Parliament Pushes For Climate Action

Abigail showed the Greens' support for meaningful climate action in relation to emissions targets.

Abigail said:

I echo the sentiments of my colleague Ms Cate Faehrmann and indicate that The Greens will be supporting the Climate Change (Emissions Targets) Bill 2021 with amendments. The Greens have been arguing for meaningful climate action in this Parliament for a long time. Even in the short period that I have been here, the velocity and ferocity of the eye rolls of members opposite have perhaps lessened over time whenever the words "climate change" are mentioned. It is fantastic that we now have such strong words from this Liberal‑Nationals Government in favour of taking strong action on climate change. But the reality is that it has no actual concrete plans to back those words up. We saw it in budget estimates—"plans" from this Government appear to equate to "good feelings about how things might go in the future" or "things the market might do". It is very much the "hope and see" variety of planning rather than the actual planning that a government might do when it wants to achieve a concrete outcome. So The Greens welcome this attempt by Labor to get the Government to put its money where its mouth is and to actually commit to net zero through a legislative framework that will require definite action on the Government's part.

As my colleague has said, the bill is far from perfect. I would hope that it is not the type of legislation that Labor itself would bring if it was in government. But it is, at least, a start. The Greens support the bill, but we will be putting forward amendments to greatly improve it in line with what we would hope to see should Labor ever be in the driving seat, for example. We need to be putting people at the forefront of our decision-making. The reason that we are desperate to act to prevent the most catastrophic impacts of climate change is in large part to avoid the entirely preventable pain and suffering that will come from global heating. We need to be using that same framework in all of our decision-making that comes with avoiding climate change. If we have an orientation that ensures maximum prosperity for people, rather than a fixation on what will grant maximum short‑term profits, then perhaps we will have a chance at addressing the climate crisis.

Taking action on climate change is going to create many new jobs. New industries will flourish but, necessarily, certain high‑emitting industries will decline. These high‑emitting industries have traditionally been located in regional areas, further away from densely populated urban centres. These areas will require direct intervention from the Government to support workers and communities impacted by the transition. The Government must ensure that justice and high‑quality employment opportunities are placed at the heart of planning for a low‑ and no‑emissions future. The science of global heating is a question of physics; simply, it shows that every tonne of greenhouse gas emissions released causes the atmosphere to heat by a certain amount. We have set a threshold of acceptable heating of 1.5 degrees, beyond which point the planet will face increasingly catastrophic climatic events that will endanger us all. It follows that a finite amount of carbon can be released before we hit the critical mass of heating, and that is our carbon budget.

A carbon budget is the cumulative amount of carbon dioxide emissions permitted over a period of time to keep within a certain temperature threshold. That means there is only so much carbon we can still burn if we are going to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. A net zero target by 2050 shows one of two things: either reckless disinterest in taking the climate crisis seriously, kicking the emissions reduction can down the road in an attempt to squeeze every last dollar of profit from existing and planned fossil fuel ventures, or a dangerously naive misunderstanding of the seriousness of the crisis we are facing. Either way, a legislated 2050 target will cause greater economic pain down the road, particularly if gas and coal are allowed to expand in the interceding time. If that is allowed to happen, the precipitous drop in emissions that will be required to achieve net zero once fossil fuel projects have finished extracting their profits will be immense and will come far too late.

The talk of net zero omits the scientific reality of our carbon budget. That is the reason we have made amendments to the emissions reductions targets. The science of our carbon budget shows that if we pursue the inadequate 50 per cent by 2030 target, not only will we overshoot our carbon budget allowance but, in order to bend the line down towards net zero by 2050, we will also have to make more aggressive interventions later. A 50 per cent by 2030 target will lock us into more social disruption for less reward. Conversely, pursuing a 75 per cent or 80 per cent emissions reduction target by 2030 will set us on a sustainable and scientifically realistic trajectory that will provide greater certainty for communities and industries.

It is the responsibility of government to ensure that we have a real plan for, and take a holistic approach to, driving our society towards a carbon‑neutral and eventually carbon‑negative future. That includes implementing strategies, policies and targets to ensure the transition is rapid enough to meet emissions targets compatible with a safe climate and international agreements, and support for those communities and workers who have traditionally been reliant on fossil‑fuel‑related industries. The amendments that The Greens will be moving when the bill moves to the Committee stage will expand the remit of the Net Zero Commission to include a mandate to plan for and facilitate a just transition, to reflect the responsibility of the Government.

Every community's path for transition to a renewable economy will be unique. While we can learn from past attempts and experiences both here and overseas, it will ultimately be up to community members, workers, unions, businesses and local governments to come together and agree on what they need in order to transition equitably. A well‑funded and empowered just transitions commission will be vital in helping those local communities' visions for the future come to life. The bill asks the Government to put actions behind its words. It is not good enough for the Government to just say the words it thinks people want to hear; it has to actually put substance behind them in the form of concrete plans and structures to ensure that the outcomes are realised. If the Government cannot support the bill, then we really cannot believe a word it says when it comes to climate change.


The full transcript and debate can be found in Hansard, here.

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