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Climate Emergency Motion

Cassy O'Connor MP

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Tags: Climate Change, IPCC

Tasmanian Greens Climate Emergency Motion: O'Connor


* Video of the full debate can be found here


Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens - Motion) - Mr Deputy Speaker, it gives me no joy at all to read out the text of our notice of motion. I would like to acknowledge the presence in Parliament today of many young people, climate and environmental activists, people who spend large parts of their lives standing up for a safe climate and a healthy environment.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I move -

That the House:-

(1) acknowledges that the world is in a state of climate emergency.

(2) recognises the critical work of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

(3) agrees that global temperature rise must be limited to 1.5 degrees to minimise the worst impact of global heating.

(4) commends the United Kingdom, Ireland, the ACT Assembly and the 528 councils that have recognised the climate emergency.

(5) further agrees that Australia and Tasmania must take stronger, sustained action to lower our emissions and adapt to the reality of a world in a state of climate emergency.

(6) declares a climate emergency and calls on the Tasmanian Government to adopt strong targets backed by effective measures to reduce Tasmania's emissions and ensure that strong climate adaptation measures are implemented.

What the Greens are asking parliament to do today is simply to acknowledge the truth. The truth of it is that the world is in a state of climate emergency and that is why the United Kingdom Parliament, the Irish Parliament, the ACT Parliament and 528 councils around the world have acknowledged the truth and declared a climate emergency.

The science is oxygen clear. We have a decade to turn this sorry ship around. Global temperature has already increased due to human activity by over 1 degree Celsius. We are feeling the effects here in Tasmania. We have had floods that claimed lives. We have had fires caused by an increase in dry lightning strikes, most recently in 2016 and 2018, that have devastated the Tasmanian wilderness world heritage area and large chunks of our natural environment. We have had fruit fly incursions into Tasmania compromising our brand and our fruit fly free status. They are here because Tasmania is warming along with the rest of the world. We have experienced a marine heatwave on the east coast of Tasmania where waters are warming faster than most other places in the world and that will have an impact on aquaculture industries. It is already having an impact on the industrial salmon farming industry.

The world is in a state of climate emergency and that is why young people are rising up. They are standing up and demanding action. They are demanding action from their leaders. They want to know we will stand with them and that we have a path forward that gives them hope for the future and hope through action is what is required.

I am certain there will be members in this place who have had some really difficult conversations with their children because young people are informed, engaged and connected through social media with information and facts in a way they never have been before.

As parents, those conversations are extremely difficult. I find it extremely hard to talk to my kids about their future in a climate emergency. I ask members of this place to reflect for a moment on how different their lives are from ours were when we were their age. We were dreaming of careers, of travel, love and family. We believed we could look forward to a comfortable old age if we worked hard and were good people.

Young people today have a very different future in front of them. We have to acknowledge that. You have young people who are making decisions about their future based on their terror of what is going to happen to this planet. How do we deal with that acute state of mental stress amongst young people? We give them hope by taking their fears seriously, by being honest about the scale of the problem, the challenge but also the actions we can take and the opportunities that come out of that action.

We cannot give up hope because our young people, our children, are counting on us to stand true, to stay strong and to not give in to despair. That starts with leadership across politician parties, across philosophies and belief systems. We need to show leadership, acknowledge the truth and acknowledge the science.

Last weekend, Australians voted and they voted not to change government. They voted for a Prime Minister who took a lump of coal into the Australian Parliament and chortled gleefully. They did not vote for the Australian Labor Party. Part of the reason they did not vote for the ALP is because the ALP was half pregnant on climate change. On the one hand you were prepared to say we have a plan to tackle climate change, and good on you, because at a state level, you did not take a climate plan to the state election. On the other hand, like the Liberal Party, Labor is backing in the Adani Mine. Only today, the Queensland Premier Anastasia Palaszczuk is demanding the federal LNP Government hurry up with the approval of the Adani Mine.

You would think there might be a lesson in last Saturday night's election result for Labor on climate because do you know whose vote went up? The Greens, in the Senate. That is because people who care about real action on climate change needed to know there were people in the federal parliament who would never let up and who would stay true to young Australians and map out a plan to deal with this existential threat that we face.

We initially drafted this notion. It was little bit political but it was still true, so we amended it. We sought feedback and accepted that feedback. That is why the motion is simply a statement of fact. We want members of this parliament to support our Notice of Motion. We want this parliament to send a message to young people that we hear them and that we are prepared to act.

I am not certain how either the Labor or the Liberals will vote on this Notice of Motion but I urge you to have a look at the people who are here watching today, to think about the thousands of kids who strike for climate in Tasmania, the 1.5 million young people around the world who took part in the last strike for climate.

There are members in this place from the other parties whose children participated in the climate strike. Those kids need to hear from us and they need to hear from us today.

The question has been asked - 'Why declare a climate emergency? What is the purpose of declaring a climate emergency?' The declaration of an emergency drives action. There is an organisation, the Climate Emergency Declaration & Mobilisation in Action [OK] global organisation. This is what they say about the importance of declaring a climate emergency -

A climate emergency declaration issued by a body in authority, such as a government or local council, can be a powerful catalyst for community-wide action if paired with a clear action plan.

They quote psychologist, Dr Margaret Salamon, founder of The Climate Mobilization organisation in the United States, who has written a book about leading the public into emergency mode. She uses the term 'emergency mode' to refer to the flow state in which people temporarily set aside businessasusual and focus intently on determining the safest course of action and doing whatever is required, right now, to deal effectively with a threat. I quote Dr Salamon -

To evaluate whether we are currently in a climate crisis, the public will look to each other - and particularly to the climate organizations, writers, and leaders. Are they calling it an emergency? Does the tone of their writing and statements convey alarm and a passionate desire for massive action to avert imminent crisis? Are they demanding an emergency response? Are they acting like it's an emergency? Are they themselves in emergency mode? If the answer to these questions is 'no,' the individual will conclude that there must not be an emergency, or that emergency action is hopeless because the leaders are apparently unwilling to coordinate emergency action. [OK]

Dr Salamon goes on to talk about the thousands of school strikers and many others in the community who are already feeling very afraid - and the word I would put on it is terror - about their climate future. For those people, the scariest thing is that the government bodies that have the most power to make the necessary big changes appear to be ignoring that there is a climate emergency and pursuing policies that put us all at even greater peril.

The current global wave of local councils declaring a climate emergency is finally providing an element of hope and an action pathway thereby channelling the energy, focus and resources of their communities towards resolving the emergency and restoring safety.

It is a fact that human beings have risen to the challenge when an emergency has been declared and worked towards the common good. If there is one issue on which we should be able to put aside all political differences it is this one. Imagine the message that we could send today if the Tasmanian Parliament stood together and said - 'Yes, we accept the science, we accept the facts. We will state the truth and declare a climate emergency.' That sends a clear message to the community that we take their concerns seriously and we will work constructively towards a more climate-resilient Tasmania.

I am sure members of the House have received a number of emails from people about the Greens Notice of Motion that we brought on today. I want to quote Dr Jane Gorman -

The Climate Emergency Motion is critical because -

1. Many of the Australian public do not grasp the enormity of the threat posed by climate change and biodiversity loss. The alarming statements coming from bodies such as the UN, the IPCC, the World Health Organisation, security agencies, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are not reflected by the Australian media. The declaration of a climate emergency is one step that will help the general public appreciate the threat we are facing.

2. The LNP did not take a credible climate policy into the election and this means that leadership on both mitigation and adaptation must be assumed at local and state government levels.

3. Globally, action on a climate crisis is not progressing at a rate that promises to avoid some of the worst-case scenarios. It is certain that a worsening of climate instability is already locked and Tasmania is at significant risk.

The Tasmanian State Government must look urgently at adaptation measures to protect its infrastructure and the health and wellbeing of its citizens.

Dr Gorman is writing from her background as a medical practitioner which gives her knowledge of -

1. The serious threat to human health posed by fossil fuels, climate change and biodiversity loss. Already the Tasmanian fires earlier this year have had significant effects on the physical and mental health of Tasmanians, not to mention financial losses.

Events like this will become tragically more frequent unless urgent action is taken.

She notes the immediate health benefits that arise from climate mitigation and adaptation measures. One of those immediate health benefits applies to the mental health of young people. It gives young people hope to know that their leaders stand with them and take this seriously because at the moment young people, young Australians, are suffering.

As a mother, Dr Gorman writes -

I would like to think that my children - 10, 8, 7 years old - will live to see this world continue in its current format. This seems increasingly unlikely. We have less than 12 years to make a significant difference to our carbon emissions, or the world will enter an irreversible process that will see the population of all living things on Earth decimated.

Here is an email from Carol Benham -

I urge you to support this motion today and to declare a climate emergency. This is not the time for partisanship, it is the time to stand up for our children's futures. You have an opportunity to display true leadership in your community, our state, our country, and the rest of the world. By signing on to this declaration, you will demonstrate that you take the threat seriously and care about the future of our planet and the legacy you are leaving our children.

Mr Deputy Speaker, when we asked the Premier this morning about whether he was prepared to acknowledge that the world is in a state of climate emergency, he talked about Tasmania's emissions profile. It was great to hear that Tasmania is a net carbon sink, but let us be honest about why that is. I go to the paper put out by the, in all likelihood, re-elected senator, Nick McKim during the election campaign, 'A future for all of us, making Tasmania a global climate leader by 2030'. It goes to the data around Tasmania's greenhouse accounts.

Tasmania's main achievement to date, net zero emissions, owes far more to the conservation movement and Tasmanians who have supported it than it does to the major political parties.

Under Tasmania's Climate Change Act of 2008, Tasmania has a legislative target of reducing greenhouse emissions to 60 per cent, below 1990 levels, by 2050. However in April 2018, the Tasmanian Government announced that Tasmania has become the first jurisdiction in Australia to achieve net zero emissions '30 years ahead of schedule'.

Net zero emissions means that the emissions produced in an economy are balanced out by an equivalent amount of emissions being sequestered, drawn out of the atmosphere, and stored in forests, for instance.

Tasmania's net zero emissions statement is the consequence of two historical factors. First, the early protection of large tracts of Tasmania's forests which sequester carbon, and, second, the more recent rapid and wide scale downsizing of Tasmania's high emitting forestry industry.

That is a legacy of the Labor-Greens government. Labor might not be so proud of it, but I can tell you we sure are because when we have a look at the greenhouse accounts, the decline in emissions from the forestry sector is profound. That is what has given us the capacity to stand tall in Australia and say, 'We are net zero emissions'.

But let us not shy away from the other realities. Emissions from stationary energy are up 7 per cent. Emissions from industrial processes and product use up 5 per cent. There is a long way to go and, Tasmania, through our history, through our renewable energy, our beautiful carbon sink forests, not only can we be a national leader on climate we can be a global leader on climate action, on mitigation, and adaption. We have more scientists per capita living in and around Hobart than any other place in Australia. We have a wealth of climate expertise right here on our doorstep. Let us really tap into it.

We need to drive mitigation, reducing our emissions in every sector of the economy, and adaptation. It is a matter of concern to many Tasmanians that there does not seem to be a coherent adaptation strategy in place. I know the minister will stand up shortly and make some comments about work that is being done. I acknowledge that the people in the climate office are outstanding public servants, but that expertise at UTAS, which has just established a new faculty of climate intervention, can work with IMAS and CSIRO and the Antarctic Division and the community, industry leaders, small business, all levels of government, to develop a really coherent adaptation plan.

This is the work government must be doing, in this century, at this time. Every responsible government needs to be adaptation planning. We are a vulnerable island community. There was some fantastic work done under the Labor-Greens government where we worked with communities and local council on adaptation pathways. You take people with you, you are honest about the future, you present possible choices, and then there is ownership of the direction that is taken, and a collective will.

I want other members to contribute, and I ask that Dr Woodruff is given an opportunity to wind up for the Greens. This is a matter of climate justice. Justice for young people, so we can give them hope for the future. Justice for socio-economically disadvantaged, who we know will be the worst impacted by the extremes of global heating, people who are living in sub-standard housing, young people, the elderly and people who live in developing countries.

Only two months ago, two cyclones in quick succession slammed into the east coast of Africa, into Mozambique, wreaking utter havoc. Nearly at the same time there were unprecedented floods in Iran. Last month, a massive, unseasonal cyclone slammed into India and Bangladesh. When the sea levels rise, it will be the poor and the dispossessed who are the worst affected. The rich will be in their ivory towers. They will have put every measure in place to protect them and their own children. But we have a responsibility as leaders to remember the people of Mozambique and Bangladesh and Iran, communities all over the world that are already feeling the savage impacts of global heating. That is with a temperature rise of just over one degree.

The IPCC is telling us that we are on a trajectory of four to five degrees of warming by the end of this century, of sea level rise of up to two metres. What we know now is that the scientists were wrong about one thing: they were wrong about how fast this would happen. We are not talking about our grandchildren's future, we are talking about our own children's future. Surely, that brings it home for people in this place. We should have a conscience vote on something like this.

The UK Parliament is a conservative parliament. You would not call the Irish Parliament a pack of radicals. We have establishment parliaments prepared to declare a climate emergency. We are in a state of emergency. This parliament should have the courage and be prepared to show the leadership, to declare that, send a message to young people that we care about their future, send a message to the national government that we expect meaningful action on climate change and drive that sense of connectedness and purpose at the local level so that we can be part of the solution together.

What a world we could make here in Tasmania. How much hope we could give our young people if we vote the right way today.

I commend the motion to the House.