The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (15:23):
Today, I rise to speak about our collective future, our current reality and the conversation happening between almost 200 nations in Poland right at this very moment. I am of course talking about climate change. Currently, the COP24 conference is happening in Poland where world leaders and delegates from almost 200 nations are discussing how we can turn pledges made in 2015 at the Paris climate deal into a reality.
These negotiations take place against a background of ominous news. The past four years have been the hottest on record. Despite early efforts, which at one point Australia led, global emissions are rising when we need them to halve by 2030. Queensland is burning with unprecedented bushfires while just the other week New South Wales was inundated with destructive rains. Our rivers are drying, our farmers are facing seemingly endless droughts and we have already had dire warnings for the bushfire season ahead around the country—and this is only for 2018.
It is not a situation unique to Australia. This year, we have seen heatwaves and wildfires in Europe and California, contrasted by enormous floods in India, Japan and East Africa. Devastating, huge climate events such as storms, hurricanes, droughts and floods are happening more frequently, where previously they would have been spaced out over decades or even hundreds of years. But this is just the beginning. The UN itself warns that we only have 12 years to limit—and I would like to emphasise the word ‘limit’, as it is not even ‘avoid’ anymore—the climate change catastrophe ahead.
We need urgent changes to cut the extreme heat risk of drought, floods, inequality and, of course, poverty. It is that last point about climate justice—inequality and poverty—that is the reason I chose to talk about climate change today. We are without a doubt the last generation that can change the course of climate change. What is unique about this point in time is that we are also seeing some of the first generations living with its consequences, and this has been shown most clearly in the voices of ordinary people all around the world, especially in the lead-up to COP24.
To quote a well-known saying, ‘The impacts of climate change are here. They are just not evenly distributed.’ The 47-strong Least Developed Countries Group has made a powerful statement to world leaders, stating that ‘We represent almost one billion people, the people who are least responsible for climate change but among the most vulnerable to its effects.’ Climate change places compounded stresses on our environment as well as our economic, social and political systems. It undermines development gains and leads to shortages in basic necessities.
One-third of the planet’s land is no longer fertile enough to grow food. More than 1.3 billion people live on this deteriorating agricultural land, putting them at risk of climate driven water shortages and depleted harvests. These circumstances lead to worsening hunger and poverty. While everyone around the world feels the effects of climate change, people living in the world’s poorest countries such as Haiti and Timor-Leste are the most vulnerable yet the least responsible for the emissions and pollutions that are driving catastrophic climate change.
Increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, shifting seasons and natural disasters disproportionately threaten these populations, increasing their risk and their dependency on humanitarian aid. Three out of four people living in poverty rely on agriculture and natural resources to survive. For these people, the effects of climate change, limited water and food sources, and increased competition for them, are a real matter of life and death. Climate change has turned their lives into a desperate guessing game, but the disparity of the impact of climate change on the wealthy versus the poor is not just demonstrable between countries but within countries as well. The poor are disproportionately affected by climate change, the least responsible for it and the least able to shield themselves from its effects.
A perfect example of this was the recent bushfires in California. As the death toll continued to climb from the wildfires and the residents began to confront the enormous task of trying to rebuild their homes and communities, the very lucky and the very rich did not face the same challenges. Celebrities and other wealthy residents were able to save their homes by employing private firefighters who are often provided as a service as part of a certain insurance company’s coverage plans but come at a very high cost. The insurance companies offering this additional service are often for policyholders with properties valued at more than $1 million.
So here we have a perfect example of those with money being able to escape, or at least greatly mitigate, the effects of severe natural disasters fuelled by climate change while those with less money face the brunt of the impact. These inequalities we see will only be exacerbated unless we take action now. I commend the schoolchildren who stood on the steps of this place and stood on the steps of parliaments around the country last week. They were there for urgent action from people in these places, these parliaments, for climate change, and I stand with them today for climate justice as well as action on climate change.