Fossil Fuel Nonproliferation Treaty

In Parliament, Motions

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:13): I move:

That this council—

1. Acknowledges that the scientific consensus is clear that human activities are primarily responsible for accelerating global climate change;

2. Recognises that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in 2018 that we must achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of this century in order to have a reasonable chance of limiting global warming to 1.5º Celsius;

3. Acknowledges that phasing out fossil fuel production and fast-tracking the transition to 100 per cent renewables will require unprecedented international cooperation on nonproliferation, global disarmament, and a just transition; and

4. Calls on the South Australian government to endorse the call for an international treaty on fossil fuel nonproliferation.

I rise today to call on this parliament to join the many other parliaments across the world in calling for and endorsing a fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty. This treaty is modelled on the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and would end expansion of new fossil fuel projects, phase-out existing projects fairly and in line with climate science, and ensure a just transition globally for workers, for communities and countries that have been dependent on fossil fuels.

These pillars of the fossil fuel treaty have been endorsed by more than 120 parliamentarians; 2,500 scientists and academics; 101 Nobel laureates; cities, including Sydney, Barcelona and Los Angeles; 800 civil society organisations; health institutions, representing 100,000-plus professionals; Indigenous peoples around the world; senior faith leaders, including the Dalai Lama; and 500 youth climate leaders.

The message is clear: the end of coal, oil and gas is inevitable. We must stop subsidising this dead and deadly industry and join the global push to phase-out fossil fuels. There are better, cleaner ways to get our energy. The technology is there and what we need to do is follow through and invest in it.

It is immoral that, as the climate crisis escalates, fossil fuel companies are able to post record profits on the back of the exploitation of a global resource, their growth fed by government subsidies and tax cuts and further enabled by this spineless approval of ever more destructive and dangerous projects. The time for incrementalism is well and truly over. We have had over 50 years since the public has known, and there have been well-known warnings about climate change and the risks of fossil fuel.

As we hit 1.2º of warming, any further delay in action is actually an act of denial. This denial will kill many. It already has. We have spent decades focused on climate policy that is not giving us action fast enough. As much as we invest in alternatives such as wind and solar and increase the price of carbon, we have no mechanism at present to counteract the tax breaks, fossil fuel subsidies and delay tactics that are distorting the energy market and allowing fossil fuels to flourish. Tzeporah Berman, the chair of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty Initiative, says it best:

We can’t rely on the fossil fuel industry to break business as usual, especially one that delivers unthinkable profits for the industry while the rest of us reel from the ripple effects of high fuel prices. That’s why there is an urgent need for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty to end the expansion of oil, gas and coal, phase out existing production to limit warming to manageable levels and accelerate a fair energy transition where wealthy, fossil fuel-producing nations lead and support other countries so there is affordable, clean energy from sun, wind and water for everyone.

We cannot have it both ways. If we are committed to a net zero future as we say we are, if we are committed to limiting the impacts of climate change as we say we are, then we cannot keep delaying. We must urgently commit to a global framework to phase-out coal, oil and gas fairly and forever. The International Energy Agency has warned that no new oil and gas reservoirs should open up if the world is to do what it has agreed to do at the Paris Agreement.

A study last year found that 90 per cent of coal and 60 per cent of oil and gas reserves need to stay in the ground just to give a 50 per cent chance of limiting global heating to 1.5º Celsius. Just last week, we heard from the National Geological Survey of Denmark and Greenland that major sea level rise caused by melting of the Greenland ice cap is ‘now inevitable’, with a ‘very conservative rock-bottom minimum’ rise of 27 centimetres set to occur regardless of what climate action is taken from this point onwards. It is devastating.

The time for incrementalism, if there ever was one, is well and truly over. We need strong, significant commitments now, and we must fast-track the transition away from fossil fuels. We have had decades of missed opportunities, and the consequences are now catching up with us. We are seeing record heatwaves, droughts across Europe and Asia, rivers drying up, including the Rhine and the Loire in Europe, parts of the Yangtze in China and the Colorado River in the US, and no-one in South Australia can forget about the Murray. At the same time, one-third of Pakistan is currently submerged—one-third of that country—due to catastrophic flooding.

All of this news is terrible. The impacts of climate change are terrible. I know that it can be hard and dispiriting to listen to this information again and again, but we are living this and there is a lot to be hopeful for. The good news is that rapid global exit from coal, oil and gas is possible. We have more than enough energy renewable resources to meet the energy needs of everyone.

We have used global treaties in the past to defuse global threats before: nuclear weapons, deadly landmines and ozone depleting chemicals, to name a few. We know that this approach can work. We must come together in the spirit of international cooperation and begin to negotiate a fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty. I commend the motion.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (17:20): I rise to speak in support of the motion moved by my colleague the Hon. Tammy Franks. Ongoing investments in fossil fuels by Australian governments put us not just at odds with the science but with the rest of the world. They pose a threat to our trade and our economy as well as to our climate.

In South Australia we have declared a climate emergency and it is now time for us to declare our support for a fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty. This would be an empowering next step for our state, demonstrating how even small jurisdictions can lead the way by joining with other cities, states and nations around the world to speak with one clear voice.

We all know the historical and ongoing contribution fossil fuels make to climate change, and this industry—one that is aided by the Australian government, propped up by both of the major political parties—has ongoing expansion plans. We cannot accept this and so instead we are calling for a solution that matches the scale of the problem. We must cooperate globally to address this global problem and everybody, every state, every city, every individual has a role to play. In the words of Professor Lesley Hughes:

…every fraction of a degree of warming is doing us harm. This means that every day we delay cessation of fossil fuel burning, we come closer to catastrophe.

It is people who created this crisis and it is the people who must stop it. Our state has a proven capacity to be a renewable energy powerhouse and I do recognise the work of all sides of politics in this regard. We are a state that is largely powered by the sun and the wind and soon will be powered by hydrogen as well. But emissions and their impacts—whether they are generated here or by other states—do not stop at our borders.

What happens in one place affects us all. Indeed, that has been the story of this climate crisis. While South Australia has been a leader when it comes to renewable energy, our federal government continues to subsidise the fossil fuel industry to the tune of about $10.3 billion per year. Who can forget the forgotten years, the forgotten decade under the failed leadership of Scott Morrison, the do-nothing Malcolm Turnbull and the hopeless Tony Abbott.

We must therefore call on all of our colleagues, both interstate and federally, to face the reality that climate change is here, and to avoid making it worse we need to keep coal and gas in the ground. To that end, earlier today I introduced a private member’s bill to ban gas connections to new homes from 2025 as part of the Greens leadership in this place in taking action on this climate crisis.

Any ongoing fossil fuel extraction and burning would deny us the chance of a safe climate future. By advocating for this treaty, South Australia could join the ACT and be a pillar of a strong national and international approach to pursuing efforts to limit temperature increases to 1.5º above pre-industrial levels.

We have had some incentives, but we need more. We need incentives for sustainable transformation of the energy sector in our state but with that it is clear that we also need disincentives, the carrot and the stick, to deal with the consumption and the production of fossil fuels. The ongoing extraction of fossil fuels via coalmining and oil and gas extraction, including coal seam gas, shale gas, tight gas, shale oil and underground coal gasification, pose unacceptable risks to Australia’s land, our water and our industries, such as agriculture, grazing and tourism.

We need to take this seriously. How long can we watch our communities be consumed by flames and floods at an ever-increasing rate? These disasters are not inevitable. We must demand a different path, one that embraces renewable energy sources and that allows our communities to live in harmony with ecosystems and thrive within the limits of our planet. After all, it is this planet that constrains us all. A fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty is the next logical step on such a pathway. I commend the motion.

Debate adjourned on motion of Hon. I.K. Hunter.