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Climate Change (State Action) Amendment Bill 2021

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 17 August 2022

Tags: Climate Change, Legislation

Dr WOODRUFF (Franklin) - Mr Speaker, in the context of this bill, I reflect on what a dark decade Australians have suffered under and those of us who think about the future - the scientists, the young people, the conservationists - have really suffered emotionally in the last decade as they have watched the sands of time disappearing through the hourglass, which is our planet's survival.

They have seen the science, and instead have had to watch nearly a decade of federal Liberal government doing everything it can to stall and undermine action on climate change whilst, at the same time, they are supporting and furthering the interests and the profits of the fossil fuel industry. We have become an international pariah. Our performance at the 2019 COP in Paris and the international agreement that was struck by all countries left Australia utterly on the sidelines. We have repeatedly ignored the warnings of the IPCC and our own Australian climate scientists, who are world-leading and take very significant roles in the preparation of the International Panel on Climate Change documents. I want to commend the Tasmanian scientists who are part of that work.

We have utterly ignored the warnings from the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, who is crystal-clear about the critical urgency of taking action to reduce global emissions and to prepare ourselves for the inevitable heating consequences to the climate system that are already baked in and will continue for decades and centuries to come.

We have had a federal prime minister who was absolutely deaf to the pleas of 34 of our frontline firefighters, ex-fire chiefs, who spoke up and asked for an interview with the then prime minister in February 2019 and who again went public in May 2019, calling for the then prime minister to listen and heed the upcoming season of devastating drought. The heat in Australia on the mainland was overwhelming and the drought conditions and the drying, as they tragically predicted, led to the greatest firestorms we have ever seen in Australian history. They led to the loss of billions of animals and hundreds of thousands of hectares of forests burnt in that inferno that went for months, yet we know from the climate science that that is a taste of our future, certainly within our lifetime.

The former prime minister, Scott Morrison, refused to listen and was prepared to let Australians suffer the consequences. When they did, he went on holidays. When there were extreme floods in New South Wales and Queensland earlier this year, there was no timely response from the Commonwealth, no intervention, just throwing distractions and pointing fingers at state leaders for not taking action. This is the sort of non-response which climate scientists and people who are intelligent and open and are looking at what is happening get frightened by.

It is not the Greens who are frightening young people or people in the community, it is the reality of what is happening to our climate that is so distressing. We have Schools Strike for Climate students who have been standing and calling this to our attention, doing everything they can to make us wake up as adults. I want to read a couple of students' letters who wrote earlier to Cassy O'Connor from The Friends' School. They are obviously young and said that that despite that, they are aware of the United Nations Environment Program's statement that said the likelihood of catastrophic wildfires globally could increase by a third by 2050 and by more than 50 per cent by the end of the century. They called for standing up for our planet and working to protect our future because if we do not, humans will only become an extinct species of the past.

Rebecca and Zohanas are two young Tasmanian students who are more than aware, sadly, of the reality of the world that they, in all likelihood, will grow up into. They ask us to do everything we can to take these matters into consideration because without them 'bushfires will prevail and our world will turn to ashes'.

We would dearly like our children to be writing a different type of letter to us as members of parliament. It is hard to read those stories and it is also hard to hear young people, like Owen Fitzgerald and Sam Eccleston, who are some of the many young people who have become great leaders of young people in their community standing up for climate action. It is sad to also hear that they have a pretty bleak view of what their future looks like unless we do something much more substantial.

Mr Speaker, why have we have had a decade of inaction at the federal level and why have we essentially had inaction from the Liberals in Tasmania? The Liberals came in after a Greens' climate change minister. A Greens' climate change minister, Cassy O'Connor, who introduced the most far reaching measures and legislation in Australia at the time. It set Tasmania up very well for the work that ought to have been done by the next government. The Liberals have dropped the ball. It has obviously been stalling on the State of the Environment report. We have no idea what the conditions and trends of the environment are. There has been no effective action on reducing the emissions that we can control in Tasmania.

The reason we have had such a dark decade was reported by the Australia Institute, which noted recently that fossil fuel subsidies in 2021-22, including support for the so-called gas-fired recovery and carbon capture projects - which are controversial - has risen 12 per cent to $11.6 billion. That is more than double the federal government's $4.8 billion emergency response fund and 50 times more than its outlay for the National Recovery and Resilience Agency. Shame on governments Liberal and Labor for putting their priorities behind coal and gas mining industries rather than putting their priorities into bringing down the emissions in the agriculture, transport, coal and gas sectors, and in Tasmania, the forestry sector. These are the big emitting sectors. This is concrete action that we can be taking.

If we do not do that, the IPCC was very clear that we have only a slim chance of avoiding heating above 1.5 degrees Celsius. It seems much more likely that if we do not do everything to reduce emissions in the next couple of decades, then 3 degrees warming is likely. That would be a catastrophe. We are on track for more like 4 degrees to 5 degrees Celsius, which with the current level of emissions in Australia is where we are heading. That is apocalypse territory.

The Artic has been 30 degrees Celsius and there has been rain there for the first time. The Antarctic has reached 40 degrees Celsius. Most of Europe at the moment is on fire or in the most severe drought that they have ever experienced. Italy's Po River, which provides water to villages and agriculture, is very close to drying up in places.

We have a very likely risk of abrupt and irreversible changes to the Earth's systems. That would have huge impacts on human survival and the survival of all species on the planet. Scientists have said that the collapse of major Atlantic currents and of ice caps or of the Amazon rainforest cannot be ruled out. To prevent these tipping points every tonne of carbon dioxide matters. Everything we can do to remove emissions today will help move us slightly more away from the feedback effects facing us tomorrow.

I want to also mention the mental health and emotional burden of the people who are bearing witness to the changes that are happening, especially the climate scientists, the biologists, the conservationists, and the ecologists who have spent their whole life working in their field. They started their careers at a time when systems appeared to be stable, passed down by educational institutions for hundreds of years. Now these people are recording completely abnormal changes in the distribution of species, the loss of species and the behaviour of natural systems. These are the people who bring us the advice. Many of them are deeply traumatised by what they are experiencing and the dysjunction between the reality of the world as they are observing it and the actions that are not being taken to do something concrete and meaningful to take out emissions and to prepare to make ourselves as resilient as possible.

An independent review of the Climate Change (State Action) Act is meant to occur every four years. The last review was published by Jacobs Group in October of 2016. It made a number of necessary but entirely tepid recommendations to amend legislation. Despite that, it took two years for the Government to provide a discussion paper on its proposed actions and draft amendments. At the end of October 2018 we had the Government response and a discussion paper was released. There is nothing like a discussion paper or a review when you do not want to make a decision.

Two years after we got the review, there was a discussion paper about the recommendations in the review. There was one month for public consultation on that. After that was completed, another two years and it was 2020 and the next review was due. The Liberal Government had still made no action on the recommended legislative amendments from the previous review, despite the fact that we consider them to be inadequate. Not even those very weak amendments were legislated.

We are here today without having had the 2020 review. Another two years have gone by. The act's amendments are six years too late. There have been six years of purposeful stalling, of dithering. We have scientific knowledge that is utterly different to the 2016 review, and completely different to 2008 when the act was prepared. The world has changed.

Some of what Tasmania can do to reduce our emissions is in this bill. We welcome the things that are in here and we will support the legislation. There are huge gaps and huge missed opportunities. It is on that basis that we will be introducing a range of amendments to improve the bill. It does not recognise the urgency with which we need to reduce emissions in Tasmania. It does not legislate a statewide target for net zero emissions. We have been at net zero emissions for five years, so we reject the lack of ambition in this bill. Setting a target in seven years time in a global crisis is utterly offensive to anybody who understands the reality of the situation we are in. We will be amending that.

It is also deficient regarding the Climate Change Action Plan which is to be reviewed in five years' time without any mandated public consultation. That is offensive, completely ineffective and completely out of scale with the speed of the changes we have seen in the summer of 2020 on the mainland with the types of fires we are getting as a result of the heat in the system. It is completely out of touch with the extremity of the floods that occurred once, twice, three times and four times for some people in the Hawkesbury and Nepean rivers in New South Wales and the rivers in Queensland. It is totally out of touch with the desperate need to attend to some really thorny issues.

It is not a surprise that the Liberals in government would not want to go there, but we have to go there. We have to understand what we do when areas are flooded and all coastlines are inundated and people can no longer live safely in those areas. We must have an approach where we work with local councils to make decisions about no-go areas for planning developments about resettling houses or possibly communities, about redirecting whole roads as there are in many places in Tasmania. Certainly as a member for Franklin, I know there are many roads which will be dangerously undermined in the next 50 years, if not completely overwhelmed. We have to plan for that infrastructure now. It has to be a whole-of-state response; state and local governments have to be working together. There is no commitment to that work in this bill.

It also, incredibly importantly, does not legislate for sector-based targets. There is no reason given in the minister's second reading speech for why that was the case, it just says the Government will not legislate sector-based targets. Why would you not do that when all of the people who have made submissions to this bill have said to legislate sector wide targets. We have to have sector-specific targets because the current approach does not give us the capacity to deal with the emissions that are rising in sectors such as transport and that are likely to rise such as waste agriculture unless we do something about it.

We have seen from Tasmania's greenhouse gas accounts for 2021 that there are sectors that have industrial processes and product use that have gone up 19.5 per cent since 1990 to 2019. Our emissions from transport went up 17 per cent. There is zero plan for reducing transport emissions except electric vehicles in the government fleet, but when I asked questions about that in Estimates it was pretty clear there is not a real plan for making that happen because there is no money put aside in the budget to make sure that happens.

Mr Ferguson - There is, $4.5 million.

Dr WOODRUFF - There is not sufficient for the number of cars that are required in order to meet the target the Government has in place. It is not a target that is able to be achieved on the basis of the amount of money that has been put in by the Government. It is not a commitment that has been backed with anything substantial. We cannot expect that creating a fully electric government vehicle fleet is going to reduce the amount of emissions from transport in Tasmania that we have to be bringing down; it has to be much bigger than that.

The biggest silence in this bill and in the Government's whole approach to accounting greenhouse gas emissions in Tasmania is the failure to disaggregate the land use change and forestry sector. We have no official state estimate of the contribution of carbon emissions from native forest logging. The work that was just done by Dr Jen Sanger, the Wilderness Society, the Tree Projects and the Tasmanian Climate Collective has been reported. It is not yet peer reviewed, but we challenge the Government to have a response to this.

There has not been any evidence we have heard that would put any question on the figures that have been produced by Dr Sanger and we would relish a conversation with any Liberal ministers about the information that is provided in this report because it is extremely concerning. It shows that native forest logging in Tasmania is the highest emitting industry of all of our industries. That is what the science says, which is why there is complete silence from the Government. Native forest logging is equivalent each year to 1.1 million cars and that is 4.65 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emitted each year from native forest logging and burning.

It makes it by far the highest emitting sector in Tasmania; 1.1 million cars would be equivalent to two and a half times the emissions that come from our transport sector in Tasmania, and that includes all of Tasmania's cars, trucks, domestic aviation and shipping. That is a massive contribution and something we can do something about immediately. Only 1 per cent of our forest biomass gets turned into sawn timber which is used for building houses and furniture, just 5 per cent goes into what is called LVLs or laminated veneer and plywood, and of the rest of it, 60 per cent of it is left to rot on the forest floor or is burnt, with emissions entering the atmosphere from both of those sources, and the small proportion that is left goes into paper and cardboard which are very short-lived products, so just 1 per cent is so-called locked up as the carbon from our forest industry.

It has to stop. It is literally killing us. It is killing the opportunity for our children to live in a safe world. Through continuing the logging of native forests in Tasmania, we are actively creating the highest emitting sector, something we can stop immediately, unlike the other sectors in Tasmania. It is hard to find solutions to bringing down emissions from transport, it is hard to find solutions to bringing down emissions from agriculture. We can and we must do that, but it is very easy to stop native forest logging and transition people who are working in that industry into a sustainable industry, because at the moment the Government has no plan for them except to leave them on the sidelines in communities.

Tasmania can credibly claim to be one of the few jurisdictions that has achieved and exceeded net zero, and well done, but as we know and have just heard, that is a false estimate if we were to truly account for the emissions occurring from forestry. As a parliament, we have to consider the next climate act. I will read some words from Richard Ecclestone, a professor of public policy, and Megan Langridge, a policy intern. They have said:

Our message is we cannot be complacent and we must reduce emissions across the entire economy to meet the net zero at 2030 emissions target. We have, they say, a once-in-a-generation opportunity to establish Tasmania as a leader in climate action and sustainability, but it's an opportunity which is time-bound and will be lost in the absence of a clear commitment on the part of governments, businesses and individuals to decarbonise the economy and address climate change.

The bill we have before us is not a clear commitment to doing that. There are many ways it can be improved. We tabled the Greens' safe climate bill last year. It provides an excellent model for how this bill before us can be improved.

I note that a number of the ideas that we have had tabled and have mentioned over the last 18 months have appeared in various formations from different members and from the Government. We welcome that. We welcome improving legislation. The Greens will always be speaking up for science and the community and doing what we can to improve legislation, as are the Australian Greens in the new parliament in Canberra. We will continue to hold Labor and the Liberal parties to account on this matter. Both Labor and Liberal parties are equally committed at the moment to native forest sector logging and both parties are equally committed to backing and funding coal and gas mining. This has to stop.

Our amendments are principally based on the work of scientists at the University of Tasmania and Climate Tasmania, the volunteer group that has been working since they were officially disbanded in 2014. I thank those two groups of scientists in particular, and Climate Tasmania for all the work they have put into this bill and the many other people who made submissions, the Environmental Defenders Office, and the many individuals who wrote passionately and with a great deal of expertise about clear-sighted helpful things that need to be changed to make this bill the bill that Tasmania needs for the future.

Our amendments to bring forward the 2030 net zero target to 2023 require that there is a declaration of an absolute emissions reduction and require the declaration of sectoral targets. We will establish a joint standing committee and a climate change commission and require, through a number of other amendments, far better consultation from the public on the climate change action plan and a one-year turnaround for the Government to produce that.

This is a critical bill. We look forward to debating the amendments and making it the best bill that Tasmania needs.