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Safe Climate for the Future

Cassy O'Connor MP  -  Wednesday, 25 August 2021

Tags: Climate Change

Ms O'CONNOR (Clark - Leader of the Greens) - Mr Deputy Speaker, I indicate that a vote will be required.

I seek the leave of the House to table the Climate Change 2021 Physical Science Basis Summary for Policymakers documents which I believe has been approved by leaders of Government and Opposition business and the independent member for Clark.

Leave granted.

Ms O'CONNOR - Mr Deputy Speaker, on behalf of the Greens, on behalf of young people and everyone who wants to be sure that we have a safe climate for the future, I move -

That the House:

(1) Notes the release of the IPCC sixth assessment report the starkest warning yet of the massive and irreversible impact of climate change, with the United Nations Secretary General describing it as a code red for humanity

(2) Recognises the IPCC says it is still possible to limit temperature rises to below a catastrophic threshold but only if immediate and ambitious action is taken.

(3) Understands every single ton of CO2 kept out of the atmosphere is important in ensuring a safer future climate.

(4) Agrees the overwhelming majority of Tasmanians want elected representatives of all political persuasions to acknowledge the severity and urgency of the challenges humanity is facing.

(5) Acknowledges that the Australian Medical Association, the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine and the Royal Australasian College of General Practitioners have all declared climate change is a health emergency.

(6) Declares a climate emergency.

Dr Woodruff and I are moving this because this is the first opportunity that we have since the IPCC sixth assessment report came out just two weeks ago. I have reflected again on the answer that the Premier gave to our question this morning. I have had a look at the wording of the motion and I honestly cannot see how he could characterise it as trying to scare children. It is a statement of facts in quite cold, clear language.

We sought some advice from the organiser of the School Strike for Climate on this motion and what actually does scare children and young people. Sam Eccleston from School Strike for Climate nipaluna/Hobart has this to say to the Tasmanian Parliament today:

Tasmanian young people are some of the most educated and aware on the climate crisis and as such are some of the most concerned about the effects it may have on them, their families and their communities. Declaring a climate emergency sends a strong message to Tasmanian young people that the Government is truly committed to climate action and the futures of all Tasmanians. Declaring a climate emergency will not scare or intimidate young Tasmanians, it will only help to tackle their fears.

As I said earlier, what scares young people most in relation to climate change is a lack of action and a failure of leadership. Young people need to be told the truth in a clear and calm way. They need to be pointed to the actions that can be taken to limit the increase in warming. What IPCC sixth assessment report tells us is that the planet has warmed by about 1 degree Celsius already. We have a very narrow window of opportunity to keep warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The Australian continent has warmed by around 1.4 degrees Celsius.

Yes, it is confronting to deal with the science but running away from it helps no one. I feel where the fear is felt regarding this is on the Government benches. They fear being exposed for their lack of meaningful action on climate.

We are moving this motion today following the release of the sixth assessment report, which was the starkest warning yet for the future of the earth and humanity in a rapidly changing climate because we want parliament to show leadership. It is an emergency. We need to treat it like an emergency and take the requisite action to avert crisis and catastrophe.

If we go to some of the words that Mr Gutwein feels are scary, these are coming from scientists in response to the sixth assessment report. Professor Jonathan Bamber of the University of Bristol in the UK, one of the report's authors, talks about how extreme weather events such as coastal flooding that occurred only once a century in the recent past are projected to happen at least every year in 60 per cent of places on the earth by 2100. That includes places like Lauderdale, Orford, Port Sorell.

Professor Bamber says that might seem like a long way away but there are millions of children already born who should be alive well into the 22nd century. A number of us in here, were born in the last days of the Holocene era. Our children are born in the Anthropocene or what some commentators, having a look at the state of the planet now, are calling the Pyrocene era because of the number of places on earth that are catching fire.

Another scientist, Professor Katharine Hayhoe, chief scientist at the Nature Conservancy says:

We can no longer assume that citizens of more affluent and secure countries like Canada, Germany, Japan and the US will be able to ride out the worst excesses of a rapidly destabilising climate. It is clear we are all in the same boat, facing a challenge that will affect every one of us within our lifetimes.

Professor David Ray at the University of Edinburgh in the UK says -

For the tipping points, it is clear that every extra tonne of CO2 emitted today is pushing us into a minefield of feedback effects tomorrow.

That is not the Greens talking. That is some of the world's finest, most dedicated climate scientists. When we use the term 'code red for humanity', that is not something the Greens coined. That is the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Yet, after the IPCC sixth assessment report was released there were news stories and news reports for about two days and then nothing. Then we come into this place and nothing unless it is raised by the Greens. No statement of leadership from the Premier, no statement on climate from the Leader of the Opposition. Our young people demand and deserve better.

A few words from the summary for policy makers. The first finding on the current state of the climate -

It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land, widespread and rapid changes in the atmosphere, ocean, cryosphere and biosphere have occurred.

Observed increases in well-mixed greenhouse gas concentrations since around 1750 are unequivocally caused by human activities. Since 2011, concentrations have continued to increase in the atmosphere. Each of the last four decades has been successively warmer than any decade that preceded it since 1850.

Changes in the land biosphere since 1970 are consistent with global warming. Climate zones have shifted poleward in both hemispheres and the growing season has, on average, lengthened by up to two days per decade since the 1950s in the northern hemisphere extra tropics.

On it goes.

When was the last time in the history of this planet that we know of that atmospheric CO2 concentrations were this high? Not for at least two million years as far as the scientists can tell us. When was the last time that the planet was heating this fast? According to the scientists, probably at least not before 100 000 years ago. When was the last time temperatures were this high? May be 6500 years ago. When was the last time in the recorded history, or understood history of this planet that sea levels were rising so fast? At least 3000 years ago. When was the last time our oceans were so acidic? The climate scientists are telling us 'not any time in the past 2 million years'.

This is an emergency, Mr Deputy Speaker, and it is an emergency we must acknowledge and take on so that we can be part of the rapid reduction in emissions our climate needs. That our children and our grandchildren and their children, and all life on earth needs.

I hope every member of this place reads the document we have tabled in here today, the summary for policymakers, because we are policymakers and we are custodians of this beautiful little island. We all know Tasmania is already feeling the impacts of global heating. We all remember the fires of the summer of 2019. We all remember the devastating floods of June 2016. And some of us have read the Climate Futures work on projections based on previous IPCC reports on the impacts on Tasmania out to the year 2100.

Sadly, this excellent work, which is a collaborative work of UTAS, the Antarctic Cooperative Research Centre, IMAS, CSIRO, working in partnership with the then Labor-Greens government, is now more than a decade old. It urgently needs updating, but what it tells us, even from 10 years ago, is still all true, of course. In the sub-chapter about extreme events, the Climate Futures work tells us:

For Tasmania the pattern of extreme weather is likely to change across a broad range of climate indices by the end of the century. The emerging pattern of change across these indices represents a consistent and progressive adjustment of the current climate and its weather patterns to a new climate. This new climate for Tasmania will have more hot days and warm nights., more extreme wet days, an increase in more intense rainfall and more dry days. Rain events will intensify, leading to a tendency for increases in both drier and wetter conditions on seasonal and annual periods. This means a reduction in the occurrence of average conditions that we have experienced.

There will be fewer frost days. There will be more winter rain on the west coast and it will be drier there in summer. The central highlands are already drying and they will continue to dry, which is why we are losing the Miena cider gums. This beautiful state of ours is already feeling the impacts.

Regrettably, because climate change has been put on the backburner by government since 2014, we are now dealing with science that needs urgent updating. The benefit of the Climate Futures work is that it provided businesses, farmers, fishers, everyday Tasmanians with a really accessible and granular understanding of the likely impacts across a range of low, medium to high emissions scenarios out to the year 2100 at a 10-kilometre by 10-kilometre grid across the landscape.

Which minister signed off on Climate Futures? My predecessor, as the minister for climate change, now-Senator Nick McKim. We also made sure in that Labor-Greens government that our planning system had the necessary tools to help our communities adapt. Again, this is work that has gone on the backburner under this Government. So why should we declare a climate emergency, apart from the fact that we would be acknowledging the truth? It is a fair question. What does it achieve? This is about our state formally, in this parliament, accepting the scientific evidence and, in doing so, accepting the need for immediate and ambitious action. It recognises we are in an emergency and this is crucial for all of government and across all sectors of the economy and the community - the whole state.

We need to approach climate change with a pivot towards urgent action right across the board. We need to mobilise the Tasmanian Climate Change Office to work with industry, work with communities and engage in that vital mitigation and adaptation work that we know is so necessary.

People at Hobart City Council have highlighted how their move to declare a climate emergency has helped to redefine their operations and reduce their climate impact. My colleague in local government, Greens alderman Bill Harvey, moved this climate emergency motion and Hobart was the first capital city in the country to declare a climate emergency. Alderman Harvey says this:

The importance of declaring a climate emergency was not just a symbolic act but critically important as it sends a clear and unequivocal message to the community that, as elected leaders, we are listening and accept the science and the urgency of climate change, and we are committed to taking decisive action to protect our community and biodiversity from the dangerous and catastrophic consequences.

It is not a new concept. As members would be aware, we have moved to have a climate emergency declared before. We kept the language in this motion as clear and apolitical as it is possible to be in the hope that members will support this motion, acknowledge the science, acknowledge the truth, declare a climate emergency and work together on a path forward.

We did it during the worst of COVID-19 last year. We showed Tasmanians what is possible. It made Tasmanians feel so reassured to know that the Premier, the Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Greens and this whole parliament was working together to keep them safe. The parallels with global heating are unavoidable. We could do this together if we could put all the politics, the silliness and the unwillingness to accept the truth aside and work together so that Tasmania can be a beacon to Australia and to the world of what real climate action looks like.

Declaring a climate emergency is not a new concept. Thousands of jurisdictions across the world have done so; the ACT; the South Australian Upper House; and dozens of Australian councils. Since Hobart City Council declared a climate emergency in June 2019, the Kingborough, Launceston and Northern Midlands councils have followed suit. Doing this is not radical. It is a necessary and appropriate response to a code red. This is an existential crisis for humanity. As our motion highlights, the Australian Medical Association, the Australasian College of Emergency Medicine and the Royal Australasian College of General Practitioners have all declared climate change is a health emergency.

Yet despite this, when you examine it, is a conservative response to a crisis. It is conservative to acknowledge the truth and take steps to keep people safe, despite this.

I listened to the Premier's extremely disappointing answer to our question in question time today and I do not think the Government is going to support this declaration, on the flimsiest of excuses from the Premier that it will scare young people. I tell you what, they are crapping themselves now because the science is right in front of them. As Sam Eccleston said, they are smart, they are engaged. What they want is action that gives hope. What they desperately need from the Premier and this parliament is leadership.

I listened to the Premier this morning and my heart sank. I genuinely expected better. It struck me as Shakespearian - 'Me thinks he doth protest too much' - the noise and fury that came out of the Premier when we asked a straightforward question: 'Do you acknowledge the science? Do you acknowledge change is needed? Can you bring yourself to acknowledge that our forests are our great gift to the Earth, to the climate, to the kids?'

But he could not do it. Instead, we got shouting and finger pointing and distortion of Tasmania's greenhouse accounts. He still cannot bring himself to acknowledge the forests and the turning point in our emissions profile in 2013-14, when suddenly we became a net carbon sink. Yes, that is the forests, and of course there is some evidence that we are able to decouple emissions growth from economic growth, but when you look at transport, agriculture and waste, while we may be down only marginally on 1990 levels, emissions are still growing across those sectors.

What we have here in Tasmania - and I believe it is the reason the Premier did protest so much this morning - is ongoing and massive deforestation accelerating under the minister, Mr Barnett. That is what young people see. They see log trucks full of massive native forest logs still trundling down Macquarie Street. They see the huge piles of old, old trees at Brighton, waiting to be sent to China as chips.

I raise the forests almost hesitantly, because I do not want Labor to not support this motion. That is why the forests are not part of the wording. We need Labor to start doing the right thing on climate. I note yesterday the federal Labor shadow treasurer, I think he is Chris Bowen, acknowledging we are in a climate emergency. So, he is the federal Labor energy and climate spokesperson, who acknowledged we are in a climate emergency.

Ms White - We declared that in October 2019.

Ms O'CONNOR - Yes, but it was just another statement. I am not taking anything away from you. It was just another statement I saw online yesterday.

The truth is in the IPCC report, and what scares young people most is that political leaders continue to engage in climate delay and denialism, and constantly downplay the challenges that we face. That is a lack of honesty and leadership. That is what scares young people. Trying to pretend we are not in an emergency not only flies in the face of the indisputable scientific facts, it flies in the face of the deep concern felt by the vast majority of the community, and it actually increases the level of anxiety being felt. It is simply insulting and dismissive to say to all those young people who marched for a safe climate, 'You are being scared by grown-ups. You are being unnecessarily scared, go back to school.'

Do you know, it is possible that the Deputy Premier, Mr Rockliff, has attended a school strike for climate. I have certainly seen a number of my Labor colleagues joining the students with Rosie and I at the school strike for climate, but I have not seen many Liberal ministers or members join with young people for a safer future - and that really lets them down.

We will probably hear from the Premier or other members this excuse that declaring a climate emergency would be an alarmist move. That would be a pathetic and spineless response to an obvious existential crisis faced by humanity and life on earth. We want to know why there is this resistance to declaring a climate emergency, which has been declared by hundreds of local councils, state governments and other jurisdictions around the globe. We think it is a noxious combination of the ongoing power of climate change denials or delayers in the party room, because, of course, delay is the new denial.

People like, for example, Senator Eric Abetz, who use to pretend climate change was a fantasy, now in the face of the evidence from all around the world cannot actually say it is not happening. So, there is this new approach, which is that it would be too expensive. China is the big bad guy; the USA is a bad guy too, and there is nothing we can do. Well, the coal that goes into the coal fired power plants in China, a very large percentage of that comes from Australian coalmines. We are among the world's top three coal exporters. So, nationally, the Australian people are being gas lead by people like the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who in a barely coherent sentence said something like, 'nothing wrong with us, China bad'. That is about as coherent as it got. It is so gutless. We dig up, and export the coal that feeds those coal fired power plants and now we have a government that wants a gas fired recovery from COVID-19 -

Dr Woodruff - Frightening.

Ms O'CONNOR - Horrifying, Dr Woodruff. And wants to open up the vast gas reserves in the Beetaloo Basin. That is what scares children and young people. That instills deep anxiety in young people. When they see their national government not only not taking the climate crisis seriously, but taking steps to accelerate it, they are terrified. I mean, the Prime Minister belongs to a Pentecostal death cult, that believes in the rupture, Mr Deputy Speaker.

Mr ELLIS - Point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, it seems deeply unparliamentary. I ask that the member withdrew.

Ms O'CONNOR - No, I will not withdraw it, under any circumstances. The Prime Minister's version of Pentecostalism believes in the rupture, which is by definition a death cult.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order, take your seat, and let me rule. The member is entitled to her opinion. You are entitled to make a statement on the adjournment in reaction to her opinion.

Ms O'CONNOR - Thank you for your very wise ruling, Mr Deputy Speaker. I encourage Ms Ogilvie and Mr Ellis to do a little more reading on the tenets of Pentecostalism, and get back to us on their views of the rupture.

So, we have the ongoing power of the climate delayers and deniers in the party room. There is a warped sense of political self-interest-based politics, to sort of whistle to communities that need support in transitioning, and meaningful jobs in the renewable sector. It plays to the base politics of both the major parties to pretend there really is a future for coal.

Perhaps at a state level our Government does not want to show up the Morrison Government's active acceleration of global heating and, therefore, cannot politically join in the declaration of a climate emergency. We know of course about the insidious and corrupting influence of donations from big fossil fuel companies to the major parties. Both the Liberal and Labor parties over the past decade have each received more than $1 million each from Woodside Petroleum alone.

So, let us be clear: the IPCC sixth assessment report tells us that every tonne of CO2 and CO2 equivalent matters. Every tonne of greenhouse gas we do not put into the atmosphere or we draw down out of the atmosphere matters to our children and our grandchildren. One of the themes that has come through the IPCC assessment report, and it is not so explicit, is that the scientists have realised that they were far too conservative in their previous assessments and we are seeing accelerating global heating because we are reaching a series of tipping points for the planet.

Members who vote against this motion will be engaging in climate denial. There is no getting around that fact, no matter how inconvenient it may be for some members because delay is the new denial. If Labor and Ms Johnston support this motion, as we hope they will, it would take only one Liberal member to change the outcome of what happens today, and that responsibility rests with every single Liberal member. This is a matter of life and death. Members should be given a conscience vote on a climate emergency declaration. This vote just weeks after the release of the IPCC report will forever be part of the legacy of this House and the legacy of each individual member. I urge my colleagues to think very carefully before we call a division at 3.30.

I know my children in years to come will probably flick through the Hansard to see what their mother did in her day job. I am sure other members' children will too. We are in an emergency and we should have the courage and the leadership to acknowledge that in this place.

I again encourage members to read the Commissioner for Children and Young People's consultation report on climate change across all three regions. Young people have sent us a message loud and clear: take our future seriously; take action; work together. That is a common theme in the Commissioner for Children and Young People's report.

I also urge members to have a look at our safe climate bill. In many ways it is very conservative legislation. It has tangible actions in it - Dr Woodruff has brought it forward - that can help us reach the goals that we need to reach and critically help us to have adaptation planning in place to protect our people. Our safe climate act can set binding annual emissions reduction targets including sectoral targets. It would require a plan to meet these targets, a sequestration plan and an adaptation plan. The act will also establish a parliamentary standing committee on a safe climate and a safe climate commission.

I will go back, finally, to Sam Ecclestone's words: declaring a climate emergency sends a strong message to Tasmanian young people that the Government is truly committed to climate action and the futures of all Tasmanians. Declaring a climate emergency will not scare or intimidate young Tasmanians. It will only help to tackle their fears.

This is our opportunity to let young people know they are in our hearts and in our heads and we are prepared to do things differently. We are prepared to work together to protect their future, we are prepared to mobilise Government so that there is tangible action to bring down emissions - and that can take many different forms. What an excellent discussion it would be if we could be collaborative about it and critical.

It sets out a path for adapting because while the IPCC sixth assessment report makes it clear as does the Climate Future's work that on land Tasmania has cooled slightly more slowly than the mainland of Australia, we know that the waters on the east coast of Tasmania are warming faster than most waters in the world.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I commend the motion to the House on behalf of all our children and young people.



Dr Broad

Ms Butler

Ms Dow

Ms Finlay (Teller)

Ms Haddad

Ms Johnston

Mr O'Byrne

Ms O'Connor

Ms White

Mr Winter

Dr Woodruff


Mr Barnett

Ms Courtney

Mr Ellis (Teller)

Mr Ferguson

Mr Gutwein

Mr Jaensch

Ms Ogilvie

Mrs Petrusma

Mr Rockliff

Mr Shelton

Mr Tucker


Ms O'Byrne

Ms Archer


Motion negatived.