Global warming

(22 November 2011, Parliament House Sydney)

Today I wish to speak about a matter that is very important to my constituents and that is the urgent need to take action to address global warming. The Federal Government Climate Commission's review of climate change science recently concluded that climate change is real. It is occurring at a rapid rate and that two degrees is the maximum temperature increase before our planet risks tipping into catastrophic climate change. We are in the critical decade, with the decisions we make from now until 2020 determining the severity of climate change our children and grandchildren will experience. The cost of doing nothing to reduce environmental impacts far outweighs the cost of action. Confusion and misinformation have surrounded the Federal Government's carbon pricing policy, with vested interests, scaremongering, political ambition and outright miscommunication clouding the debate. But carbon pricing is just one of a range of activities that Australia needs to play its part in addressing global warming. An emissions trading scheme is the most cost-effective way to help meet carbon reduction targets, giving polluters an incentive to pursue the lowest-cost abatement opportunities.

Australia is not the first country to place a price on carbon. Indeed, New South Wales introduced Australia's first mandatory emissions trading scheme in 2003. China announced plans for an emissions trading scheme to be rolled out in six provinces by 2013 and for a national scheme by 2015. Many other countries, including India, have also made such a commitment. While the Chicken Littles rush around claiming the sky will fall, the facts are that revenue from the carbon price will flow into emission reduction projects, clean energy, job reallocation and industry and household compensation.

Carbon pricing provides an extraordinary opportunity to foster innovation, to create new jobs and develop a more intelligent economy, one that does not rely on digging up and shipping out our finite resources. In the United States it is estimated that $1 billion spent on a coal-fired power station creates 870 jobs. The number is lower for nuclear power stations because the plant is so expensive. By contrast, $1 billion invested in solar energy creates 1,900 jobs—870 compared with 1,900. Wind power would create 3,300 jobs from that expenditure and energy-efficiency projects would create 7,000 jobs—870 compared with 7,000 jobs.

A recent New South Wales Treasury assessment, which I believe the State Government hoped would demonstrate economic catastrophe from a carbon price, showed that Sydney would have more jobs and stronger growth at the end of the decade under an emissions trading scheme. Sustainable Sydney 2030 is the City of Sydney's plan to reduce our greenhouse emissions by 70 per cent based on 2006 levels. This will be achieved partly through a trigeneration network producing low-carbon, locally provided electricity—initially powered by natural gas before transitioning to renewable gas from waste. Trigeneration is almost three times as efficient as coal-fired power stations, making it cheaper, and it exists in many cities, including New York, which has been powered by cogeneration for over a century. We are working to provide lower carbon transport alternatives through car share, support for electric vehicles and establishing a cycling network. Despite only ten kilometres of our 200 kilometre bicycle network being built, average cycling numbers have increased by 60 per cent over the last year.

Our sustainability programs help the inner-city community reduce energy consumption and bills, importantly, and include the following projects: Smart Business Live Green for small businesses; the CitySwitch Green Office program for office tenants; the Better Buildings Partnership for commercial office space owners—of course, they are the owners of 60 per cent of commercial space in the global city of Sydney; the Green Apartment Buildings Program for apartment owners; the Green Village Workshop Series for residents; and the SAVE Program for our social housing tenants.

Indeed, since 2007 we have completed 18 solar projects, reducing emissions by 180 tonnes, and we have established a $10 million renewable energy fund. Our building retrofits have cut emissions by 17 per cent in our properties since 2006 and we will complete a full portfolio refit, which will reduce energy use by an additional 23 per cent and carbon emissions by 20 per cent. We are now in the final stages of assessing a tender to install LED lights on all 8,000 of our street lights. The economics of reducing carbon emissions will improve when the carbon price commences with a price set, giving us greater certainty to assess our strategies and projects.

It is astonishing that the sceptics demand that we persist with business as usual in the face of all the evidence that we must and can change just as people in other nations are doing so. The recent passage of the carbon pricing legislation in the Senate was an enormous relief to a very large number of people and a cause for great celebration. I commend the Federal Government and the Independent and Greens members who acted responsibly and courageously and voted for our future. Now more than ever we need political leadership on climate change to ensure a future for our children and grandchildren.