The Hon. Greg Hunt MP

Minister for the Environment

The Hon. Greg Hunt MP

Minister for the Environment

Topics: IPCC Report, Carbon Tax

Transcript: Radio 2UE - Interview with John Stanley
29 September 2013

JOHN STANLEY: The response from the Federal Government is being driven by the environment minister Greg Hunt who does join us now, Mr Hunt good morning?

GREG HUNT: And good morning John.

JOHN STANLEY: Now let's first of all look at the statement you made the other day, because you do accept the science and the findings of the IPCC climate change report?

GREG HUNT: Yes I do.

JOHN STANLEY: And you believe, and I'm looking from your statement here, you're saying for instance that over the last fifteen years, global air temperature has risen at a lower rate than it has since 1950, but you also say the last decade has been the hottest on record?

GREG HUNT: That's correct, let me put all of this in context, because you will have as - exactly as you were saying, people who will understate at one end or overstate at the other. Probably the best indicator of what's happening is average global decade temperatures.

So when you look at the chart it's very clear that each decade, for a considerable period now has been warmer than the previous decade. And so you'll have individual years that may oscillate, but the decadal chart or the average ten year chart is very very clear, that you see decade after decade which is warmer than the other.

So there's often discussion and I wanted to address it, there's often discussion about what's sometimes called The Pause. And so 1988 was an especially hot year, it lifted the bar, but since then average temperatures have still been well above the long term average, which meant the last decade has been the warmest.

Now many scientists are debating why it hasn't continued to rise at a higher rate, but nevertheless it's a warmer decade than previous ones, and the other thing which is especially interesting to me is the level of temperature and also of sort of build up of CO - well carbon equivalency in the oceans. And those things are very very clear they continue to mount.

JOHN STANLEY: And a lot of people are saying that global warmings stopped, you don't accept that based on what you've seen from the scientists?

GREG HUNT: No, in Australia we have a scientific advisory group, which is the Bureau of Meteorology, the CSIRO and the Antarctic division of the Environment Department plus some other smaller agencies. Interestingly it never included the Climate Commission under the ALP, they had all of these bodies, they never included the Climate Commission.

Anyway, the scientific advisory group which is very broadly in line with what's being said internationally makes the point that you have a progressive build up of CO2 in the atmosphere, it acts to trap heat to a degree and that itself progressively builds up.

Now they have extraordinary work done on ice cores in the Antarctic, where we have a tremendous amount of research and another major research project in drilling ice cores this summer, and it all points in the same direction. Now my job is to make sure that we actually get a balanced response both in terms of understanding the science, and note that this is a one hundred year process.

So we've had a nineteen centimetre rise in sea levels over actually just beyond a hundred –and-ten years, and it's now predicted that depending on the emissions ranges, it could be somewhere between twenty-eight and ninety-eight centimetres. So one is the lowest of the low, one is the highest of the high and it really depends on what decisions the great nations of the world make as to where we end up.

JOHN STANLEY: Okay, so when the Sun Herald has a front page as it has today of what the potential might be with a sea level rise of eighty centimetres by 2100, that is at the higher end of the band that is being predicted by scientists if we don't do anything?

GREG HUNT: That's correct. So always you look at what can we do and then what's the likely consequence of that. These people here are terribly pessimistic, I'm not. China and the US that are at the heart of the issue, get what's happening. Now they have different approaches to it, the United States in fact has had an enormous change in its emissions profile, because it switched from coal to gas in many instances.

That's not universal of course, but there's been a proportionate switch. They've improved their industrial production, their economic health and they've also decreased their emissions in real terms, not just the rate of growth but they've actually decreased their emissions. So that's been a great plus for the world.

The Chinese leadership are becoming increasingly serious because they have, not just the global concerns but also air quality concerns linked with old dirty coal fired power stations, where you have a sulphur dioxide impact, you have particulate pollution, you have air quality issues. So they are beginning to look very seriously at changes, and then the EU and Europe are the other major - the EU and India are the other major players, and there's very serious movement there.

So if we can get those four great groups of nations together, then that leaves the rest of the world in a position where we can get a good outcome, not a great outcome, but a good outcome over the next century.

JOHN STANLEY: Well see I spoke to the Climate Institute yesterday, you'd be aware of them and they are at one with you in terms of accepting the science and believing we need to do something. They still believe it should be a carbon price or some sort of market based mechanism, and they say that your direct action plan won't work. And I put it to them, I said well what's the measure of how we assess whether the direct action plan is working and what are the benchmarks.

So what benchmarks can you set for us that we can look at and how can we actually tell whether we're - whether it's working?

GREG HUNT: Well there's a very simple benchmark here and that is do we reduce our emissions. Now under the carbon tax, what we see is that our emissions go up between 2010 and 2020, not according to the liberal party, but according to the modelling of all of the agencies under the ALP's own period in government.

It goes up from five- hundred-and-sixty-one to six-hundred-and-thirty-seven million tonnes. What does that mean? It goes up an awful lot in Australia under the carbon tax and everybody will say but I thought this was meant to reduce emissions, and they're right it was meant to.

The problem as we've always said is it's an electricity tax, electricity's an essential service and so people hurt in their lives, but electricity remains a fundamental good and so it doesn't actually transform the economy, it doesn't actually transform our emissions. In short lots of pain, very little gain and so it doesn't do the job it was intended to do.

JOHN STANLEY: So that six-hundred-and-thirty-seven tonnes by 2020, would you see that as a benchmark that you can get it lower than that?

GREG HUNT: Yes I do and yes we can.

JOHN STANLEY: And that will - and how quickly, will we get for instance next year or the year after or presumably we're talking starting this next year, so the following year or the year after, will we be able to get some measurable benchmark that we can then say okay well this is where we've gone and this has worked?

GREG HUNT: Well each year we should be able to reduce our emissions through practical action. Because nobody on the ALP side ever actually talked about what the carbon tax is meant to clean up. It only works if it actually cleans up a power station or cleans up waste coal mine gas or cleans up waste landfill gas or encourages energy efficiency on a grand scale.

And they're the sorts of things which an emissions reduction fund or a carbon purchasing fund actually goes and supports, but we do it on the market based background. We do it by a competitive auction to purchase the lowest cost goods. It's like purchasing a million pounds of wheat, you buy the lowest cost wheat, you get a contract for delivery. It's exactly what we do, but we'll be buying the lowest cost way of reducing emissions in this country.

It's actually very simple, it's what happens in many circumstances in many issues, many commodities around the world.

JOHN STANLEY: Yeah so you'd hope to start that middle of next year?

GREG HUNT: First of July 2014 and the big test between now and then, the country voted for a change of government, one of the fundamental elements arguably the fundamental element was the issue of the carbon tax, it was set out expressly in the first and last weeks of the election by Tony Abbott as the central referendum item.

We would expect that the ALP will listen to the public and not stand in the way of lower electricity prices and not stand in the way of a system which would directly reduce emissions, rather than hope that jacking up the cost of living and jacking up the cost of electricity will cause so much pain that people will suffer.

JOHN STANLEY: And by the time we get to the next election you'll be able to point - you would hope if you can get it in by the middle of next year, and you'll have two years of operating. You'll be able to point some substantial reductions in emissions that you'll be able to demonstrate flowing from your plan?

GREG HUNT: Yes and of course we should be judged on that, so I fully expect to be the person that's judged on that. The thing that we do need to happen is for the ALP to respect the mandate of the people, your listeners, they voted. Some would have voted one way some would have voted another, but pretty clearly we've had as big a result as any since 1977, apart from that 1996.

So in other words, in eleven elections this has been the second best result, the second most comprehensive result. So you would hope that they would say, this is the ALP, that the government of Australia changed, and just as we respected the mandate to repeal workchoices in 2007, they should respect their mandate to repeal the carbon tax.

JOHN STANLEY: Right, and on the science of climate change, you've talked to Tony Abbott about this, is he at one with you on this in accepting the science as well?

GREG HUNT: Yes he is, there's a lot of mythology here, on the floor of the house in I think it was June, Tony Abbott was asked a question about accepting the science. It was a curious thing which involved Rob Oakeshott, and he got up and made a very very clear statement that he accepts the science, we just disagree on the carbon tax.

Because emissions go up on the one hand, but electricity prices also skyrocket so it doesn't do the job. That's the critical thing here, it doesn't do the job but boy it causes a lot of pain along the way.

JOHN STANLEY: All right, Greg Hunt as always great to talk to you and I'm sure we'll have more conversations along these lines over the next three years. Thank you for your time today.

GREG HUNT: It's a pleasure John.

JOHN STANLEY: Greg Hunt who is the Environment Minister, see I think it's really important to get all this into context in terms of what the Coalition Government believes and what they are doing,

(ENDS)

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