Energy and Climate Change Secretary Chris Bowen says climate change poses a “real and substantial” threat to Torres Strait Islander communities, ahead of a visit to meet traditional owners about their concerns for their land.
Mr Bowen will begin his visit to Horn Island, Thursday Island and Poruma Island off the northern tip of Queensland on Wednesday to join the listening tour.
The minister in charge of the government’s climate policy fronted the National Press Club on Wednesday, where he revealed his trip to Torres Strait.
He was questioned by australiabusinessblog News about the threats climate change could pose to Torres Strait Islander communities over the next decade.
“Genuine and substantial,” he said.
“We heard it directly from them… but I want to go see it. I want to walk with them through their land and hear it from them.”
they are on the front lines facing the impacts of climate change and said urgent action is needed to ensure they can stay on their islands.
This included warnings of the threat posed by rising sea levels, coastal flooding, erosion and investment in infrastructure such as sea defenses in response to these challenges.
There are concerns that the Torres Strait Islands are on the front lines of the threat of climate change. Source: Shutterstock
Bowen said he felt it was “important” for him to visit the region to hear from the community and how the government could help them respond to these challenges.
“It’s important for us to go there,” he said.
“These are Australian citizens, our brothers and sisters on the front lines more than anyone else in dealing with the impacts of climate change.
“They deserve to have a federal government that listens to them.”
Mr Bowen was also asked by australiabusinessblog News about his intended answer – what he intended to offer the people of the Torres Strait, what the infrastructure costs would be and how he expected the islands to change over the next ten years.
He replied that he would be “better placed” to answer those questions when he returned from the trip.
“That’s why I’m going — we’re going to listen very sincerely,” he said.
“I really sincerely want to hear in a meaningful way from traditional owners what they’re dealing with, what they’re concerned about.”
Mr Bowen said he had met virtually and in person with representatives of the Torres Strait Islander community but said he had not “been to their country”.
“I’m going as a sign of respect to listen to them.”
Energy minister spy on energy ‘transformation’
Bowen also said Labor’s plan to transform Australia’s power market was ambitious but achievable, alongside concerns over rising electricity costs.
He said upgrades to Australia’s energy system and a national electric vehicle policy would complement the government’s emissions reduction agenda.
A commitment to “carefully designed, ambitious but achievable” policies would ensure the government’s approach was “credible and substantive,” he said.
But a controversial capacity mechanism proposed by the government to secure energy supplies will not undermine emissions targets or be used as an excuse to keep coal and gas generators up and running.
“It will be used as a real safety net as we undertake this very important transition in the economy (and) we need that safety net,” said Mr Bowen.
“It will be consistent with our emissions reduction targets and it will support new technologies, new generation and storage.”
A proposed climate change law due by the end of July will set a 43 percent emissions reduction target by 2030 and also require the minister to report annually to Parliament on Australia’s progress.
The bill will be “simple but powerful” and the annual report would force the government to be transparent and oblige the opposition to share its own views on the issues, Bowen said.
The government remains open to working with independents who have pushed a larger emissions reduction target into the election.
“If there is a good idea that improves the bill, not undermines it, I would like to hear it and participate in it,” said the minister.
The capacity mechanism proposal has previously been criticized by industry groups for failing to address existing issues in the energy market and potentially delaying the transition to a lower emissions system.
But even if climate policy is not supported in parliament, the government will implement it.
“We regard legislation as best practice … if Parliament does not want to pass it, we will just continue with the work as we have already started,” said Mr Bowen.
Improvements to Australia’s transmission grid could start without legislation and he said the government’s plan would help get renewable energy everywhere in the country where it’s needed.