Scientific evidence indicates that climate change is occurring as a result of human activity. Scientific consensus is that the evidence is irrefutable.
Across the world there is increasing desertification, shrinkage of ice caps, instances of increased and prolonged drought and severe flooding. It is predicted that storms will become more severe and that rising sea levels will become a serious threat to low-lying nations.
Australia's economy and environment are highly susceptible to climate impacts. The Great Barrier Reef is sensitive to sea temperature rise and increased acidification of our oceans. Many of Australia's unique plants and animals rely on very particular conditions and Australia's agricultural industries depend on reliable rainfall. Many of our settlements and much of our infrastructure lie close to the coast, and confront particular challenges because of sea level rise, storm surge and coastal erosion.
Over the past decade, business and the community have taken the lead on this crucial issue. The Australian Government is now taking on its responsibilities.
Climate change is a global challenge that requires a global solution. In his first act as Prime Minister, the Hon Kevin Rudd MP ratified the Kyoto Protocol and led the Australian delegation to the United Nations climate change negotiations in Bali. Ratifying Kyoto sent a clear message that Australia is no longer part of the problem on climate change; we are now part of the solution. For the first time we are a full negotiating partner in all key international forums and Australia was instrumental in securing agreement on the Bali roadmap for the international community to agree on post-2012 action on climate change.
The Australian Government has committed to reduce Australia's greenhouse gas emissions by 60 per cent from 2000 levels by 2050 using emissions trading as the central policy instrument. Moving Australia onto a low emissions pathway will involve the most significant economic transformation in Australia since the trade liberalisation of the 1980s.
Climate change presents challenges, but also significant opportunities for new growth, innovation and a modern economy. Australia is well-endowed with resources to exploit developments in clean energy, and we have the scientific and engineering knowledge and capacity to deliver.
The Australian Government's strategy for climate change policy is built on three priorities: reducing Australia's greenhouse gas emissions; adapting to the impacts of climate change that we cannot avoid; and helping to shape a global solution. On this basis we will begin moving towards a sustainable economic future.
Climate change is affecting the way we manage our water resources. Temperatures are rising, we are facing less rainfall, and the flows into Australia's rivers and water storages are declining, resulting in ongoing water shortages in many parts of Australia.
There is evidence to suggest that in the last two decades, Australia's average temperatures have been warmer and that temperatures could rise another one to five degrees by 2070. In those circumstances, Australia's most populated regions face an ongoing shortage of water unless action is taken. This is now a priority for the Australian Government.
In the Murray Darling Basin, for example, the effects of over-allocation, drought and climate change have led to the current water crisis. It is a crisis for irrigated agriculture, a crisis for communities, and a crisis for the health of the rivers. All communities who rely on the Murray are only too aware of how serious this situation has become — which is why national leadership is required.
During the recent drought, a number of our cities and towns have faced water shortages and water restrictions. States are making progress with new investment in domestic water supplies, but national leadership is needed to ensure that underlying issues such as planning and investment frameworks are ready to cope with the challenges of the future.
The Government's Water for the Future will focus on four priorities: taking action on climate change; using water wisely; securing water supplies; and healthy rivers and waterways.
Climate change is a major threat to Australia's unique natural environment. However, it is not the only one. Our biodiversity, our clean air, our fresh water, our oceans, landscapes and special places are also under threat from the long standing impacts of land clearing, urban development, pollution, and the unsustainable use of our natural resources.
Over the past decade, Australia has failed to invest in the resilience of our landscapes and native species, and it has been difficult to point to tangible outcomes of government spending.
Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 the Australian Government Minister for the Environment is required to table a report on the state of the Australian environment every five years. The third Australian State of the Environment (SoE) report was released in 2006. The independent committee responsible for producing this report concluded that:
'It is still not possible to give a comprehensive national picture of the state of Australia's environment because of the lack of accurate, nationally consistent environmental data.'
Previous approaches to environmental management in Australia have proven to be ad hoc and inefficient. There has been a failure to ensure investment is targeted to deliver the best results for the environment. In addition, administration costs for delivering major environmental programs have been excessive, diverting much needed funds from where they were most needed, to deliver practical, on the ground action.
Independent evaluations and reviews of the former government's natural resource management programs identified many inadequacies. The Australian National Audit Office concluded in February 2008 that there was room for significant improvement in key areas such as targeting investments and measuring outcomes.
In 2007, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) prepared a comprehensive report on environmental management in Australia, which highlighted the gaps in Australia's efforts to protect native species and questioned the adequacy of the size of Australia's terrestrial and marine areas under formal protection.
This independent report, together with the findings of the 2006 State of the Environment Report, demonstrates the need for urgent and decisive action in order to protect and conserve our precious environment.
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