Climate Change Science

I spoke in parliament yesterday, seconding a motion by John Murphy on the science of climate change.

Private Members’ Business
Climate Change
22 November 2010

‘We are playing Russian roulette with features of the planet’s atmosphere that will profoundly impact generations to come. How long are we willing to gamble?’ These are not my words but the word of David Suzuki, well-known scientist and academic. Do these words have relevance in this 43rd Parliament? That is the answer those opposite must provide, the test by which they will be measured.

The science behind climate change is not new; it has not recently emerged. It is based on a body of science over 100 years old. Governments and policymakers for the past 21 years have been provided with an assessment of the state of knowledge in global climate change science by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The 2007 Fourth Assessment Report of the IPCC, a report based on the work of more than 1,250 scientists from 130 countries, the national academies of sciences of each of the Group of Eight countries along with those of India, Brazil and China, plus our own national Academy of Science, agree with the conclusion that global warming is likely caused by us.

Much has been made of two minor errors in the 2007 IPCC report. But these errors are minor, did not affect the overall findings and went to the effects of climate change, not whether it is occurring, which is the question we are debating today. As the Royal Society wrote:

There is no greater uncertainty about future temperature increases now than the Royal Society had previously indicated.

The science remains the same, as do the uncertainties. … There is strong evidence that changes in greenhouse gas concentrations due to human activity are the main cause of the global warming that has taken place over the past half century.

Some who do not accept the overwhelming body of science point to the uncertainties. As Professor Will Steffen has noted, climate scientists are now 100 per cent certain that the world is warming and 95 per cent sure that humans are the primary cause.

A balanced assessment of the available evidence and prior knowledge allows levels of confidence to be attached to scientific findings. Just as we know that asbestos is very likely to cause malignant mesothelioma and bad cholesterol is very likely to increase the risk of a heart attack, we know that society’s greenhouse gas emissions are very likely causing global warming. Just imagine that you had a sick child, and 95 out of 100 doctors told you that the child needed a life-saving drug. Would you really follow the advice of the other five doctors?

To those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific consensus on human induced climate change, I lay down this challenge. Today is the day for you to get on the record. When the next generation looks back to this debate, I want them to know what I stand for. And I want them to know what you stand against. In the words of Rupert Murdoch:

Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats. We may not agree on the extent, but we certainly can’t afford the risk of inaction.

The risk of inaction is too high.

I wish to place on record my thanks to Shobaz Kandola, my adviser, for his assistance in this speech and to acknowledge the presence in the public gallery today of my friend Macgregor Duncan, who works for Better Place, an electric car company.

Climate change is a problem which has been caused by us and by our parents. It is a problem whose effects will be felt by our children and their children. It is right, it is just and it is the honourable course for us to begin to make amends for our actions. The costs should be ours to bear; the benefits reaped by our children. The science informs us that there is a problem. Scientists tell us that action must be taken. The economics makes it clear that the cost of inaction is too high. Economists advise us that the sooner we act, the less the cost.

To act on climate change is to invest for the present and for the future. We will recoup the costs. We will all prosper. To act on climate change is to act in the national interest, to invest in our prosperity, in our wellbeing and in the health of the environment. Those who stand for inaction and those who do not accept the science stand against the national interest. Let us agree to this motion in unanimity, and let those opposite join with us and with the crossbenchers in a debate about the merits of action. Our parliament is fitting of such a debate and our nation deserving of a contest of ideas to help solve a great challenge facing Australia.

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