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Climate Emergency Declaration

31 May 2022 

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: I rise to speak in support of this motion to declare a climate emergency. I will speak to the merits of the motion, but first I want to address the amendment from the Leader of the Opposition and indicate that the Greens will not be supporting that amendment.

Rather than what the honourable member contends, that amendment would actually rob this motion of its veracity by inserting a clause that says that we will transition to net zero emissions by 2050. It would lock this council into supporting the inadequate policy position of the failed Morrison government. Might I say that the people of Australia have made their views on that known quite recently, just a few weeks ago, where we saw the Teal independent revolution sweeping our nation and where we saw record support for the Greens in traditional Liberal held areas.

A big factor there was the failure of the Liberal Party, under the leadership of failed Prime Minister Scott Morrison, to deal with climate change seriously, to address the challenge head on. Quite frankly, Australians do not want politicians talking about what is going to happen over in the never-never in 2050. I might as well say I am going to cut out carbs, I am going to cut out sugar and I am going to cut out booze, so that I can do it by 2050 and look like Premier Peter Malinauskas. Anyone can make those pledges—

Members interjecting


The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: —by 2050. We need to actually take action now. The Liberal Party has really missed the mark with this amendment, so we will not be supporting it.

To speak to the motion that has been put forward by the government, which we welcome, this is really about South Australia joining other jurisdictions around the world in recognising the seriousness of climate change and resolving on the need to act. In South Australia we have seen the effects of the climate crisis firsthand. We have seen drought, we have seen fire, and this is only just the beginning. Everybody will be affected by climate change.

We talk a lot in this place about the great disruption that has come from COVID-19, but really COVID-19 will be the curtain-raiser for the climate crisis in terms of the disruption and what that means for every element of our society unless we take action. The IPCC report tells us that we are not doing enough to curb climate change emissions this decade. The 2022 IPCC report warns that cascading, compounding and aggregate impacts are projected to grow due to concurrent increases in heatwaves, droughts, fires, storms, floods and rising sea levels.

Major impacts across multiple sectors could disrupt supply chains to industries and communities and constrain the delivery of health, energy and water. The impacts will not just be environmental but socio-economic as well. The cost of inaction outweighs the cost of action and now is the time for us to do something decisive. If we continue without substantial and effective action, we will see more health impacts from air pollution, we will see climate refugees who have lost their homes due to fire or flood, and we will see less rainfall for our primary producers.

These past decades of inaction and incrementalism have taken us past one degree of global warming and are driving us towards a world that is potentially even three or four degrees hotter. The last time there was this much carbon dioxide in the air was at least 2.6 million years ago, before humans existed. Back then, temperatures were more than three degrees warmer. Many, if not all, of the emergencies will already create casualties and damage before they are met with a response, and this is particularly the case when a response is unreasonably late. We risk finding ourselves in that situation if we do not act now.

I know that many people feel held back at the moment by despair and panic, but this is not the time for panic; this is the time to keep our heads, to show our strength and to fight to protect all that we can, not to hesitate, not to give up and not to despair. This is the time for us to roll our sleeves up. We need to plan and we need to speed up our actions and ensure that we reach zero net emissions as soon as we can. The Greens are campaigning for that to happen in 2035, not in 2050, not over in the never-never. All political parties in this place need to work together to make that happen.

In my time as a councillor at the City of Adelaide, I successfully moved a motion to declare a climate emergency back in 2019, and currently 16 of South Australia's local government jurisdictions have declared climate emergencies. In that same year, my predecessor, the Hon. Mark Parnell, moved a similar motion to declare a climate emergency in this place. While it was passed, it was stalled in the House of Assembly. The Greens want to recognise the work of Mark Parnell in bringing the climate emergency declaration to this place in 2019 and his efforts to try to make the South Australian parliament the first jurisdiction in the country to declare a climate emergency.

In that same year, we were pipped at the post by the ACT. They became the first territory to do the same and they successfully passed a declaration through both houses. Again, that was moved by one of my Green colleagues, Minister Shane Rattenbury. I also note that Greens leader at a federal level, Adam Bandt, has previously moved a Climate Emergency Declaration Bill in the federal parliament, which was rejected by the Morrison government. This, of course, was the Prime Minister that famously brought in a piece of coal, such was his indifference towards the climate crisis.

It has been baffling in the past to hear people such as the now Leader of the Opposition, David Speirs, dismiss the declaration of a climate emergency as being purely symbolic, as if symbols are not important. If we refuse to acknowledge that we are in the middle of an emergency, we will never act with the urgency that we know is required so that we can deal with this existential threat.

Globally, climate emergency declarations have been made in 2,094 jurisdictions and local governments covering one billion citizens. While the Greens recognised that a motion on its own is not going to solve the climate crisis, this parliament as an institution recognising the seriousness and scale of the problem is a big and meaningful step towards real action. I do want to acknowledge the leadership of Deputy Premier and environment minister the Hon. Susan Close in this regard. We really welcome the House of Assembly bringing this forward.

This is not the end of the matter. This is the beginning of a much deeper conversation around how we respond to the climate crisis in our state. We in the Greens have been arguing for a long time around the need for a Green New Deal that ensures we address climate, along with growing inequality. We need to invest in green jobs, we need to build and retrofit sustainable homes, we need free and frequent publicly owned public transport, we need an emissions target of at least 75 per cent by 2030 and we need to reach net zero by 2035. The year 2050 is just far too late. Now is the time for action. With that, I commend the motion.