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Climate emergency adjournment speech

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Cate Faehrmann
NSW Greens MP
22 August 2019

I recently spoke in this place about the climate emergency, and I said the Arctic was burning. Some Government and conservative crossbench members scoffed loudly.

Since the start of June, wildfires have been burning across the Arctic. Large parts of Siberia, Alaska, Greenland and Canada are engulfed in flames and smoke. Alaska has experienced more than 400 wildfires so far this year, with new ones igniting every day. These fires are undoubtedly the result of climate change. Unusually high temperatures and a low level of soil moisture have created the perfect storm for an environmental disaster in the Northern Hemisphere. The weather in Siberia in June was almost 10 degrees higher than the long-term average, while Alaska had its second warmest June on record, hitting 32 degrees Celsius on 4 July.

In Russia alone 3.3 million hectares—an area larger than Belgium—are burning. One fire in Alberta was estimated to be bigger than 300,000 football pitches, or about the size of Luxembourg. In Siberia the fires have destroyed 4.3 million hectares of taiga forest. The total affected area is five million square kilometres, which is half the size of the European Union. The Arctic peatlands are the second largest natural carbon store on earth, second only to the ocean, and these long-burning fires release thousands of years of stored carbon in a matter of months. These wildfires emitted 50 megatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in June alone, and 79 megatons in July. This is greater than the equivalent of Sweden's total annual CO2 emissions and far exceeds the previous record for the Arctic. This sets up a deadly chain reaction.

Emissions released by the wildfires exacerbate the effects of climate change, which in turn leads to more wildfires. Not only that, the fires coat the reflective white snow in a layer of black soot that absorbs sunlight, which increases the risk that the permafrost layer will thaw and release methane into the atmosphere. Emissions are not the only threat caused by these wildfires. The Alaskan city of Fairbanks has been hit by some of the world's worst air pollution, forcing residents indoors and prompting one hospital to set up a clean-air shelter. This is because of wildfires in the Arctic region. The Hon. Mark Latham had a go at me on Twitter about the polar ice caps being on fire. He suggested that was ridiculous because that day Sydney had winds that would, "Freeze the balls off a brass monkey," in his charming language.

Appeals to cold weather events are a common trope amongst climate deniers. They fail to grasp the complexity of our planet's weather systems and the devastating impact that increasing levels of greenhouse gases have on these systems. Extreme weather events in either direction are increasing because of climate change. However, if the only form of evidence the member is capable of understanding is the temperature outside, perhaps the fact that nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred since 2005 might give him and other members cause to think. The Arctic is not the only afflicted region. So far this year the EU has had 1,600 fires that were bigger than 30 hectares, which is four times the annual average over the previous decade. In South America huge tracts of the Amazon are on fire.

The Brazilian Amazon has experienced 74,155 fires since January. That is an 85 per cent increase from last year. These fires are a result of climate change as well as the devastating increase in land clearing across the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon rainforest is the lungs of our planet. It produces more than 20 per cent of the world's oxygen and it sucks up about a quarter of the 2.4 billion metric tons of carbon that global forests absorb every year. We are destroying our capacity to produce oxygen and to store carbon dioxide. We are reaching tipping points that scientists warned us about years ago, but some are coming decades sooner than expected. While the world burns, we are very quickly approaching an ecological point of no return, and members of our Government, including those opposite and those on the crossbench, sit there and scoff.

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Cate Faehrmann
NSW Greens MP
22 August 2019
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