Climate change adaptation and mitigation strategy

Extract from Hansard
[COUNCIL — Wednesday, 9 November 2011]
p9116b-9123a
President; Hon Dr Sally Talbot; Hon Robin Chapple; Hon Matt Benson-Lidholm; Hon Lynn MacLaren; Hon
Linda Savage

CLIMATE CHANGE ADAPTATION AND MITIGATION STRATEGY

Amendment to Motion

Resumed from 2 November on the following motion moved by Hon Sally Talbot —
That this house condemns the government for entering its third year of office without the climate
change adaptation and mitigation strategy promised by the Liberals before the 2008 election.
to which the following amendment was moved by Hon Helen Morton (Minister for Mental Health) —
To delete “condemns the government for entering its third year of office without” and insert —
notes the progress of

HON LYNN MacLAREN (South Metropolitan) [2.32 pm]: I rise to speak against the amendment and to make
some comments on the motion as it stands to illustrate why I so clearly oppose the amendment before us. I want
to focus in particular on planning issues in Western Australia. I want to make just a few comments. To recap,
there is plenty of evidence of climate change. It is particularly poignant to stand and speak on this motion
today—the day after historic carbon tax legislation was passed in the federal Parliament. It is clear that some
jurisdictions in Australia are taking action and that Western Australia is, unfortunately, lagging behind. It is
hoped, though, that through the new federal legislation, we will be able to achieve the change that we need to
achieve so that climate change impacts will not be quite as severe as they would have been had we not acted
now.

The evidence that climate change is extreme is out there. Human activity, in particular both the burning of fossil
fuels and extensive land clearing, is contributing to an enhanced greenhouse effect. That is what we know is
causing climate change. The impacts are manifested in several ways. There is increased frequency and severity
of wildfires, and we know that in Western Australia. There are increased droughts. Again, we have experienced
that in Western Australia. There are more floods and tropical storms, and we have seen that only in the past 24
months. The loss of habitat and the extinction of plants and animal species have been debated several times in
this house, and the report by the Auditor General into threatened species underlines that. There have been rising
sea levels, and warming and acidification of the oceans will occur due to climate change. There has also been
increased salinity of wetlands and waterways. This is just a list of a few of the impacts of climate change. The
consequences are potentially catastrophic environmentally, socially, culturally and economically. That is why we
would expect that this government would be concerned to take action. Its promise during the election campaign
was, indeed, that it would do so.

Scientific predictions are that Australia will be severely affected over the coming decades. Our most populated
regions, which, as we know, are along the coast, will be affected by fluctuating temperatures, rising sea levels,
increased aridity and flooding. How do we know that Western Australia is behind? Governments around the
world have acknowledged that action is required, yet it still seems to be debatable in this chamber. However,
most climate scientists believe that the actions and the existing strategies to curtail greenhouse gas emissions
have so far been inadequate, so that the need to mitigate and adapt to climate change is rapidly becoming more
pressing. In the commonwealth of Australia, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Climate
Change, Water, Environment and the Arts published in October 2009 the report titled “Managing our coastal
zone in a changing climate: The time to act is now”. It is known as the George report, and some speakers have
mentioned it. The committee made 47 recommendations to which the government responded, in many cases
favourably, in November 2010. It remains to be seen how and when these responses will be converted into
action. I welcomed the motion that Hon Sally Talbot put on the notice paper so that we could look at this. I turn
now to what is happening in other states. New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland have all introduced
legislation to deal with the impact of climate change in the coastal zone. Western Australia does not have
adequate governance frameworks, even, to deal with climate change adaptation. This issue first raised its head
way back in 1988 at the WA Greenhouse 88 conference. We did some research, and I think Hon Robin Chapple
dug out of the archives some papers from that conference, which even had a map of the coastal impacts of
climate change. Following that conference, the Western Australian Greenhouse Coordination Council
commissioned Western Australia’s first and second greenhouse gas audits and made recommendations for the
Western Australian greenhouse strategy. I do not know how many members will remember that. That was in
1991. Maps showing that projected sea level rise were prepared by the then Western Australian Department of
Land Administration. Those maps were based on the “most extreme prediction” of a 1.5 metre sea level rise by
2050. Notwithstanding those early efforts, all we have in this state to deal with climate change adaptation is state
policy 2.6. That policy has been under review for the best part of a year. The amended version has still not been
released.

I now want to briefly mention the various efforts that have been made through the years to address this
greenhouse issue and the issue of sustainability in Western Australia. In 2003, a comprehensive sustainability
strategy, called “Hope for the Future: The Western Australian State Sustainability Strategy”, was published. In
2004, the Local Government Act 1995 was amended to try to put into statute the state sustainability strategy.
There is no doubt that local government has used its best endeavours to meet the needs of current and future
generations through the integration of environmental protection, social advancement and economic prosperity.
Other statutory instruments in Western Australia that have tried to address this issue over the years are the
Environmental Protection Act 1986, the Conservation and Land Management Act 1994, the Parks and Reserves
Act 1895 and the Fish Resources Management Act 1994. These are all relevant to coastal management, and they
should all take into account the impacts of climate change and how we can mitigate them.

I want to focus now on the planning sector. The Planning and Development Act 2005 is particularly important
here. In 2002, the Western Australian Department for Planning and Infrastructure outlined its planning approach
to climate change and coastal stability. This was followed by the Department of Planning’s 2008 draft Perth
coastal planning strategy. That deals only with the metropolitan area. It sets out the integrated coastal planning
and management framework that currently exists in Western Australia, including the interaction between policy,
planning and management. Country areas are covered by policy DC 6.1, the country coastal planning policy. The
metropolitan region scheme is the predominant planning scheme for land use in Perth, and it sets the framework
for land use and development in the metropolitan area. The Peel region scheme is the key planning scheme that
guides land use in the Peel region. The greater Bunbury region scheme covers the City of Bunbury and the
Shires of Harvey, Dardanup and Capel. Neither the region schemes nor the statutes that I have now listed, and
they are several, specifically contemplate the vulnerability of the Western Australian coast to the impacts of
climate change. There is scientific consensus that sea levels are rising. But uncertainty still exists about how
much, and how quickly, that rise will occur.

The report “Sea Level Change in Western Australia: Application to Coastal Planning”, by Charles Bicknell,
states that it is considered that the global sea level projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
in assessment report 4 currently provide the best basis for statutory decision making. It states also that it is
considered appropriate to apply these projections directly to Western Australia as the regional projections do not
indicate any significant deviation from the global mean. These projections accord with the science adopted for
the purposes of the review of state planning policy 2.6, which I have mentioned—namely, a projected rise in
global mean sea level of 0.9 metres by 2110.

These projections may be conservative, since not all the relevant factors are taken into account. I particularly am
concerned about the increased severity and frequency of storms, because they can dramatically impact the
coastline, as we have seen. According to the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre,
even a modest rise in the mean sea level should result in more frequent extreme weather events. There is
evidence that these can happen every few years. But mean sea level rises by just half a metre could mean that we
have much more severe storms and they have much more severe impacts.

All I am saying is that urgent action is needed. We have these risks. They are well known. The scientists are
measuring them and predicting them. The question is: is our government taking action? We know that we have a
100-year planning horizon. Within a very short part of that 100 years, we will need to respond to climate change
impacts. We need flexible and proactive strategies. It is really important that the state’s planning regime is based
on proactive strategies. As I have mentioned, it is the local councils that are down there on that level, right at the
frontline, that need to be empowered, encouraged and strengthened to deal with this serious issue.

Hon Jim Chown: Do you have any suggestions?

Hon LYNN MacLAREN: Yes, I do. I am going to conclude, because I know there are other members who need
to speak. But I want to conclude by saying that, yes, I do have a suggestion for how to go forward. I am still
hoping that this state government will fulfil its promise for climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies
before the end of this term. It is widely accepted that an integrated approach to coastal planning and management
is desirable, although for a number of reasons, including the length and diversity of Western Australia’s
coastline—we know it is extremely diverse, and the largest coastline of any state—and the complex network of
decision makers, it is not easy to achieve that integration that is required. A regional approach is necessary, as is
community and stakeholder participation. Early precautionary action is the most responsible strategy, since the
avoidance of future risk is the most cost-effective adaptation response, particularly where development has not
yet occurred. Clear parameters in relation to liability need to be set. All levels of government need to be
involved, and local governments in particular must be empowered and resourced to implement planning
principles that provide for the impacts of climate change. I am encouraging the government to take up this
challenge, and in the coming months I intend to introduce legislation in order that the government may consider
how this may be taken up. I am surprised that we have not already dealt with such legislation. But in the absence
of such legislation, I am looking forward to further debate on this matter over the months ahead, because it is
something on which we need to take action, and we need to take that action now. It is complex. It is difficult. But
the sooner we act, the better.