We must declare a climate crisis

October 21, 2019

I note that the last speaker, who rejected the science, couldn't even go the full five minutes on this very important topic, which yet again demonstrates the lack of seriousness the government has on climate change.

I want to start with a few facts—something foreign to those opposite.

The IPCC has already found that the world has warmed by one degree Celsius, compared to preindustrial times. Since 1998, we've had five mass bleachings of the Great Barrier Reef, and the years 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 were the warmest years on record. In fact, we have the highest greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere in 800,000 years.

Climate change is occurring, and it poses probably the greatest security threat to the planet and certainly to Australia.

That was set out in a seminal speech by the Chief of the Defence Force a couple of months ago, where he highlighted the fact that natural disasters are increasing in number, severity and range.

For example, Cook Islands, once considered outside the main cyclone belt, experienced five cyclones in one month.

Diseases such as malaria and dengue fever are on the rise in PNG. We are seeing an increase in sea temperatures and winds pushing tuna stocks westward, stocks which are critical to the economic livelihood of many Pacific nations.

The greatest example was around the Syrian civil war, where the great drought between 2006 and 2011—which was caused by climate change, according to scientists—pushed 1.5 million Syrians into cities, ramping up pressure on an already precarious political system.

In the next 10 years, scientists think that we'll see another half a degree of global warming, which will lead to food scarcity, displaced populations, disease spreading, a doubling of species extinctions and sea levels half a metre higher.

In fact, the CDF highlighted the fact that 81 million people will be negatively affected by changes to crop yields, several hundred million people will be driven into poverty and a quarter of a billion people will not have access to adequate drinking water. All this is obviously a catastrophe for the planet and will lead to an increase in conflict.

This is especially relevant in Australia, given that we live in the most disaster-prone region in the world.

The waters of the central Pacific are currently rising four times faster than the global average and this is obviously causing more flooding, erosion, inundation of living areas and contamination of aquifers and arable land.

Again, most of these statistics are not drawn from some environmental group; these stats are drawn from a speech by the Chief of the Defence Force—a Chief of the Defence Force held in the highest esteem by both sides of politics.

I have chosen to concentrate on this because anyone who professes to care about our national security should care about fighting climate change and should care about making sure Australia makes an appropriate contribution to the global fight on climate change.

I would submit that, for all their professed interest in national security, those on the other side are betraying our national security, as well as betraying future generations, by their attitude to climate change evident in an inadequate target, which they won't even meet.

But it's not just about national security; it's also about economic opportunities. For example, the University of New South Wales's technology around solar PV cells is resident within 60 per cent of PV cells around the world. Yet we didn't get a single job out of that innovation because John Howard and his government were so anti renewable energy.

There is a massive opportunity here. We can be an energy exporting superpower through direct export of electricity to South Asia and South-East Asia and through the export of hydrogen to places like Japan and Korea. We have the highest solar radiation of any continent in the world and we've got great wind and wave resources. So, when the world transitions to renewable energy, which is inevitably occurring, we can again be the land of energy-intensive manufacturing. That's a great opportunity.

We also have a great opportunity around the key inputs to renewable energy. We're the second-largest producer of rare earths. We have the greatest reserves of iron and titanium. We've got the second greatest reserves of copper and lithium and the third greatest reserves of silver. These are great opportunities for our mining sector. In fact, it takes 200 tonnes of coking coal to make one wind turbine. So there are even good opportunities for our coking coal sector around the transition to renewable energy.

So, whether it is from a national security point of view or from an economic opportunity point of view, we need to declare a climate emergency and we need to take urgent action, unlike those opposite.

You can view the speech here