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Speech: Climate Change and Social Inequality

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (20:57):

Climate change is the greatest obstacle to reducing poverty and inequality and to promoting prosperity and stability in our world today. Developing countries and poor communities are already bearing the brunt of climate change, with rising sea levels, more intense tropical cyclones, lower crop yields and water shortages. If left unaddressed, climate change will rapidly worsen this already dire situation. The inequality, the hardship and the poverty will be exacerbated. Decades of development gains will unravel. Millions more will be forced into poverty.

Action on climate change is also squarely in Australia's interests and, indeed, is our responsibility. Climate change poses threats to our own quality of life, as well as to the prosperity and stability of our region. These issues have been addressed by the peak development organisation in Australia, ACFID-the Australian Council for International Development. They have set out a number of recommendations for Australia to play a fair and effective role in tackling climate change, reducing poverty and inequality and promoting sustainable development. The Greens support ACFID's plan. The peak development organisation recommends that the Australian government sets targets to reduce Australia's national greenhouse gas emissions by at least 40 per cent below 2000 levels by 2025 and at least 60 per cent by 2030, while also making a clear commitment to achieving zero emissions well before the middle of the century. They recommend that this be backed up by a national strategy to take this forward.


Another important recommendation is to increase Australia's contribution to climate finance to at least $400 million per year from 2016-17. This must be on top of Australia's official development assistance to ensure funding is not diverted from other poverty alleviation programs. Other recommendations include developing and implementing a climate change strategy for Australia's aid program, supporting community-based initiatives to build resilience against the impacts of climate change in the Pacific, supporting an ambitious and legally binding universal climate change agreement, promoting efforts to ensure that climate change is maintained as a distinct sustainable development goal and integrating environmental sustainability into all other goals.

ACFID stresses that this year is a critical year full of opportunities for action, as global leaders will come together in September 2015 to agree on a set of sustainable development goals and also, in December this year, to finalise a new international climate change agreement to reduce global emissions and ensure developing countries have the means to adapt to the impacts of climate change. The situation in low-income countries, particularly in the Pacific, highlights why the ACFID plan should be adopted. The Pacific island nations are already extremely vulnerable to disasters, and, as a direct result, their economic losses as a percentage of GDP are already higher than almost anywhere else in the world. These nations will also be the hardest hit by the effects of climate change, resulting in land loss, more intense tropical cyclones and economic downturn in fishing and tourism. Countries from South and Southeast Asia right across to east and southern Africa will be affected by soil salinisation in food producing areas, water shortages, food security and increased flood risk. Climate change is also projected to pose risks to drinking water, which could lead to increased rates of water- and vector-borne diseases such as cholera, dengue fever and malaria.

The most marginalised and disadvantaged groups within society, including women, children, people with disabilities, indigenous peoples and ethnic minorities, are the communities most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. As a result, climate change will not only exacerbate poverty where it already exists but create new pockets of poverty and increase inequality within and across communities and generations. This then has the potential to impact upon social cohesion, contributing to the outbreak of civil war or intergroup violence. These factors will all lead to a massive increase in displacement and migration. The number of potential climate refugees worldwide is estimated to range from 70 million to 600 million by 2050. It is understandable that there is that range in the figures because, clearly, if we take action to reduce global emissions the growth in climate refugees can be stemmed. A large proportion of these climate refugees will come to Australia from neighbouring Pacific islands. It is expected that sea level rises in the west Pacific could be up to four times higher than the global average.

The international community has committed to limiting global warming to below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. We know this is achievable, but it requires immediate action to rapidly reduce carbon emissions and reach zero emissions by around 2050. While we need to increase funding and address the programs needed to manage climate change impacts in low-income countries, we also need to play our part by reducing global emissions that emanate from Australia. The cooperation of wealthier countries such as Australia is vital if we are to achieve our goal, not only because such countries have much greater capacity to act but also because they contribute more to climate change through their cumulative emissions. We have a responsibility to act, as Australia is currently the world's 13th biggest greenhouse gas emitter and one of the world's largest per capita emitters. Australia's emissions are equal to those of 11 developing countries put together. The responsibility that we have is enormous. We need to act on it, and the ACFID plan gives us a way forward.

It is abundantly clear, if we are serious about alleviating poverty and inequality around the world and improving and maintaining prosperity and stability in our region, that an effective climate change plan along with increased participation in international efforts to tackle climate change and mitigate its impact are essential. But we need to act fast. That is the clear message from the ACFID plan.


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