Zali Steggall MP responds to the Annual Climate Change Statement

7 February 2024



I rise to respond to the second annual climate statement, delivered last year by the Minister for Climate Change and Energy, and the Climate Change Authority's annual progress report. I have to note that the debate in this place is still fairly disappointing. We are seeing, yet again, the coalition dig the hole a little deeper, if it's possible, in this policy area, with a complete void of credible response and policy and an insistence on going down a pathway that is just not feasible. They insist on talking of only nuclear in a situation where time and cost are of the essence. They are the two primary considerations. The reality is that members of the coalition have been on the record pointing out that it's a delaying tactic, because it means nothing occurs for 15 to 20 years. It is essentially about keeping fossil fuels in our system.

In any event, I want to talk about climate change, and what the annual statement really highlights is the urgency—the status of where we're at—when it comes to global warming and emissions, and the progress that has been made by the government since the last election and the change of government. There have been, which I welcome, the significant policy steps and investment to assist with the nation's transition to net zero. But we also have to be real and talk about the facts. It's disappointing to see that Australia's total emissions still increased over the last 12 months. As the Climate Change Authority's report outlines, we are not yet on track to achieve net zero by 2050, and we know that is probably not sufficient to keep us to the safe temperature goal.

The year 2023 was a year of record temperatures, and the ocean saw crazy spikes in temperature. More importantly, we're not on track to stay true to the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement aims to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, or to keep under two degrees at the very least. We are probably on track to pass 1.5 degrees this year or within the next couple of years. We are already tipping over it occasionally. Whilst we sometimes have fantasy discussions in this place, it's really important for the Australian public to be reminded of the very dire reality and the real facts that matter.

Our next nationally determined contribution under the Paris Agreement will be for 2025. That NDC must be ambitious. We must accelerate our ambition. Australia has a responsibility to be a leader in this place and to set the example. State governments are already doing it. We are not yet seeing that indication from the federal government. In an absence of attention or even remotely realistic policy from the opposition, it's clear that push is going to need to come from the Australian public, from Australian businesses, from the sector and, clearly, from the crossbench. We must aim to have our next NDC under the Paris Agreement be at least 75 per cent emissions reduction by 2035.

The key messages coming out of this annual climate change report are, in a nutshell, that Australia's just transition to a prosperous net zero economy is slowly emerging, but much more is needed. The Climate Change Authority's annual report tells us what 1.1 degrees Celsius of warming looked like in 2023: wildfires in Hawaii, Spain, Greece and Canada; floods in China, India, Pakistan and Nigeria; heat waves in the United Kingdom, Europe and India. July 2023 was the hottest month in over a century of global temperature records, and thousands of climate records have been exceeded worldwide.

We need total emissions to start coming down significantly and fast. Last year's emissions did not go down and, in particular, transport and agriculture increased, leading to a total emissions increasing by four metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent. To put this into perspective, the Climate Change Authority says that we must decarbonise at an average rate of 17 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, some 40 per cent faster than what our current annual rate of decarbonisation has been since 2009. To achieve this, it is essential that the government establish sectoral targets to drive emissions reduction in every sector.

On a positive note, it is pleasing to see the government has accepted some 39 out of the 42 recommendations by the Climate Change Authority. It's excellent to see a focus now on adaptation planning and a move to legislate for climate risk assessment. The government will soon be required to do this. We absolutely need to do this.

Recommendation 4 of the report in fact mirrors the provisions I had in the climate change bills that I put to the last parliament to legislate that national climate risk assessment be undertaken and national adaptation plans be updated a minimum of every five years, with monitoring of those plans. There is strong support for these provisions, so I urge the government and the opposition to legislate this without delay. If there is one responsibility of government, it is to keep communities safe, and that requires assessing the risk and adapting to that risk.

We talk a lot about the costs of climate change. The Insurance Council of Australia noted in 2022 that, since 2005, Commonwealth expenditure on disaster relief has been $24 billion. Since the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires, insurers have paid out more than $16.8 billion dollars in natural disaster claims for 13 declared catastrophes and five significant events. By 2050, Australian households will be paying some $35.24 billion dollars every year—in 2022 dollars—for the direct costs of extreme weather. Just pause and think about that when you're hesitating about whether we should deal with climate change and reduce emissions.

So I welcome the recommendations in the report, in particular those around methane, which mirror my submission to the NGER Act review in relation to monitoring and measuring methane. In its first 20 years, methane is eight times more potent at trapping heat than even CO2. So, if there is any sense that we need to urgently avoid key tipping points that are fast approaching, we must deal with methane. To that end, the Climate Change Authority has made recommendations, and I will be engaged with the government to ensure we adopt those recommendations and have good monitoring and measurement of our methane and stop venting and flaring. We must stop methane being allowed just to leak out into the atmosphere. It is accelerating us towards key tipping points.

We know we need to move away from gas. Gas is not a transition fuel; it is accelerating our short-term emissions and global heating.

Household electrification is a critical step in our transition. We talk a lot about cost of living—many in this place talk about it. Two of the key variables in household expenses are energy and insurance, and these, ironically, are both impacted by climate change. If we transition away from fuels that are inflationary and move to electrification of households, we can make a difference. It's a win-win: reduce emissions and reduce cost-of-living impacts.

Transport sector emissions are continuing to rise. We need to have much clearer targets around that. I welcome the announcement by the government around fuel efficiency standards, but more is needed. Electric vehicle sales may have increased from two per cent to nine per cent for new vehicles, but that needs to accelerate. We need to have much greater investment in public transport to ensure we move away from single vehicles to much more efficient modes of transport.

There are a lot of steps that have been announced by the government to head in the right direction, but we know that we can still do a lot more. It's reassuring to see new initiatives such as the expanded Capacity Investment Scheme and the Hydrogen Headstart Program. However, while the government supports building on the recommendations of the Samuel review it is dragging its heels when it comes to the EPBC Act, which is a key element in how we are going to ensure we get to net zero. We need to ensure protection of the environment. The most natural way we can sequester carbon is through forests, yet we still have incredible rates of deforestation and both sides of government resisting an end to native forest logging. We absolutely have to do this. There is no point spending millions and billions on technologies like carbon capture and storage when our most natural storage is through maintaining native forests. Amendments to the EPBC Act are urgently needed, and I will be working with the government and proposing amendments to introduce a climate risk assessment of applications, especially for projects that are likely to become stranded assets where there is climate financial risk at play.

It's really important that we acknowledge the risk of climate change from a national security perspective, and I'll continue to push the government to release the Office of National Intelligence's risk assessment of the impacts of climate change.

I welcome the report but I urge the government to get braver and more ambitious when it comes to dealing with climate change.