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Australia's Paris Pledge

Question
Larissa Waters 1 Mar 2016

Senator WATERS

My question is to the minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Brandis. At the Paris climate conference, the Prime Minister paraded Australia's climate pollution reduction targets, woeful though they are. The report today by land carbon experts CO2 Australia shows that increased tree clearing right around the country will undermine Australia's ability to meet our obligations under the Paris agreement and, in fact, would wipe out the abatement achieved under the Emissions Reduction Fund. In Queensland alone, land clearing has doubled since then Premier Newman axed our tree clearing laws, and the delay in reintroducing those laws is leading to further panic clearing. You have given out $670 million of taxpayers' money, but you are letting the bulldozers run rampant at the same time. When will this government step in to avoid that destruction, or is the Prime Minister happy for Australia to fail to meet its Paris climate reduction targets?

Senator BRANDIS

Thank you very much indeed, Senator Waters, for drawing my attention to that report. The report about tree clearing which you have referenced is not a report with which I am familiar, but I will have a good look at it and if I have further information I will get back to you.

On your broader point, I can tell you that Australia will meet its obligations. In fact, Australia is running ahead of its obligations. Australia is running ahead of its targets. We subscribe to the Paris agreement aiming to keep global warming to well below two degrees, and also allowing some countries to pursue efforts to limit their increases to 1.5 degrees. 187 countries have already submitted emissions reduction targets covering 96 per cent of global emissions.

As I am sure you know, Senator Waters, Australia's 2030 target of 26 to 28 per cent emissions reduction is comparable to similarly situated countries. It doubles our current target and halves our per capita emissions. It is a point I have made to you before, and you do not seem willing or able to accept it, but Australia's per capita emissions reduction target is the second highest of any of the G20 nations. Our per capita emissions reduction target is the second most ambitious of all the G20 nations. Contrary to the assertion in the premise of your question, Australia is ahead of its already announced emissions reduction targets. In your question you have pointed to no basis to believe that, being ahead, we will not continue to be ahead or at least to reach our emissions reduction targets, ambitious though they are.

Senator WATERS

Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I look forward to Senator Brandis reading that report. As well as the enormous climate implications, tree clearing destroys wildlife habitat, causes erosion, leads to more run-off pollution into reef catchments and denies farmers the opportunity to be paid a fair price for storing carbon. When will the federal government take real action on global warming that stops forests being cleared and supports farmers to improve their soils and protect precious vegetation?

Senator BRANDIS

As I said, I will look at the report on forestry and land clearing. Our ultimate good faith on this issue can be seen by the fact, as I said in answer to your primary question—sorry to be repetitive—that we have adopted the second most ambitious per capita emissions reduction targets of any G20 nation: 26 to 28 per cent reduction by 2030. We are meeting and indeed exceeding that—as of today, we are ahead of the targets that we had previously committed to.

If I may say so, with respect, Senator Waters, the way to test whether Australia is serious is in two ways: to ask how ambitious our targets are—and they are some of the most ambitious in the world—and to ask whether we have met or exceeded them. We have.

Senator WATERS

Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Those targets would still leave us as the largest per capita emitter in the world. Australia only met its first targets—

Government senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT

Order on my right. Senator Waters?

Senator WATERS

Mr President, can I ask that the clock be restarted?

Honourable senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT

Order on both sides. Senator Waters, we will start the clock again.

Senator WATERS

Australia only met its first international climate target because of land clearing restrictions in Queensland. Now that those laws are largely gone and the bulldozers are back, when will this government stop cooking the books by relying on that carried-over emissions credit, which five other nations have said they will not rely on?

Senator BRANDIS

The integrity of Australia's reporting on emissions reductions has not been called into question by any credible authority. You seem, by your question, to suggesting that because of an alteration to pass policies there may be some reason to call that accounting into question. I do not see that that is the case. If so, that is an observation for the future.

However, it remains the case—and you have not disputed it in anything you have said in this period of questions—that of the 19 other G20 nations Australia's emissions reduction targets, judged on a per capita basis, are more ambitious than 18 others. They are more ambitious than 18 of the 19. You say they should be more ambitious still, but in comparative terms they are among the most ambitious in the world.

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