Jenny Leong speaks in the NSW Legislative Assembly on the urgency of acting to mitigate the worst risks of climate change as discussed in the IPCC's latest report.
Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (18:39): While huge swathes of New South Wales were being devastated by unprecedented flooding, people were dying and thousands of homes were being destroyed, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] handed down its most recent report. The main takeaway from that report is that climate change is already with us. It is already fuelling extreme weather events, and the window to act to prevent devastation beyond that we can adapt to is rapidly closing. As happened with the 2019 bushfires, it is beyond frustrating that people are still referring to the recent catastrophic and tragic floods as "unexpected" or a one-in-100-year or even one-in-1,000-year event. While the recent floods might have been unprecedented and absolutely devastating, the extreme weather events are certainly not unexpected. Scientists have been issuing increasingly urgent warnings to policymakers for decades. In case members have not yet read the IPCC report—and it does provide an easy-read summary for policymakers—it is bleak and unambiguous. It states:
It is unequivocal that climate change has already disrupted human and natural systems ... Societal choices and actions implemented in the next decade determine the extent to which medium- and long-term pathways will deliver higher or lower climate resilient development ... Importantly climate resilient development prospects are increasingly limited if current greenhouse gas emissions do not rapidly decline, especially if 1.5°C global warming is exceeded in the near term ...
That is a clear and present warning and danger. It takes time to implement many of those adaptive approaches to help us be more resilient to natural disasters—and we have already wasted decades. We have also failed to limit our greenhouse gas emissions to a level that will contain global warming to a more manageable 1.5 degrees Celsius. Instead, we are hurtling towards three or four degrees Celsius of warming. It was pretty astounding that the Coordinator-General of the National Recovery and Resilience Agency suggested that residents must "face realities" and that potentially some of these communities are no longer livable. He also stated:
The taxpayer and the ratepayer cannot continue to pick up the bill for these huge, catastrophic damage events.
However, I doubt that he meant we should make the fossil fuel companies pay, which is exactly what The Greens think we should do. While he is right that we should be limiting development on flood plains, simply saying that people should go and live elsewhere does not make sense. Where should they go? In Sydney some 200,000 people were evacuated because of the floods. Heatwaves in western Sydney are anticipated to hit 50 degrees Celsius if we continue on our current emissions trajectory; it will become a very difficult place to live. Nearly all regional areas are at the risk of bushfires, including Cobargo, which was hit really hard despite being mostly grassland. Towns and cities along the coast are particularly at risk from sea level rise and coastal erosion. Inland areas are at the risk of severe water shortages, desertification and extreme, unlivable heatwaves.
All of us are at risk—and the risks are serious. We cannot simply live elsewhere because the impacts will start to compound and there will be no elsewhere. The IPCC report goes on to warn that one of the greatest dangers to our resilience is coping with multiple disasters at once when multiple areas are hit at the same time. That means that there is no-one left to help and send additional resources from other places. The IPCC also warns:
Despite progress, adaptation gaps exist between current levels of adaptation and levels needed to respond to impacts and reduce climate risks …
The science is clear: The mining and burning of coal, oil and gas are the cause of the climate crisis. Yet here in New South Wales we continue to export coal and gas and we continue to approve new coalmines. That is simply not compatible with keeping global warming to a range that is possible for us to adapt to and live with. As a country and as a State, we are yet to take responsibility for being one of the biggest fossil fuel exporters in the world. By a trick of accounting, the New South Wales Government does not consider it to be our responsibility. But our actions are fuelling the climate crisis and we have the capacity and the responsibility to act. To finish, I will read to members the closing sentence of the IPCC report. I want all members to sit with it for a moment. It states:
The cumulative scientific evidence is unequivocal: Climate change is a threat to human well-being and planetary health. Any further delay in concerted anticipatory global action on adaptation and mitigation will miss a brief and rapidly closing window of opportunity to secure a liveable and sustainable future for all.