Photo: Richard Ling

12 April 2010 – Climate Change Minister, Senator Penny Wong, today said that Queensland would be “hit hard and fast” from climate change impact but that Australia would continue to rely on coal and should therefore find a way to limit its emissions.

Speaking at an event at the Queensland University of Technology Senator Wong also conceded defeat on climate change. It was now time to turn to questions of how to adapt to it, she said.

“Even with strong emissions reduction action we face a stark and sobering fact – the opportunity to avoid climate change altogether has passed. It has been lost to us – this generation no longer has that opportunity,” Senator Wong said.

“ Any effective climate change response now also needs to address the question: how do we adapt to the impacts of climate change that we cannot avoid?”

Addressing Queensland’s unique challenges, Senator Wong said that by 2070  Longreach was likely to experience more than three times the number of day that are 40 degrees or hotter- from around 20 a year now to about 70.

“This kind of change is likely to have dramatic consequences for human health, infrastructure, energy requirements and agricultural production,” Senator Wong said.

She also pointed to a report from her office that forecast that between 35,900 and 56,900 residential buildings in Queensland may be at risk of inundation from a sea level rise of 1.1 metre, at a cost of$10.5 billion and $16 billion based on current replacement values.

“Like all Australians, Queenslanders have become resilient in the face of an extreme climate,” Senator Wong said.

“But how far do we want to push our luck?”

Following are edited highlights from Senator Wong’s speech:

Industry costs
According to the Australian Bureau of Agriculture and Resource Economics Queensland sugar industry output is estimated to decline 12 per cent by 2030 and 17 per cent by 2050, due to climate change impact.

The Queensland beef industry could decline by approximately 34 per cent by 2050, according to ABARE.

The estimates are conservative estimates, based on an emissions scenario which represents a future that is more optimistic than the current global emission trajectory.

Great Barrier Reef
Oxford Economics estimated total permanent bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef would cost $37.7 billion in today’s dollars. This included an estimate of $16.3 billion for the Cairns area and losses to the tourism and fishing sectors – and quite apart from the loss of biodiversity.

Strategies
The Rudd Government has two core strategies for tackling climate change: reducing the carbon pollution that is causing climate change, and adapting to manage its worst impacts.

Difficulties with these include:

  • The scale of the adaptation challenge is vast and not yet fully understood;
  • The scale of reductions needed to our carbon pollution is enormous and requires a transformation in our economy
  • Those who refuse to accept reality on climate change continually put up roadblocks.

If we reduce our carbon pollution and the overwhelming majority of scientific evidence turns out to be wrong, what damage has been done?

We would have cleaned up our economy, created new opportunities, protected our environment and improved the quality of our lives.

If we don’t reduce our carbon pollution, and Tony Abbott’s view that climate change is “absolute crap” turns out to be wrong, what damage has been done?

We would have risked the way of life and prosperity of future generations, here in Queensland and around the nation – and caused profound damage to many of our industries.

Reducing our carbon pollution

There is a big obstacle: it is cheaper to fuel economic growth with high polluting energy than with clean and renewable energy.

As former Prime Minister Howard said three years ago:

The idea that you can bring about the changes that are needed and which many people have advocated, without their being any impact at all at any time on the cost to the consumer, is quite unrealistic

We need to use high polluting goods and services less, and make sure that goods and services that don’t pollute are more affordable.

If we are going to tackle climate change, this is the change we need to make.

The Rudd Government Strategy to drive change

Direct funding of energy efficiency

The first is with direct investment in energy efficiency.  To take just one example, we are providing $64 million for key building and appliance measures in the National Strategy on Energy Efficiency.

This will reduce emissions in a whole range of sectors — from more fuel efficient freight trucks to high tech street lighting.  In cooperation with the States, the Government is helping families and businesses save on their energy bills by delivering better information, smarter products and greener homes.

The Government’s next steps on energy efficiency will be guided by the recently announced Prime Minister’s Task Group on Energy Efficiency, which will report this year.

Direct funding of technology

The Rudd Government has announced the $4.5 billion Clean Energy Initiative, which includes the Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute, and the $1.5 billion Solar Flagships program.

Solar Flagships is supporting the construction of large-scale solar power stations in Australia.  This program aims to build 1000 megawatts of solar electricity generation capacity.  That’s enough to power a quarter of a million Australian homes.

We’re also using technology to reduce carbon pollution from vehicles, with the $1.3 billion Green Car Innovation Fund.  This is driving innovation and green jobs in Australia’s car industry, with grants of $149 million to Holden to produce a new fuel efficient vehicle in Australia, and $35 million to Toyota for manufacture of the new Hybrid Camry.

Renewable Energy Target

An expansion in clean energy investment will dramatically increase the Renewable Energy Target by over four times.

By  2020, 20 per cent of Australia’s electricity comes from renewable energy.

The Government has recently announced further enhancements to the Renewable Energy target.  These changes provide long term support for large scale clean energy generation, while also providing certainty for households who want to do their bit by installing renewables systems on their properties.

The Renewable Energy Target will transform Australia from being a laggard on renewable energy to a serious player – increasing our renewable energy supply by four times in just ten years.

Indeed, it will ensure that by 2020, the electricity that we produce from renewable sources—like wind, solar and geothermal—will be about equal to the total current electricity use of Australian households.

Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme

The fourth and most important way we are delivering action on climate change is through the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.

The CPRS is grounded in unavoidable truths.

The overwhelming weight of scientific evidence confirms that climate change is real and we have to do something about it.

To do something about it you have to address the cause of climate change: carbon pollution.

To reduce our carbon pollution, we need to put a price on carbon pollution – to make polluters pay a premium if they want to keep polluting – and create the reward for clean development.

And that as well as making polluters pay, we have to put a limit on how much pollution we will allow to be produced.

These truths are the reason why everyone from John Howard to Angela Merkel to Malcolm Turnbull to Barack Obama has embraced emissions trading.

Over thirty countries have emissions trading in place and a number of others are working on it.

The simple truth is it is a policy that works.

And it works not just by enforcing a limit on emissions. By putting a price on carbon – by making polluters pay – it creates an economic incentive to pollute less. It will be the single biggest driver in clean development in the coming decades.

Under the CPRS, the renewable energy sector will be 30 times its current size by 2050.

The Rudd Government’s policies get Australia out of the blocks in a global race – for the first time.

A recent Worldwatch Institute report highlighted that in 2008 investment in new renewable power capacity in 2008 exceeded that for coal, oil and gas technologies by an estimated US$30 billion.

The Pew Foundation and New Energy Finance recently reported that, even through the global financial crisis, the global clean energy economy has experienced remarkable growth – global clean energy investments reached $162 billion in 2009 and, especially with stimulus public money in other countries, are projected to reach $200 billion in 2010.

The alternative

No amount of political posturing can alter these truths.

But regrettably, by failing to face up to this reality, the alternative proposal recently floated by Mr Abbott in turn does not face the truth that we need to act on climate change.

It simply doesn’t do the job.

Ours works, the alternative doesn’t. Ours delivers reductions. The alternative would see emissions increase by 13 per cent by 2020.

Ours makes polluters pay and therefore creates the incentive for clean development – the alternative lets the biggest polluters off scot-free.

Ours helps families cover increased costs with tax breaks and increased benefits. The alternative doesn’t deliver a single dollar in assistance to working families.
Instead working families bear the cost of new subsidies to polluters, through higher taxes or pared-back services.

Unfortunately, as I said, we have an Opposition Leader who believes that climate change is “absolute crap” – and truth is the policy alternative he has put forward reflects that view.

Simply, the Government’s policy is a responsible answer to the risk of climate change. The alternative is not.

The alternative is simply a con to get the Opposition through to election day.

Adapting to the climate change we cannot avoid

Even with strong emissions reduction action we face a stark and sobering fact – the opportunity to avoid climate change altogether has passed. It has been lost to us – this generation no longer has that opportunity.

Any effective climate change response now also needs to address the question: how do we adapt to the impacts of climate change that we cannot avoid?

Coastal communities – which represent so much of Queensland’s population – will be among the first seeking an answer to this question.

An assessment report undertaken by my Department last year found that in Queensland, between 35,900 and 56,900 residential buildings may be at risk of inundation from a sea level rise of 1.1 metre. The current replacement value of residential buildings at risk is between $10.5 billion and $16 billion

Coastal adaptation is a major focus of our adaptation effort. We are working across all levels of government, community and industry, and our advisory council, led by Professor Tim Flannery, is providing leadership.

Adaptation will require the engagement and involvement of all, across Australia.

Australia’s biggest adaptation initiative is the Rudd Government’s long term, $12.9 billion Water for the Future plan. Despite the recent rains, we know we have to prepare for a long term future with less rain as a result of climate change. We are improving the health of our rivers, and supporting our farmers by investing in more efficient water supplies.

Much of this plan is focused on the Murray Darling Basin, which I will be touring once again this week, starting tomorrow morning in St George.

Conclusion

If we fail to tackle climate change, we have a lot to worry about.

But there is much to be gained if we act.

Already, the economic opportunity is great, and in many ways Queensland has natural competitive advantages for future growth in tackling climate change.

Already, according to a recent report by HSBC, global climate revenues rose 75% in 2008 to USD530 billion. This figure is now larger than revenues derived from the global aerospace and defence sector and is comparable to the GDP of Belgium.

Together, the US, Japan, France, Germany and Spain account for 76% of global climate revenues, with both the US and Japan having now breached the USD100bn mark.

The number of employees engaged in climate-related activities since 2004 has more than doubled from just over a million to approximately 2.4 million globally.

We can choose not to take these opportunities. But that doesn’t mean that our competitors won’t.

In the same way, we can choose to ignore the warnings to act.

We can choose to find excuses for why we shouldn’t bother.

But that won’t help us, or the generations that follow, deal with the unavoidable truth: that climate change is real, and we have to do something about it.

The Fifth Estate

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