SENATOR THE HON PENNY WONG

LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION IN THE SENATE

SHADOW MINISTER FOR FOREIGN AFFAIRS

LABOR SENATOR FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIA

SPEECH

1 May 2018

ADDRESSING CLIMATE CHANGE IN A TIME OF DISRUPTION

5TH AUSTRALASIAN EMISSIONS REDUCTION SUMMIT

MELBOURNE

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May I begin my presentation by acknowledging the traditional owners of the lands on which we are meeting this morning, the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation, and by paying our respects to their elders, past and present.

Almost ten years ago, I had this to say to an Australian Industry Group forum in Parliament House, Canberra.

As one of the hottest and driest continents on earth, Australia’s economy and environment will be among the hardest hit by climate change if we don’t act now. . . .

It is time to rein in the carbon pollution we have been putting into the atmosphere. This is something we must do at the lowest overall cost to our economy.

It was true then, as now. And yet here we are today, rueing the consequences of a lost decade.

What now confronts us is, potentially, catastrophic, and made so much harder by the failure to act sooner. It will affect the largest and most industrialised nations such as the US, China and the EU. It will affect even more the least industrialised nations such as those in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. In fact, it is already affecting our world.

Because the effects of climate change are global, so too must the responses to it be global. This, more or less, has been the position of Australian governments of both political persuasions, though there have been significant differences in both approach and ambition.

For one side of politics, the need for a global response has been used as an excuse for inaction. For the other, it has reinforced recognition of both responsibility and opportunity.

So this morning I would like to touch on why our national interests drive us to a more ambitious carbon reduction target, the relevant international developments that should hasten us in our transition to a clean energy economy, and Labor’s approach to meeting Australia’s international commitment to reducing global CO2 levels.

The elaboration and articulation of climate change policy is, like all other policy domains, dependent on a clear understanding of our national interests, and confidence in our ability to represent our values.

Our national interests centre on four core elements:
• The security of Australia and its people
• The economic prosperity of Australia and its people
• A stable, cooperative strategic system in our region, and
• Constructive internationalism

The fourth one, constructive internationalism, has a very direct link to international climate change policy. I shall return to this later.

And our values, whether we identify them as respect, inclusion, equality, compassion and trust, are often captured in the expression ‘the rule of law’. The ‘rule of law’ rests on a fundamental principle: we have value and dignity by virtue of our shared humanity. That principal is universal.

In addressing climate change as a foreign policy imperative, a values-based purposive approach to the issue is essential. Our values underpin the importance of intergenerational equity as a key driver of a constructive climate change policy.

Six weeks ago, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that “the country’s largest electricity generators have urged the government to be more ambitious with carbon emission reductions”.

When even the nation’s largest energy generators combine to urge the government to greater ambition, you know that something is badly wrong with this government’s climate policy. And what is it? It fails to comprehend commercial reality. Industry needs investment certainty if it is to transform our energy sector.

This sense of urgency has been reinforced by the inexorable growth of Australia’s carbon emissions that are putting our commitment under the Paris Agreement even further out of reach. As the government’s own data released in late December shows, carbon emissions continue to rise notwithstanding a continued modest decline in emissions in the electricity sector.

According to the environmental consultants NDEVR, emissions in 2017 were the highest on record, when unreliable data from sectors including land clearing and forestry are excluded. And overall emissions, including land-use change, were the highest since 2011. Unless there is a serious change in government policy there is little likelihood that Australia will reach its target of 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and every year we delay, that task becomes even harder.

In fact, the government’s own emissions projections show that Australian emissions in 2030 will decline by just 4 percent below 2005 levels, rather than the government’s target of a 26 percent reduction.

As Climate Change Minister in the Rudd Government, it was my responsibility to land a fair and durable approach to mitigating and managing the effects of climate change. Most in the energy industry could see the need for action on carbon reduction, and actually wanted it. And the reason? Again, investment certainty and market stability, especially in the context of rapid economic and technological change.

But there were some who sought to obstruct progress and avoid reality. In combination with the ideologues, the populists and the Greens, they were able to derail the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and establish a platform for the short-sighted populism that led to the repeal of Prime Minister Gillard’s suite of legislation after the 2013 election.

Ideology and partisanship fly in the face of evidence and science. Who can forget the sad figure of former Senator Steve Fielding, unable to reconcile rising carbon emissions with rising global temperatures? And who can forget then-Senator Nick Minchin’s dystopian view that climate change is part of a vast leftwing conspiracy to “de-industrialise the western world”?

And while our anointed business leaders, like the Business Council of Australia and the Australian Industry Group backed the repeal, most of Australia’s industrial leaders have since come to recognise the repeal of the Clean Energy Future legislation as a massive ‘own goal’.

But it was a massive ‘own goal’ in more senses than one. It didn’t just stop investment in renewable energy in its tracks, and destabilise future investment in dispatchable generation. It pushed up energy prices and destroyed Australia’s national credibility as a thoughtful, constructive and collaborative partner in international efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change and to adapt progressively to changed climatic circumstances. Quite a trifecta.

The world, of course, has moved on, even as large sections of the government continue to deny the evidence and reject any policy proposal that transitions electricity generation.

The same climate ideologues managed to derail the Finkel Review’s proposed Clean Energy Target within weeks, even though it had the support of industry, climate change groups, energy experts, the Opposition and the more sensible members of the Government. Now they have set out to wreck the “National Energy Guarantee” unless it accords a privileged place to coal.

So, Australia has a fair bit of catching up to do.

This catching up is not just to restore our credibility as a serious contributor to international efforts to address climate change – the constructive internationalism that I mentioned earlier – but to re-engage as a proactive international climate change policy-maker.

Addressing climate change will therefore be one of the principal domestic and international policy objectives of a Shorten Labor government.

You would all appreciate as much as I do that we live in a time of significant disruption. Technological change, demographic and societal change, political change, together with quite fundamental changes in how powerful states deal with the international rules that have provided our global operating system for the past seven decades, have combined to disrupt the status quo.

Climate change is one of the biggest disruptors of all. It has a real potential to become an existential threat to humankind. And the current omens are not encouraging. The International Energy Agency, in its Global Energy and CO2 Status Report 2017, released in mid-March, has provided sobering data that indicate just how much there is to do if the global community is to reduce carbon emissions to a degree that avoids catastrophic climate impacts.

In summary, the report notes:
• In 2017, global energy demand increased by more than 2 percent, compared with less than 1 percent over the previous five years, with China and India driving more than 40 percent of the growth.
• Over 70 percent of the rise was met by fossil fuels.
• CO2 emissions grew by 1.4 percent in 2017, reaching a historic high of 32.5 gigatonnes.
• Global coal demand rose by 1 percent, reversing the decline over the previous two years.

But not all the IEA’s news is bad. Renewables saw the highest rate of growth of any energy source in 2017, meeting a quarter of global energy demand. China and the US led this unprecedented growth, contributing around 50 percent of the increase in renewables-based electricity generation.

De-carbonising the economy while maintaining economic growth remains at the centre of Labor’s approach to climate change policy. This goal highlights the fact that effective climate policy doesn’t mean an end to improving living standards. It means taking full advantage of new opportunities and new technologies by placing real economic value on a stable climate.

In a significant statement to the Lowy Institute in late 2015, the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, outlined Labor’s approach to climate change. Bill made clear that, under Labor:
• Australia will do its fair share in achieving the internationally accepted and bipartisan goal of limiting global warming to 2 degrees – though the scientific literature suggests that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the globe to stay under this limit. This global goal translates to an Australian fair share of a cut of 45 percent of emissions by 2030, based on 2005 levels. This is Labor’s 2030 emission reduction target.
• And, as part of ensuring that we see the necessary de-carbonisation of electricity generation, which impacts directly on the emissions of other sectors, Labor will ensure that 50 percent of electricity generation comes from renewable sources by 2030.

Three years and one election later, those goals remain intact, and unchallenged as the basis for sensible and effective action on climate change.

Labor’s key focus in the lead-up to the next election is therefore on a durable mechanism to deliver these goals.

We doubt that Prime Minister Turnbull has the ability to deliver a carbon reduction mechanism that best fits the problem. But if he can, we cannot afford to repeat former Prime Minister Abbott’s short-sighted and counter-intuitive mistakes. While we have strong reservations about the targets built into the Government National Energy Guarantee, if it does not lock in weak targets, it has the potential to provide a mechanism through which we could realise our national targets.

It might not be the mechanism we would have designed – but as Mark Butler said recently if the NEG is implemented, rather than scrapping it, if possible a future Labor government will build on that, by legislating to lift the policy’s emissions reduction target for the electricity sector to deliver Labor’s stronger national target.

While Australia has remained in a wasteland of coalition denialism, intransigence, impotence and gesture politics, the rest of the world has moved on. Other speakers will doubtless deal in detail with what’s happening elsewhere. I’ll mention just two indicators of where things are going.

First, China has embarked on a massive restructuring of its economy to decarbonise as it expands both industrial capacity and economic output. China has acute environmental problems, particularly with respect to air pollution and air quality. In the interests of its people’s health, China’s government has moved quickly to reduce industry’s reliance on coal-fired power production. As reported by the World Economic Forum, China’s mega-cities such as Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin and Shenzhen, among others, plan to run entirely on renewables, including in the transport sector. To that end, China is building a demonstrator in Xiongan at an indicated cost of USD 350 billion over the next decade.

China’s move to renewables doesn’t only reflect its concern for health, however. It also sees renewables as a key to sustainable economic growth. China’s decline in energy intensity it simply remarkable. According to the World Bank, between 1980 and 2010, China’s energy intensity per unit of GDP declined by 70 percent. As its economy grew by a factor of 18 times, its energy usage grew only fivefold.

You are all aware of President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Accords. Both the Government and Labor have expressed our deep disappointment at the US action. Just last week, France’s President Macron called on President Trump to “make our planet great again” by re-joining the Paris agreement. But irrespective of Washington’s position, the rest of the US is not standing still. Individual US states are re-shaping their carbon economies. According to Forbes Magazine, the state of California, for instance, plans to produce 60% renewable energy by 2030 and 100% renewable energy by 2045 within its electricity grid.

At $2.6 trillion, California has the largest GDP of any state in the US. This is roughly 14 percent of the entire GDP of the US. Massachusetts is also considering a state bill requiring 100 percent renewable energy by 2050.

Even individual Americans are putting their shoulders to the wheel. Realising a promise made in June last year, the former Mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, announced just last week that he will commit $4.5 million to help defray 60 percent of the US contribution towards establishing the UN Climate Change Secretariat.

With my colleague Mark Butler, I intend to pursue the foreign policy aspects of climate policy with renewed energy because, if Australia continues to stand apart from the mainstream of countries that are seriously attempting to address climate change, we will fail to honour what we stand for – our values – and we will fail to deliver on our national interests.

Mark will provide much of the content of Australia’s climate change and energy policy. Where our responsibilities intersect is in ensuring that Australia’s international standing is supported by sound domestic policies that deliver our international obligations.

On the international side, we need to restore Australia’s credibility and reputation as a creative, collaborative and energetic member of the community of nations that actually want to get on with reducing carbon pollution, designing and implementing global targets, and staying within the 2 degree limit, as we can and must if we are to meet our international obligations.

Australia’s credibility and standing took a tremendous hit when the carbon price was repealed. Before Prime Minister Abbott was elected, Australia had been building a growing reputation as a forward-thinking and serious contributor to global climate change policy, due principally to the excellent work done by senior Australian officials and our diplomats, and by many of you in this room.

When Australia ratified the Kyoto Protocol under the newly elected Rudd Labor Government, I was quite literally able, as the newly appointed Minister for Climate Change, to take our seat immediately at the international climate policy head table in Bali at the end of 2007.

In the last decade, Australia built up a valuable reputation across all the technical areas of climate policy, from carbon pricing mechanisms and accounting regimes to forests and land use. We were respected for the ability of our specialists to bring a sound evidence base to the development of globally effective policy to underpin credible, durable and effective international agreements.

That’s what Abbott and Turnbull have given up. And as with so many of their policies – the constant hacking at the aid budget for instance – they have diminished Australia’s influence and voice in the world.

A Shorten Labor Government is determined to turn that around.

I mentioned earlier that ‘constructive internationalism’ is one of our core national interests. In a time of disruption, such as we presently face, it becomes even more important that middle-tier countries such as Australia act in collaboration with their neighbours and other like-minded nations.

Constructive internationalism is a truly strategic concept: it was when Gareth Evans promoted it as ‘good international citizenship’ and it has become even more so as we seek to hedge against the consequences of disruption. And make no mistake; rising levels of atmospheric CO2 are, along with nuclear weapons, among the most disruptive issues confronting humanity.

Constructive internationalism is the best tool available to us for dealing with ‘wicked’ problems in the international political domain. As you all know, ‘wicked’ problems are the multi-dimensional and multi-faceted problems that can find no single or comprehensive resolution.

‘Wicked’ problems have three major components. First, there is a multiplicity of matters affecting many stakeholders. Second, those stakeholders are affected in numerous ways. And third, the complex of issues requires the stakeholders to come together in a variety of ways to identify avenues for resolution.

Constructive internationalism generates international public goods that reflect our values and meet our national interests. By working cooperatively to resolve ‘wicked’ problems, we create critical international public goods – such as a global response to climate change – where we all draw benefit, even when the economic, environmental and security returns are different in kind and distribution.

Constructive internationalism is about forging associations, partnerships and alliances to act in the common good. It is about bringing to bear our national policy skills, which are considerable, to help shape the international rules that must underpin common purpose. And it is about an energetic, focused and sustained diplomacy both to instigate new approaches to ‘wicked’ problems and to marshal the combined efforts of partner countries to deliver effective and long-term action. Constructive internationalism is a kind of cooperative self-interest. That’s what makes it so attractive to partners.

The clearest indicator of constructive internationalism at work is strong, effective and inclusive international institutions.

This is nowhere more true than in the climate change domain. Here, our neighbours are particularly important to us as climate change partners, whether they are Pacific island states facing catastrophic consequences from rising sea levels or Asian archipelagic and riverine delta states facing recurrent inundation of crop lands.

It is important that we recognise that the institutional tools for realising our constructive internationalism national interest are already to hand. In January, I spoke at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore. I made what I know most of you would regard as the obvious point that ASEAN is central to delivering long-term peace and prosperity in Asia. I went on to identify ASEAN as the lynch-pin in Asia’s role in a globalised economic world, with a growing role in the maintenance of the global economic system and the rules that support it.

So it will come as no surprise to any of you that we will place renewed emphasis on the climate change work we do with ASEAN members, and seek to build the collaborative arrangements that we, and they, already have in place.

Similarly, we will be working to strengthen and broaden our climate change work in the Pacific through the Council of Regional Organisations of the Pacific, and its principal subsidiaries, the Pacific Islands Forum, the Pacific Community (formerly the South Pacific Commission) and the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Program.

It goes without saying, of course, that a Shorten Labor Government will be willing to work with other third parties, whether they are major institutions such as the Asian Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the Secretariat of the UNFCC and the Green Climate Fund that continues to implement important parts of the Paris Agreement, or other nations that wish to contribute of climate change mitigation and adaptation programs in our region.

The second way in which I propose to rebuild Australia’s credibility and standing in the climate change domain is through rebuilding the technical and professional skills of the DFAT staff.

As many of you would know, Australia is very well served by its foreign affairs staff. They are an extraordinarily dedicated and hardworking group of women and men who cover an extended range of disciplines with application and professionalism. But they are spread thin, with virtually no redundancy in the system. Not only have the numbers of DFAT officers posted abroad been cut over the past two decades but, more significantly, core skills have been lost.

A principal focus we want DFAT to have is the re-skilling and re-professionalising of their existing talent. Through-career learning and continuing professional education are critical if we are to be able to generate the opportunities and address the threats that this time of disruption brings with it.

In this regard, I should add that it is my intention to look to a number of you here this morning to assist DFAT in strengthening these professional competencies. You would appreciate that I am proposing this for two reasons: you have the skills, and I want DFAT officers to have them; and, just as importantly, I want DFAT to re-build and strengthen its links with the broader Australian professional community in delivering what are, after all, core national outcomes.

And the third step I am proposing to take to restore Australia’s international reputation and credibility in the climate change domain is to re-institute and re-badge the position of Climate Change Ambassador. Unlike the Abbott/Turnbull governments, we aren’t politically allergic to the term ‘climate change’.

I wish to conclude with two final observations.

First, none of us should underestimate the urgency attaching to clear, decisive and effective actions to reduce carbon emissions and reduce the global carbon load if the global community is to live within a global warming limit of 2 degrees. While we all know that goal is challenging, we equally know that the determination to do so is not yet there.

And second, all of us here this morning know that, if we are to build that determination to limit global warming to 2 degrees, constructive internationalists need to build the coalitions to achieve that, and to develop the evidence-based policies that are the key to concerted action. We need to build our powers of advocacy and our skills at persuasion to ensure that all nations see it in their national interests to protect our little blue spaceship or, as the cosmologist Carl Sagan put it in 1994, “our pale blue dot”.

Many of you will recall the astonishing photograph taken by Voyager 1 as it turned its camera back towards earth for one final image before it exited the solar system and headed into interstellar space. From 6 billion kilometres, the faintest blue dot could be seen in the void of space.

Sagan captured the starkness of our plight with great poignancy. So I shall end with his words.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. . . . It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.