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Coasts and Climate Change Council, National Coastal Climate Change Forum, Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme
19 February 2010
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WONG: It’s great to be here with Tim Flannery here in Adelaide and here at the Coastal Forum which has been going for a day and a bit and I hope has talked very closely about the issue of climate change and adaptation. We know that this generation doesn’t have the opportunity to avoid any climate change at all. We know that we have the opportunity to reduce it. But we are going to have to deal with the climate change that’s already with us - that’s already built into the system. How we adapt to that is one of the key challenges that the nation faces. And it’s a long-term challenge, a long-term job that’s going to require a lot of work from all levels of government, the community as well as the private sector. So I’m really pleased this Forum is a step in that process.
I’m also really very grateful to Tim and his colleagues on the Council - the Coasts and Climate Change Council - that I appointed last year. They were appointed to work on the development of the agenda and content of this conference, to look at the issue of adaptation and the coasts. And they have presented their preliminary findings to the Government and I’ll be releasing those. I’ve also decided to accept one of their recommendations which is to extend the term of the Council. I think this Council can do very good work. I’m very grateful to Tim, on behalf of the Government, very grateful to Tim and to his colleagues for being willing to continue this important work. So I am announcing today we will continue the Council for the duration of the year. We hope that they can continue to do the good work that they’re doing.
Later today, I’ll also be releasing the Commonwealth Government’s position paper on adaptation - another step in this very big task of adapting to the climate change we can’t avoid. I’m happy to throw to Tim and then we can take questions.
FLANNERY: Thank you Minister. Thank you. It’s great news that we will be continuing our work. I do think it’s a very important task we have ahead of us. Most Australians live around the coast. And the impacts of climate change on the coast to some extent are inevitable, as you say. Sea levels are rising at the moment by about three millimetres per year. And the trend is towards acceleration. So within the next century or so we are likely to see sea level increases on the order of a metre or more. There’s a lot of variability around that. It may be a bit less. It may be very much more. But we need to start working now if we are to secure our future I think in the face of these changes.
WONG: Thanks very much. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Senator, you said in your opening speech yesterday that beaches like Bondi and Bells in Victoria would be eroded and hundreds of metres washed away. How do you back that up?
WONG: There’s been quite an extensive amount of scientific research done on the impact of climate change on our beaches. Beaches which are prime examples of sandy beaches, for example, such as the ones I mentioned. And the scientific research demonstrates that the combination of sea level rise and storm surge could have a significant effect on beaches like the ones I mentioned. If you’re interested in speaking to some of the researchers who actually worked on this issue, we certainly have one of them at the conference today who can talk to you about his research up and down the east coast. I don’t know if Tim wants to add to that.
FLANNERY: Could I just say it’s hardly surprising that beaches are going to disappear as our climate changes. We’ve seen single climate events destroy beaches. Look at the Gold Coast as it was in the 1970s. Beaches vanishing at a great rate. So this is no surprise. This is simply part of an ongoing trend that we need to anticipate.
JOURNALIST: The science is definitely there is what you’re saying?
FLANNERY: No one can predict the future. What we can do is construct models that allow us to see where the impacts are likely to be. And beaches like Bells Beach and Bondi are vulnerable, according to those models, to the sort of changes that we set in place as our climate shifts.
WONG: Can I just make a comment about your question there. I mean, the issue here is risk. That’s what we’re dealing with. We’re dealing with the risk of climate change, the risks that we are confronted with on a whole range of fronts. People may make a whole range of predictions. They are going to be within a range. But the most risky prediction is the one that the Opposition appears to be banking on, that there is not such a thing as climate change and that we don’t have to prepare for it. That is the most risky thing a political leader can do at this time.
JOURNALIST: The Senate debate, or the Senate vote on the ETS has been delayed. Why is that?
WONG: Can I just say, this is a normal scheduling issue. The CPRS hasn’t yet been received in the Senate. It will be - I’d anticipate - soon because it was passed, obviously, through the House in the last session. This is a scheduling issue. We’ve got a range of bills we’ve got to get up. But we are absolutely committed to continuing to press for the CPRS. We need a price on carbon and we’d be looking to the cross benches as well as other Liberal senators to do the right thing by the nation. Put a price on carbon, put a price on pollution because if we’re going to deal with climate change, that’s what we need to do.
JOURNALIST: So is it a sign that the Government is backing away from the ETS?
WONG: I think I’ve just made very clear - our position remains unchanged.
JOURNALIST: Tony Abbott’s claiming that the Government is allowing water allocations to continue over and above what they’re supposed to be in the upper Murray Darling. What’s your response to that?
WONG: Mr Abbott on this issue would have some credibility if he could convince his frontbench colleagues from the upstream states to back the Government’s water purchase program. The reality is Mr Hunt, Dr Stone, and a range of his National Party colleagues have said they do not support water purchase. That’s the fastest way to get water back into the River. We’ve spent over a billion dollars. We’re returning billions of litres of water back to the River. That’s the right thing to do.
JOURNALIST: Minister, how much of a disappointment is it, the resignation of Yvo de Boer from the UNFCCC and to the wider climate change scientific movement generally?
WONG: Can I first wish Yvo well for the next phase in his career. I understand he’s moving to the private sector to continue to work on these issues, on sustainability issues. He’s made a great contribution, a very important contribution at a very important time and we wish him well. As I said, he’s continuing to work in this area, and the Government certainly appreciates the contribution he’s made.
JOURNALIST: Is it a sign though that the talks are really continuing to break down? Where are we at with the talks now?
WONG: Can I say just on that, I understand that Yvo’s contract was up this year. In any event it’s not unknown for people to move on to other jobs. The negotiations are bigger than any one individual. They are negotiations about how the planet, how the globe, how every country in the world is going to deal with climate change. They’re proceeding. We’ve got around 85 per cent of the world’s economy signed up to the Copenhagen Accord. That’s a good thing. Obviously we need to do more. And Australia’s playing our part to get the best outcome we can.
JOURNALIST: Mr Flannery, do you have any comment on Yvo de Boer’s resignation?
FLANNERY: Well only to echo Penny’s view that we wish him well. He’s had a very very difficult job over the last four years. I think he’s done a pretty good job over all. And the Copenhagen Accord shows that. We’ve got something like 80 countries now signed up to that. Todd Stern, the UN special envoy on climate change, says we’ll be at 100 countries within the next few weeks. So that’s a really good beginning. And then we go on to Mexico COP16, and we hope that we’ll see a more comprehensive agreement made there.
JOURNALIST: Could having a new chief negotiator give the talks new legs?
FLANNERY: Look it will be one element among many that we hope will move things on. My personal view is I’d love to see one of the meetings held in Beijing or Washington because then you’d get some serious buy-in. But, we shall see how things progress.
JOURNALIST: What sort of qualities should we be looking for in a new chief negotiator?
WONG: I don’t know that Tim or I want to get into the business of putting out job descriptions for the United Nations.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned water buybacks. There’s been a bit of criticism that you’ve spent too much money on buybacks and not enough on water infrastructure.
WONG: We’re rolling out our investment in water infrastructure. That’s certainly an important way in which you both return water to the River and make infrastructure more efficient – make irrigation more efficient. But I again come back to this issue: if you’re serious about returning water to the Murray Darling Basin as quickly as possible to deal with the river health issues that we know are there, then you’d support buybacks, you’d support water buybacks. The Coalition is divided on this issue and no amount of headlines from Tony Abbott is going to change that.
JOURNALIST: Have you seen any substantial policy from the Liberals in terms of water and how do they stack up against yours?
WONG: Well I think Mr Abbott, whether it’s on this issue or on other issues, is a man in search of a headline rather than a leader putting forward a policy.
JOURNALIST: Is that what you think he’s done with his views on sex?
WONG: I’m sorry?
JOURNALIST: He’s come out talking about how he enjoys sex. Have you got any comment about that?
WONG: Absolutely not. That’s really a matter for him.
JOURNALIST: Do you think its headline grabbing again?
WONG: I haven’t seen the comments and it’s probably not something I want to get into thanks.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask if Professor Flannery was able to elaborate on any of the other recommendations made by this Council?
FLANNERY: I don’t know whether the report’s been made public yet.
WONG: We will be handing it out shortly. Yes, shortly as in a few minutes.
JOURNALIST: Is it something you can make a comment on now for our evening news?
FLANNERY: I guess that as we were putting together our recommendations, we saw a real need for increased engagement with the community as a whole. And that’s not just individual people, but businesses and local governments and so forth. There is a real need for a greater understanding of the science and where it comes from and also an acceptance of the need for us to work together on this. This is not an issue that is going to be solved just by the Federal Government or by state governments or whatever. So we have suggested here a number of actions that focus on building national awareness of the issue, on greater collaboration between tiers of government and various other entities and so forth to address this issue. And really the issue that the Minister mentioned of extending the term of the Council is focused around us trying to do greater consultation over the next few months.
WONG: This Council and this Forum have all been about on an issue of great importance. That is: how do we adapt along our coasts to the risks of climate change? How do we adapt now so that we manage those risks for now and into the future? That’s what this is about. It’s all about risk management and the coasts are very important to Australians. We’ve got to manage them properly.
JOURNALIST: Can I just ask one last one on the buybacks again. Why have they not been targeted in areas that perhaps need the water the most?
WONG: Well, I can tell you that if you look at what the scientists are telling us – the CSIRO and others who have looked at the Murray Darling Basin – we have pressures across the Basin. And we are buying according to value for money for taxpayers but also according to where we need water for our environmental assets. And there are pressures, environmental pressures across the Basin. So let’s be clear: this is a tough adjustment. I don’t think anybody looking at the Murray Darling Basin thinks we can make this adjustment easily. It’s a tough adjustment because it means that we have to reduce how much water we’re using. That’s what climate change is requiring us to do. That’s what the future demands we do. So we’ve got a plan, we’ve taken over Basin planning. We’re going to have a limit that the Federal Government signs off on in terms of how much comes out of the River. And before that comes into place, we’re doing everything we can to return water to the River.