely, that cannot make that much difference. The report clearly says that it makes a huge amount of difference. For example, the difference between 1.5º of warming and 2º of warming is a 10-fold increase in the amount of ice-free years in the Arctic. In other words, if we can limit global warming to 1.5º, then the number of sea ice-free Arctic summers would be one in 100 years; at 2º of warming it becomes one in 10 years. It is ten times worse with half a degree. Half a degree will double the number of vertebrate species that go extinct. Half a degree will double the number of plants that we lose across the globe, and there will be three times as many insect species lost to extinction with just half a degree of extra warming. So the stakes are very high.

Let's explore what governments have done. I will start with the federal government and then we will move to the state government. I will start at the top with the Prime Minister.

An honourable member: Which one?

The Hon. M.C. PARNELL: I will start with the current Prime Minister, Mr Morrison. He was asked to respond to it and was asked whether the government was going to invest. He was quoted in the media as saying that they were not going to spend any money on climate change conferences and 'all that nonsense'. So the current Prime Minister says 'all that nonsense', and I think one of his predecessors used the words 'complete crap' to describe climate change. They are not taking this seriously at all.

We go down to the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael McCormack. He said that Australia would not be dictated to by 'some sort of report'. This is the International Panel on Climate Change: 91 scientists, three years and all of the thousands of scientific reports and tens of thousands of comments that they have incorporated into their work. Then we go down to the current Treasurer and former energy minister, Josh Frydenberg. He said:

If we take coal out of our energy system, the lights will go out on the east coast of Australia—it's as simple as that.

That is what I believe is called a straw man argument, because no-one has ever suggested that we simultaneously flip switches at every coal-fired power station in Australia. Of course, if you did that, all at once, with no planning, the lights would go out, but no-one is suggesting that. It is about phasing out and doing it as quickly as we possibly can. Those responses I have referred to are from government ministers. If we go to the Coalition backbench it gets even better. Coalition backbencher Craig Kelly probably, more accurately than anyone else, summarised the collective view of the conservative wing of the Liberal National Party. He said:

The climate was always dangerous. We didn't make it dangerous, [and] it's fossil fuels that protect us from that climate.

I think he may have been referring to air conditioning, which I guess maybe makes you a bit cooler if climate change has increased temperatures and we are suffering, as we know we will, increased numbers of heatwaves. Really, these people are in power. They are in Canberra, and they are in charge of the nation for the time being. It really is quite remarkable.

I am not going to let the Labor Party off the hook entirely, because their response, although perhaps not as bad, is that they are refusing to get Australia out of coal. The number one recommendation of the IPCC was to get out of coal, and the Labor Party is not prepared to do it. They have been lukewarm over Adani, they are completely hopeless when it comes to coal exports and they are not committing to what the IPCC says we need to do.

Really, the political leadership in Canberra is hopeless. I will quote one commentator, Mr Brian England. People might say that this is a person with a self-interest, but I think we need to take him seriously as he is the chairman of Australia's Solar Energy Industry Associations. These are people who are leading the charge in trying to decarbonise the economy and increase the transition to solar energy. There are similar quotes from the wind industry. The national chairman says:

The Coalition…government, from the leadership of Tony Abbott through to the current PM Scott Morrison, have ignored advice from reputable and overwhelming voices regarding impacts of climate change and the need to address it, to favour fossil fuels over renewable technologies.

They have vacillated between paying lip service to climate change through to ignoring it or panning it. They have used outdated data to support their ideology, they have used outdated costing of renewables to support their ideology, they have used outdated technology to support their ideology and have used sections of the media with the same myopic view point to try and harness public support.

Even if a catastrophic future outcome was only partially possible, rather than a certainty under business as usual, you would expect a responsible government to undertake a risk assessment and undertake measures to minimise that risk. This government does neither.

From a global point of view, we are a laughing stock of political ineptitude, with a climate policy so lacking that poor developing countries are exceeding our goals.

Since a cost of carbon was removed by this government, our emissions have gone from falling to increasing and many independent national and international bodies have shown that our capacity to meet a limit of 1.5C degree rise in temperature with business as usual is impossible. The States are fed up with the COALition's lack of vision and action and are undertaking the move to renewables themselves.

I will come back to that point, because I think it is only partially correct. We should look at the response from the state government. I think the response is probably best described as tumbleweeds. We have had silence from the state government. Parliament has been sitting for a couple of days now. I sit at the edge of my seat waiting for the ministerial announcement from the Premier or the energy minister as to how we as a state are going to take this Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report seriously and what we are going to do about it. It is not on the agenda. The Greens have put it on the agenda; the government has not. It should be number one on the agenda of both houses of parliament.

The response by just about everyone, other than federal ministers, has been one of disbelief, dismay and even disgust at the lack of action on the part of governments. In relation to the federal Liberal coalition in particular, people are dismayed that they are so hopelessly wedded to fossil fuels and the big companies that donate vast sums to their election campaigns and employ so many of their former ministers and MPs as lobbyists. I will give you a couple of the headlines from the last week: 'Our leaders are destroying our future'. I think that sums it up. Another one is: 'In the face of sustained government stupidity, many feel powerless'.

The third part of this motion acknowledges that South Australia has led the nation in the development of alternative renewable energy sources but that that leadership is now being undermined by the state government's continued support for the fossil fuel industry, including the exploitation of new fossil fuel reserves and new fossil fuel power stations.

I actually drafted this motion some days ago, before the ABC came out with the headline yesterday at 3.13pm, so after I had given notice of motion. The ABC's headline was 'South Australia's clean energy ranking slips according to Climate Council scorecard'. The ABC report says:

After years of claiming to be the nation's renewable energy leader, South Australia is now sharing the title with Tasmania and the ACT, according to a new scorecard issued by the Climate Council.

According to the report, the state's rating fell after the new Liberal State Government dropped the state's renewable energy target.

The report—Powering Progress: States Renewable Energy Race—rates states and territories based on their performance across a range of metrics including percentage of renewable electricity, proportion of households with solar panels and policies that support renewable energy.

The report goes on to say:

'South Australia's rating has fallen because the new State Government has dropped its renewable energy target of 50 per cent by 2025. That is unfortunate as the state is on track to achieve it easily and early,' climate councillor Professor Andrew Stock said.

The professor says:

'South Australia is on the world stage as a number one Australian destination for renewable energy, storage, innovation and investment. The state leads mainland states in cutting power emissions and the energy transition.

The Government needs to recommit to renewable innovation targets to continue to hold its pole position.'

So not all is lost: we are now on an equal footing with one other state and one territory. What the final part of my motion calls for is for the South Australian government to develop a road map for decarbonising the South Australian economy by 2050, including the phase-out of fossil fuel exports and all grid scale fossil fuel power generation, and to do that along with a firm commitment to no more bad investments that harm the climate. That might sound very reasonable, and people may think the government will do that. Well, their track record shows that they will not. What is the state government doing? Approving underground coal gasification.

We have the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change saying, 'Get out of burning coal,' so what do we do in South Australia? We give a company a permit to set fire to the coal seam under the ground, and hope to goodness that all of the gas and pollution will be caught in a pipe and managed. We know this project ended in disaster in Queensland and it defies belief that it has been approved, in trial form, in South Australia. Unless the community can stop it, or unless the government sees reason, there is a real fear that they will be given a commercial licence to continue to burn Leigh Creek coal under the ground.

The government is also approving fossil fuel power stations. Over the past year or so, I have been making representations to planning authorities, urging them not to support new fossil fuel power stations in South Australia, including a new power plant in Reeves Plains near Mallala. When I gave my representation to the State Planning Commission, I pointed out all of the climate change policies the government had adopted that spoke against approving new fossil fuel power stations.

Under freedom of information, we finally found out what the Planning Commission said to the minister, who was the final arbiter. They basically said, 'Well, people in the community'—meaning me—'have raised issues of climate change but we can't possibly take that into account.' The State Planning Commission cannot take climate change into account when it is approving developments in South Australia. What a remarkable situation.

Members will recall that one of the things we did in this chamber was require the State Planning Commission to prepare a state planning policy on climate change. The chamber supported this amendment to the Planning, Development and Infrastructure Bill. The Planning Commission has released a draft of that policy, and it is completely inadequate. As such, I have lodged a submission, which you can read on the Planning Commission's website.

If the main group of people in this state whose job it is to say yes or no to developments, including things like new power stations, cannot take climate change into account, what is the point? What is the point of any of us taking climate change seriously if the government is going to nobble key agencies? I include the EPA in that as well. Carbon pollution and other greenhouse gasses are not regulated by the EPA. I tried to include that in the legislation over 20 years ago and was laughed out of the room. That predates all of these IPCC reports. The EPA needs to be let off the leash, and planning authorities need to be instructed to take climate change into account when they are considering developments.

The commonwealth Parliamentary Library did the sums and worked out that 12 coal-fired power stations throughout Australia need to be closed. We certainly do not need more coal-fired power, as is being proposed in Leigh Creek as part of their underground coal gasification project. I think we need to do what economist Jeffrey Sachs said on ABC's Q&A the other night:

Make a plan, make a time line, tell the world how you're going to decarbonise, and then we'll all be happy to hear from Australia that there's really a plan.

At present, there is no plan. The federal government is catatonic and the state government is not stepping up either. I will say one final thing. In my motion, I referred to the phrase 'No more bad investments.' That phrase is being adopted around the country by a range of conservation groups.

National legislation, which was drafted by environmental lawyers in Victoria, has been proposed for all the states and territories, and I will be bringing aspects of that to the parliament in the very near future. At the state level, we need to put our eye back on the ball. We need to pick up the slack that the commonwealth government has left. We cannot just shrug our shoulders and say that this international report is only a matter for national governments: it is matter for South Australia as well. With those brief words, I commend the motion to the house.