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Speech on Climate Change Bill

On Wednesday 3 August 2022, I made a speech in Federal Parliament on the government's Climate Change Bill 2022. You can watch the speech here or read the full transcript below.

E WATSON-BROWN: One degree of warming—that is where we're at now, although, frankly, from the support that both the two major parties of this country give to the coal and gas industry, you wouldn't think it. You'd be led to believe we have all the time in the world. We don't. I said in my first speech last week that the arrival of my grandchildren spurred me into more direct political action. I want to speak up for their future, and everyone's. My beautiful grandkids are seven and nine years old. Without real, deep and rapid cuts to emissions, without a halt on new coal and gas projects, and a phasing-out of existing coal and gas, what world will they inherit? One degree of warming—at one degree of warming we already have unprecedented heatwaves and wildfires across large parts of Europe and the US. London reached 40 degrees. In mid-May, India hit 49 degrees, the highest India has recorded in 122 years. At one degree of warming, we're already seeing climate disasters affecting crop production and fuelling inflation. And, of course, at one degree of warming we have major flooding events at ever-increased frequency across Australia's east coast.

In the floods earlier this year, parts of my electorate of Ryan were inundated and in Indooroopilly, tragically, one person drowned. We saw damage to homes, businesses and public facilities in many parts of the electorate, disrupting lives and livelihoods. Even areas far from the Brisbane River were affected, such as Mitchelton's million-dollar all-weather football field and homes in Ashgrove and at Enoggera Creek. Between breakfast time and midnight on 25 February, Moggill Creek in Kenmore rose by nearly four metres, inundating Kenmore high school's oval, sweeping away years of creekside revegetation works, submerging tennis courts and lapping at the school's buildings much higher up the hillside.

But in Ryan it was not only those with direct damage from floodwater who were affected. The suburbs of Moggill, Bellbowrie, Pullenvale, parts of Pinjarra Hills and neighbouring areas were effectively isolated for days because of their dependence on a single arterial road, Moggill Road, which flooded at four points. The closure of the Moggill Ferry service because of the river conditions compounded the lack of access. Because their only route into the rest of the city was impossible, normal life was disrupted for thousands of residents and the delivery of food, medicines and other essentials was interrupted. Health and aged-care workers could not reach their places of work, exacerbating already problematic staff shortages and COVID absences. About 1,000 secondary school students were unable to reach their schools. The supermarket in Moggill began to run out of fresh food. But for the efforts of a GP sleeping on his surgery floor in Bellbowrie, even urgent primary healthcare would not have been available to many. Pregnant women had to be rowed across floodwater to reach the hospital and some schoolchildren stranded on the wrong side of the inundated area were separated from their parents.

Ryan was not the only electorate affected in our city, as the members for Brisbane and Griffith will attest. That flood came only a decade after the last so-called unprecedented flood in Brisbane. That's one degree of warming. That's the world my grandchildren already live in. They haven't known anything else. So what happens at 1.5 degrees of warming? We'll see an exponential increase in the frequency and severity of bushfires, floods, heatwaves and droughts, leading to loss of life and livelihood and mass forced migration from countries going underwater or whose economies are collapsing under the strain of crop failures. Do we really think that, once we are seeing rolling extreme weather events, the inflation due to supply-side shocks that we're seeing now will ever go away? How often will the people of Ryan experience major flooding events at 1.5 degrees of warming? How much more severe will they be? That could be as soon as the end of this decade. My two grandchildren will be 15 and 17. How much longer then till we reach two degrees of warming. That's likely by mid-century. My grandchildren will be in their 40s and 50s. What will that world look like?

If we want to find out what that future looks like, all we need to do is wait, because currently there are enough new coal and gas projects in the pipeline in Australia to blow well through our carbon budget and take us to that two- or even three-degree warming world. Forty-three per cent emissions reduction by 2030 is not enough, but, with the ratchet mechanism negotiated by the Greens, we may, over the next few years, be able to get it to 75 per cent by 2030 and, ultimately, to 100 per cent by 2035, which is in line with what is actually needed. The Greens will fight every step of the way to get there.

But it's also easy to be distracted by targets, and I fear a lot of this debate has been distracting us from the bigger issue, and that issue is new coal and gas. We cannot overstate the problem here: if all of the coal and gas projects currently in the pipeline go ahead, they will produce 30 times—that's right, 30 times—the emissions that the 43 per cent target will cut. Even if we exclude the emissions produced by burning this coal and gas overseas—and why should we?—these new coal and gas projects will still produce triple the emissions that the 43 per cent target will cut. Thanks to Ketan Joshi and the Australia Institute for those figures. New coal and gas projects will not only wipe out the emissions reductions of this bill but lead to Australia's emissions increasing.

What's really clear here, and it shouldn't need to be said, is that you cannot say you're trying to solve the problem while actively making it worse. This is common sense and this is understood by the people in my electorate and by people across Australia, but this basic common sense seems to be lacking among many members of this chamber.

Who benefits when we're distracted from the issue of new coal and gas? Glencore, BHP, Santos, Adani, Woodside—these vampire-like corporations are all salivating at the prospect of the billions in profits that can be made by opening up new coal and gas projects in this country, robbing the nation of its wealth while driving the climate crisis. To get a sense of how much power these corporations have, during the past seven years, five of the gas industry's biggest corporations have earned about $138 billion in revenue in Australia without paying a cent in corporate income tax. Just let that sink in. Who benefits from us being distracted from coal and gas? It's these huge multinationals, many of whom are donors to the Labor and Liberal parties. But who suffers from this distraction? My grandchildren, your children and grandchildren, everyday people whose homes get submerged in severe floods, everyday people whose whole lives get upturned by bushfires ripping through their communities, and everyday people whose cost of living goes through the roof because of repeated crop failures and supply chain disruptions from severe weather events.

The solutions are there: stop new coal and gas, disaster-proof our cities and phase out existing coal and gas while building new industries in publicly owned renewables, green steel and manufacturing. The prosperity that can come from this is absolutely enormous, but we have to break the stranglehold that fossil fuel corporations hold over our political system. I invite members of the Labor Party to have the courage to help us in the Greens break that stranglehold.

This bill, with the ratchet mechanism negotiated by the Greens, might—and I stress 'might'—represent the beginning of a genuine approach towards the deep and urgent emissions reductions that Australia needs. But that all depends on the government's steps over the next three years. Will Labor continue to back new coal and gas and wipe out even the lowball emissions reductions of 43 per cent? Will they continue to listen to their fossil fuel corporate donors handing them billions in public money? Or will they back everyday people? Will they back our grandkids and their grandkids? The current rhetoric from the government does not give one a lot of hope. But what does give one hope is that everyday Australians do want change. This election showed it. Whether politicians in this building like it or not, they must make that change, or the Australian people will replace them with people who are willing to do so.

On Thursday 4 August, I moved an amendment to the bill on behalf of the Greens. This amendment was supported by the government and passed as a part of the Climate Change Bill. You can read the full transcript of my speech putting forward the amendment here:

E WATSON-BROWN: I move amendment (1) to the Climate Change Bill 2022, as circulated in my name:

(1) Clause 15, page 10 (after line 5), after subclause (3), insert:

(3A) The advice given under subsection (1) must include an explanation of how the greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets have taken into account the matters set out in Article 2 of the Paris Agreement, including the global goals of:

(a) holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels; and

(b) pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

If we're to prevent catastrophic climate change, we must keep global temperature rises as low as possible and not pass dangerous tipping points. The Paris Agreement recognised this reality when it set the temperature thresholds that must not be crossed. Article 2 of the Paris Agreement committed countries, including Australia, to:

… Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change …

It is these temperature goals that must inform Australia's climate targets and therefore any assessment by the Climate Change Authority of what Australia's future climate target should be, including Australia's nationally determined contribution for 2035.

In 2014 the Climate Change Authority produced its progress and targets review, which, guided by temperature thresholds, assessed what Australia's fair share of emissions reduction should be to stay within those thresholds. The Liberals then stripped the Climate Change Authority of its requirement to advise on targets. We welcome the requirement that the Climate Change Authority once again advise on emissions targets, and it is critical that it now again adopts the same approach. This amendment will ensure that when the Climate Change Authority again provides such advice, as is required in this bill, it will follow the same approach as in 2014 and be explicitly guided by the Paris Agreement's temperature goals.

The amendment does this by adding a new subclause 3A to clause 15 of the bill, stating that the advice given by the Climate Change Authority under subsection (1) of clause 15 of the bill must include an explanation of how the greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets have taken into account the matters set out in article 2 of the Paris Agreement, including the global goals of (a) holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels and (b) pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.

The importance of the Climate Change Authority deriving Australia's target from the remaining carbon budget so as to meet the temperature goals of the Paris Agreement is reinforced by the inadequacy of the targets offered by governments in recent times. Climate scientists, using the same methodology as the Climate Change Authority, have determined that Australia's 2030 target to stay below two degrees would be 50 per cent and to stay below 1.5 degrees would be 74 per cent. This amendment requires this methodology to be once more followed by the Climate Change Authority.

In the course of negotiations by the Greens with the government on this bill, this amendment has been agreed to by the government, and I thank the government for their agreement to the amendment. I commend the amendment to the House.

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