The Hon. T.A. FRANKS: I rise on behalf of the Greens to speak in support of this bill. Australia is blessed with unique and precious species, ecosystems and natural resources, and is home to 20 World Heritage sites, over 600,000 native species and two out of the 36 areas identified as biodiversity hotspots by the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund. However, over the last two centuries, Australia has suffered the largest recorded degeneration in biodiversity across the globe and continues to be threatened by the impacts of climate change.
There is an increasing pressure on the biodiversity, ecosystem services, clean air, clean water and natural resources upon which all Australians depend. The impacts of climate change are already being seen in drastic reality, through multiple bleaching events in the Great Barrier Reef, the death of wetland areas caused by reduced rainfall, and the increasing occurrence of extreme weather events. You simply have to look at the newspaper or listen to the radio. Day after day, week after week, we are seeing this unfold right before our own eyes.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's Synthesis Report, published on 20 March 2023, highlighted the urgent need for stronger environmental governance to ward against the increasing risk of climate change. That IPCC report unequivocally states that unless there are immediate, rapid and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, it will be nearly impossible to limit global warming to close to 1.5° Celsius or even 2° Celsius.
Climate change poses the greatest existential threat to the world's collective environment and health. While the main focus of the Environment Protection Authority is generally on regulating pollution, environmental destruction and waste, these issues are inseparable from climate change, which is a phenomenon caused by a diverse range of environmentally harmful activities.
The EPA should therefore have a duty to take action to reduce the risks of climate change. As a result of this interrelation between pollution, environmental destruction, waste, and climate change, reducing the risks of climate change through mitigation and adaptation is a natural part of the regulations under the EPA and so we welcome this bill today.
We must pursue emissions reductions efforts to ensure that we are taking responsibility for the emissions from products that we are profiting from and exploiting, and to ensure that we are not promoting their continued use. This is particularly important, given the EPAs are responsible for development approvals and licences in several jurisdictions which typically have the most responsibility for emissions.
Addressing climate change is also a necessary step to ensure that environmental justice is achieved, as climate change disproportionately impacts those most vulnerable to environmental harm, both here in Australia and, of course, across the globe. For example, in Australia, Torres Strait Islanders have been experiencing the impacts of sea level rise from climate change for decades, yet they are one of the smallest contributors globally to the cause of that climate change.
The inclusion of climate change in the EPA Board objectives is also essential to achieve intergenerational equity, given the worst impacts of climate change will be felt not by us but by future generations who have not contributed to global emissions and pollution. The development of environmental protection policy with a focus on climate change will provide a clearer pathway to meet our commitment under the Paris Agreement to pursue efforts to limit temperatures across our globe to 1.5° Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
This is a simple bill but it is a profound bill. I note the earlier contribution from the Liberal opposition that this was somehow virtue signalling. I am going to point out that virtue signalling is about telling people that you are doing good. This bill does good. It has virtue. It has validity in itself. It may be a small step, but it is an essential one. The Greens welcome this bill and look forward to its speedy passage.