Save Cooloola — a letter to Hon Meaghan Scanlon MP

Dear Minister Scanlon,

I am an 85-year old scientist and conservationist but I write to you simply as a lover of nature.

In the 1960s, I climbed Federation Peak in Tasmania’s south west. From the top of the peak, looking across the Western Arthur Ranges, I saw a beautiful deep blue lake hemmed by a beach of pure white sand, nestled in a valley surrounded by rugged rocky peaks — Lake Pedder. When I returned to Hobart I learned the Hydro Electricity Commission planned to build a dam to flood the lake. That was when I became involved in conservation, joining the campaign to save Lake Pedder. In 1972, the dam was built and that strikingly beautiful vista was destroyed. Gone forever.

On returning to Queensland, I became involved in the campaign, led by poet Judith Wright, to stop the Bjelke-Petersen government approving sand mining at Cooloola. The campaign was successful and declaration of the area as Cooloola National Park followed. The dunes, the lakes, the forests and heaths were to be protected forever.

Many times, I walked into Lake Poona. The most recent was with my wife, six months pregnant at the time. We walked through the forest to Lake Poona, camped on the beach and swam naked in the lake. It was — and at this time still is — a truly pristine landscape, a real wilderness experience.

Minister, I understand that you are considering approval for private, commercial accommodation, a group of 10 cabins, being built in the forest on the slope just above the lake. The whole experience of Lake Poona will change —  lost! Memories of Lake Pedder flood back and I am filled with sadness and despair.

In 1969, Kathleen McArthur and Judith Wright initiated the first ‘postcard campaign’ in Australia to protect Cooloola. It is sad, indeed, that fifty-three years later, another postcard campaign has to be waged to again try to protect Cooloola.

Apart from Judith and Kathleen, there were others who worked tirelessly for decades to protect Cooloola — the late Dr Arthur Harrold, Bill Huxley and Mavis Huxley. The national park would not exist in its present form were it not for the selfless devotion of those beautiful people. And there were many others. The national park was not the initiative of the Queensland Government. It was the result of the sustained efforts of conservationists over decades. It saddens me deeply to think that the vision of Judith, Kathleen, Arthur, Bill and Mavis of a protected wilderness — the legacy they left for the people of Queensland — could be desecrated for private profit, luxury accommodation for a wealthy few and a little government revenue. Is that what Queensland has come to?

Minister Scanlon, you will go down in history as the one who destroyed the unforgettable wilderness experience of Lake Poona, who destroyed the vision of those devoted conservationists who were responsible for the national park as it is today, who destroyed the vision of Cooloola held by Judith Wright, arguably Australia’s greatest poet.

Please don’t do it!

Yours very sincerely,

Dr Keith Scott

And you
with sharks in your eyes
contracts in your hands
and balance sheets
that have to keep climbing

and you saying I know
but you can’t expect us
to do anything about it

Judith Wright

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Cooloola threatened by commercial development

The Queensland Government is currently considering a proposal for five privately owned “eco-accommodation” camps along the Cooloola Great Walk in Great Sandy National Park. 

We have previously expressed our concerns about private development in national parks. The opportunity for private, commercial accommodation in national parks was created by the Newman LNP government in 2013. They amended the Nature Conservation Act 1992, firstly to broaden the Object of the Act from simply protecting nature to providing recreation and eco-tourism facilities and then to provide for leasing land within national parks to eco-tourism operators to provide accommodation for paying guests. 

The Queensland Ecotourism Trails program was initiated by the Department of Tourism, Innovation and Sport in 2018 when they called for expressions of interest from private investors in providing ecotourism experiences, including “low-impact structures” at three sites, the Thorsborne Trail on Hinchinbrook Island, the Whitsunday Island Trail and the Cooloola Great Walk. The processes for the Thorsborne Trail and Whitsunday Island Trail have been abandoned as they did not meet the expectations of the community and traditional owners. 

The Cooloola Great Walk Ecotourism Project is proceeding apparently with strong support from the government. A preferred proponent, CABN, has been appointed. 

Of the five proposed eco-accommodation camps proposed by CABN, two are of particular concern. One is at Lake Poona and the other alongside the Noosa River. 

Lake Poona 

Lake Poona is the only perched lake on sand on the Australian mainland. It is surrounded by rainforest including areas of a Threatened Ecological Community listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

Lake Poona

The proposed development would construct 10 cabins in the forest just 100 metres from the lake on the hillside overlooking the lake. This would fundamentally destroy what is now an essentially pristine environment — a true wilderness. 

A little history of Cooloola 

Cooloola is a sand mass essentially equivalent to Fraser Island, Bribie Island, Moreton Island and North and South Stradbroke Islands, but it happens to adjoin the mainland. 

Sand-mining companies became interested in the area around 1963 and mining for rutile and zircon began at Inskip Point in 1966. Noosa Parks Association, led by Dr Arthur Harrold, began the campaign against sand mining in 1963. 

In 1970, applications were made for 10 sand-mining leases on the dunes of Cooloola. The Bjelke-Petersen government was supportive. Arthur Harrold, with Bill and Mavis Huxley, formed The Cooloola Committee to fight sand mining. A major campaign began, led by Arthur and the Huxleys together with Ca-loundra wildflower artist, Kathleen McArthur, and her friend, Judith Wright, arguably Australia’s greatest poet. The campaign was successful with a small group of Liberal Party members of the government opposing the granting of the new sand-mining leases. Sand mining was still occurring between Double Island Point and Freshwater Creek on the eastern side of Cooloola under the earlier leases. Cooloola National Park was finally declared in 1975 but it excluded the central core which remained as State Forest. It also excluded the western catchment but that was added later as a re-sult of the continued efforts of Arthur Harrold and Bill Huxley. In 1990, the Commission of Inquiry into the Conservation, Management and Use of Fraser Island and the Great Sandy Re-gion led by Tony Fitzgerald QC recommended logging cease in the region and as a consequence the State Forest “hole in the heart” was transferred to national park. Tony Fitzgerald recommended the Great Sandy Region be nominated for World Heritage listing and ARCS was commis-sioned by the Queensland and Federal governments to prepare the nomination. The nomination included both Fraser Island and Cooloola but assessment by IUCN recommended Cooloola be excluded essentially because Fraser Island was an easily defined geographical area. There is no dispute that Cooloola is of World Heritage value.

The proposed development

The national park on the Cooloola sand mass was not an initiat-ive of government. It did not become national park because the government recognised its conservation values. It became na-tional park as a result of the devotion of conservationists, Arthur Harrold, Bill and Mavis Huxley, Kathleen McArthur, Judith Wright and many others. It is greatly distressing that their vision of Cooloola permanently set aside for the protection of nature could be destroyed for private profit, accommodation for a wealthy few and a little government revenue. Greg Wood, with whom we worked in the lead up to the SEQ Forests Agreement, is co-ordinating a campaign to try to stop the development. A web site has been set up where you can download postcards to email government ministers and there is a petition on change.org.

Please visit the web site, send an email to ministers and sign the petition. https://www.protectparks.net 

Proposed commercial development beside Lake Poona

Keith Scott

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Native forest logging adds to the climate-biodiversity crisis

Industry advocates commonly refer to statements in reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that sustainable forest management for timber can contribute to mitigation of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Those statements are based on misleading accounting. It is only a matter of time before the new accounting standard formally accepted by the UN SEEA-EA in March 2021 is adopted in IPCC reports and hence the accounting standard for Nationally Determined Commitments (NDCs). It is clearly important to have credible, transparent statistics for the Global Stocktake (GST), a process for taking progressive stock of the world’s collective progress towards achieving the purpose of the Paris Agreement and its short- and long-term goals . It is also important to note that IPCC reports are conservative representing compromises resulting from (a) heavy lobbying from vested interests, (b) various necessary assumptions and (c) simplifications due to the complexity of issues considered.

Native forest logging in Queensland

In Queensland, it is likely that only around 50% of the wood harvested in a native forest operation finds its way to a sawmill . In the harvesting process, only around 40% of the log is recovered as sawn timber. Hence, no more than 20% of the carbon removed from the forest in a native forest logging operation ends up in anything that could be called long-term storage. Up to 80% of the harvested carbon will contribute to GHG emissions and will not be recovered through future growth for many decades. As discussed in the climate change article on pages 1 and 2, reduction in emissions has to occur urgently. Added to the direct emissions are those produced by harvesting machinery, transport and sawmilling. Native forest logging is a direct contributor to Queensland’s GHG emissions. In 2018 Queensland’s GHG emissions were by far the highest of any state or territory in the country. In the same year, Tasmania’s total emissions were negative which represents a 111.2% reduction compared to the year 2005. That reduction is recognised as being the result of reductions in native forest harvesting. In 2018, all states and territories except Queensland and Northern Territory had negative emissions from the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) sector.

State and Territory Greenhouse Gas Inventories 2018, Australian Government
Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources

Biodiversity impacts

The Koala and Greater Glider are now listed as ‘Endangered’ in Queensland and nationally. The south-east subspecies of the Yellow-bellied Glider has been listed as ‘Vulnerable’. The Conservation Advice provided in relation to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act specifies logging as a ‘Severe’ threat to the Greater Glider. All three species occur in State Forests subject to logging. The ‘Code of practice for native forest timber production on Queensland’s State forest estate 2020’ includes requirements for retention of habitat trees for Greater Gliders (and other hollow-dependent species) and feed trees for Yellow-bellied Gliders but otherwise makes no provision for these threatened species. The Koala is not mentioned in the Code. 

Greater Glider — Photo: Esther Beaton

The climate-biodiversity crisis

It is now clear that the climate crisis cannot be solved without solving the biodiversity crisis . They are linked as part of complex adaptive systems which requires systems thinking rather than traditional linear thinking. 

Biodiversity loss is projected to be one of the largest environmental crises of all times and will collapse economies and societies. Swiss Re, the insurance group, estimated the global value of biodiversity at $33 trillion a year, close to the combined GDP of the US and China, with more than half of global GDP dependent on biodiversity and ecosystem services. Urgent and unprecedented transformational change is required across all sectors of society including governance.

Native forest logging must stop

The required transformational change involves considering the future of all activities that are currently contributing to climate change and biodiversity loss. One such activity is native forest logging. As a result of negotiations between the timber industry and the Queensland Government, the ‘Native timber action plan’ was announced in November 2019. The plan aims to provide a sustainable future for the native timber industry. It is inappropriate and unfair to workers in the industry to be giving false hope of security by promoting the objective of a long-term sustainable future for a declining industry fraught with uncertainty. Now is the time to plan for alternative opportunities for both businesses and workers. A key feature of complex adaptive systems is uncertainty and the potential for hard-to-predict, likely irreversible, phase shifts or “tipping points”. For example, populations of common species, even whole ecosystems can suddenly collapse if positive, reinforcing feedback mechanisms become dominant including through management interventions such as logging. 

Keith Scott & Aila Keto 

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Climate change will be catastrophic

I want you to act as you would in a crisis.
I want you to act as if our house is on fire.
Because it is.

Greta Thunberg

All the available evidence indicates that the planet is heading for a climate catastrophe but governments are not responding accordingly. In the words of UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, “Climate change is moving faster than we are.”

When considered over a geological timescale, atmospheric CO2 is increasing at an extraordinary rate. The lower line in the graph below shows that by 1960 the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere was greater than it had ever been over 800,000 years. And since 1960 it has continued to soar.

It is generally accepted that we should be trying to keep the global temperature increase to 1.5°C. In 2017, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated the net amount of carbon that the world could add to the atmosphere through emissions and keep the temperature rise to 1.5°C, i.e. the remaining carbon budget. IPCC determined that if the world reduced annual emissions the carbon budget would not be used up until around 2050, the time by which global emissions would need to be net zero (emissions balanced by removals into carbon sinks, particularly forests).

The remaining carbon budget for a 1.5°C increase was estimated for 2017 with a 50% probability to be 580 billion tonnes of CO2 or, with a 66% probability, 420 billion tonnes.

Current estimates are that the remaining carbon budget will be used up within about a decade. That means the global temperature is expected to be 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels soon after 2030. And that will happen unless we take immediate and drastic action to reduce emissions. If we carry on ‘business as usual’ the global temperature rise will be greater, potentially much greater, than 1.5°C. Transformational change is required in virtually everything we do.

Since 2017, emissions have continued to increase thus reducing the remaining carbon budget. The increase in emissions in 2021 was the largest ever recorded. IPCC reported the remaining carbon budget in 2020 as 500 billion tonnes with a 50% probability or 400 billion tonnes with a 66% probability. A recent report, by 94 scientists from 70 research centres around the world including CSIRO, puts the remaining carbon budget in 2021 at 420 billion tonnes with a 50% probability.

Despite the warnings from IPCC and many others, our political leaders still talk about net zero emissions by 2050. We need to reach net zero by 2030 or very soon after. Or else!

At the COP26 Conference held in Glasgow in November 2021, the Parties were exhorted to not only commit to net zero emissions by 2050 but to raise their 2030 commitments. Australia declined to change the 2030 commitment of 26–28% reduction having just managed to get the National Party to agree to net zero by 2050.

The newly elected Labor government has a commitment to a reduction of 43% by 2030, far short of what is necessary.

It is virtually inevitable that global temperature will increase by more than 1.5°C. IPCC predicted a range of consequences, some of which have already been experienced, e.g. extreme weather events including severe bushfires in Australia, North America, the Amazon, Indonesia and Siberia, extreme temperatures (50°C in Canada), flooding in Asia and Europe, drought in eastern Australia followed by severe flooding. The Great Barrier Reef, along with other coral reefs around the world, is predicted to suffer severe impacts from a rise of 1.5°C with some damage being irreversible.

Given the likelihood of the temperature increase being 2°C or more, the Great Barrier Reef will almost certainly die.

The graph below which is reproduced from IPCC 2018 indicates the rate at which greenhouse gas emissions have to be reduced to reach net zero by 2040. An even greater rate of reduction is necessary to reach net zero by 2030 or soon after which now needs to be the objective.

Could anyone believe that governments around the world will turn emissions around within a couple of years and achieve a rate of reduction greater than that at which they have been recently increasing? According to Simon Sharpe, University College of London, we need to decarbonise five times faster than we have been carbonising. Catastrophe looks inevitable.

Australia’s role

Our political leaders like to tell us that Australia is responsible for just 1.4% of global emissions so it doesn’t matter what we do about emissions. It won’t make any difference! But that ignores the contribution we make to global emissions through coal and gas exports. These ‘Scope 3’ emissions are not counted in our Nationally Determined Commitment.

Coal and gas together are responsible for around 60% of total global greenhouse gas emissions. Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal when thermal and metallurgical coal are combined and is now the world’s largest exporter of natural gas. A study by Climate Analytics in 2019 concluded that when emissions from our exported coal and gas are included, Australia’s contribution to global emissions was around 5%. And that is not counting the impact of flaring and methane leakages. Methane is 84 times more powerful than CO2 as a greenhouse gas and whereas it has a short life, around eight years, it is converted in the atmosphere by oxidative reactions to CO2.

While all evidence points to an urgent need to reduce the use of fossil fuels, Australia plans large-scale expansion of coal mining and gas extraction. And the newly elected federal Labor government has promised not to block any new coal mines.

Based on projected increases in Australia’s exports of fossil fuels, Climate Analytics found that Australia could contribute 13% of global emissions in 2030 assuming a 45% reduction occurs globally as determined by IPCC to be required to keep temperature increase below 1.5°C.

Biofuels

Burning wood for electricity production has been growing around the world, especially in the European Union. Advocates claim replacing coal with wood will reduce emissions. Burning wood from forests has been considered ‘carbon neutral’ because the trees regrow and sequester the carbon that is released by burning. An EU report in 2020 put the contribution of forestry to total renewable energy at 37%. The simplistic argument is that wood is a renewable resource so the energy produced by burning it is renewable energy.

But burning wood immediately adds CO2 to the atmosphere and it will not be removed by regrowth for decades. We don’t have decades to wait for the carbon to be removed.

European countries have been determining their CO2 emissions and hence their national commitments under the Paris Agreement on the assumption that burning wood for electricity generation produces zero emissions. Huge volumes of wood, largely from forests in USA and eastern Europe, are imported to be burned in European Union countries and UK. It is commonly claimed that the wood burned for electricity generation comesfrom ‘residues’ but there is ample evidence that whole trees are being used and forests devastated.

Whole logs stacked at Drax plant in Mississipi ready for conversion to wood pellets for export to UK.

Cutting down native forests for biofuels destroys the very carbon sink critically needed to remove the CO2already emitted which otherwise would remain in the atmosphere for up to tens of thousands of years.

Recently, the Environment Committee of the European Parliament voted in favour of removing subsidies for woody biomass and excluding it from counting towards renewable energy targets. The recommendation will go before the parliament possibly later this year. The overall process is amendment of the Renewable Energy Directive. This month, the parliament’s Energy Committee will make a separate recommendation.

In the UK, the Drax power station uses wood to generate electricity and is the country’s biggest carbon emitter. It is reported to use 7 million tonnes of wood every year.

We note the Queensland Government has been exploring harvesting native forests to produce biofuels (wood pellets).

Leadership is sorely needed

The world is in need of brave leaders. As teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg said, “What do we do when the politics needed are nowhere in sight?”

The forces against urgent climate action are strong. The fossil fuel lobby and the timber industry lobby affect government decisions. They affect the final reports of IPCC which are negotiated outcomes after the scientists have provided their input. We need political leaders with the strength to reject the lobbying.

In Australia we need politicians with the ability to lead the required just transformational change and to take the community with them, with the ability to show the coal community that they can have a different and better future.

We need a leader who understands that Australia can set an example, develop a plan that rapidly phases out fossil fuel production and exports and provides a just transition for industries and communities that have depended on fossil fuels. Gaining the support of the Australian people will require a true leader. Do we have one?

Aila Keto and Keith Scott

References for this article can be found at https://rainforest.org.au/references.html

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Federal Court overturns ruling against logging in Victoria’s Central Highlands

In Rainforest News 68, we reported the decision of the Federal Court that logging in the Central Highlands of Victoria required approval of the Federal Minister for Environment. The decision was handed down in May 2020.

The agency responsible for management and sale of timber resources in Victoria, VicForests, appealed the decision. On 10 May 2021, the Full Bench of the Federal Court handed down its decision upholding VicForests’ appeal ruling that forestry operations in the Central Highlands did not require Federal approval.

Central to the issues are (1) the fact that logging is being carried out under the Central Highlands Regional Forest Agreement (CH RFA), and (2) the impact of logging on the Greater Glider and Leadbeater’s Possum. The Greater Glider is listed as ‘vulnerable’ and Leadbeater’s Possum as ‘critically endangered’ under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

The figure below illustrates the decline in the populations of Greater Glider in the Central Highlands.

Source: Lindenmayer & Sato (2018)
http://www.pnas.org/content/115/20/5181

Section 38(1) of the EPBC Act requires that forestry operations must be undertaken “in accordance with an RFA” in order to be exempt from the provisions of the Act requiring approval by the Minister, including Section 18 which relates to listed threatened species and endangered ecological communities. In the original court proceeding, the parties agreed to consider the question whether forestry operations in the Central Highlands were being carried out “in accordance” with the CH RFA and therefore were exempt from Section 38 of the EPBC Act.

The CH RFA states “The Parties agree that State Forest outside the CAR Reserve System is available for timber harvesting in accordance with the Central Highlands Management Plan and the Code of Forest Practices for Timber Production.”

The Federal Court action was taken against VicForests by Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum. In her decision, Justice Debra Mortimer SC found that “in accordance with an RFA” as required by Section 38(1) of the EPBC Act included conforming with the Forest Management Plan and the Code of Forest Practices for Timber Production which are accredited by the Commonwealth under the RFA. Clause 2.2.2.2 of the Code, which is a Mandatory Action under the Code, refers to application of the precautionary principle:

The precautionary principle must be applied to the conservation of biodiversity values. The application of the precautionary principle will be consistent with relevant monitoring and research that has improved the understanding of the effects of forest management on forest ecology and conservation values.

Greater Glider © Esther Beaton

Judge Mortimer considered that VicForests should have, but did not, apply the precautionary principle with respect to the impact of logging on the Greater Glider and Leadbeater’s Possum. Hence, she concluded that the forestry operations were not carried out in accordance with the RFA and therefore were not exempt from Section 38(1) of the EPBC Act.

The judges determined that the words “in accordance with” were meant to be descriptive of the forestry operations and that as long as the forestry operations were carried out within the RFA area they would be “in accordance with an RFA”.

That is to say, a contravention of a condition of permissibility of the conduct of the forestry operation does not mean that the operation is prohibited by the RFA. Again, the focus of the statutory text is on the geographical area on which the RFA permits forestry operations and not the restrictions, limits, prescriptions, or contents of the Code or an RFA.

In light of these reasons, the primary judge’s finding (Separate Question reasons at [155]) that the actual conduct of forestry operations (being an action for the purposes of the EPBC Act) must be undertaken in accordance with the contents of the CH RFA – that is, in accordance with any restrictions, limits, prescriptions, or contents of the Code – in order to secure the benefit of the exemption in s 38(1) cannot be sustained.

The Court noted the Objects of the EPBC Act are, inter alia, “to provide for the protection of the environment, especially those aspects of the environment that are matters of environmental significance” and recognised that the Greater Glider and Leadbeater’s Possum are “matters of national environmental significance”. These species therefore should be protected by provisions of the EPBC Act. However, the Court noted another of the Objects of the Act is to “to assist in the co-operative implementation of Australia’s international environmental responsibilities”. They argue that it is the responsibility of the Victorian Government to ensure that it complies with the expectations of the Commonwealth. The conclusion is that compliance with the Code of Forest Practices is not a matter for the Federal Court.

Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum are considering appeal to the High Court.

Prior to the decision of the Full Bench, Senator Bridget Mackenzie introduced a Bill into the Senate which proposes to remove the words “in accordance with an RFA” from both the EPBC Act and the Regional Forests Agreements Act (2002).




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Can we avoid a “Hothouse” Earth?

Despite the threat of global warming having been clearly identified by NASA scientist, James Hansen, in his address to the US Congress in 1988, greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise. They have risen around 70 per cent since 1988. The first decrease was recorded early in 2020 as a result, not of human efforts, but of the Covid-19 pandemic.

That decrease was short-lived. By the end of 2020, the increase was back. It is expected that the focus on economic recovery around the world will lead to an even greater rate of increase.

At the time of Hansen’s address, fossil fuels accounted for around 79 per cent of global energy supply. In 2019, that figure was 84 per cent.

In 2018, Hansen told The Guardian “All we’ve done is agree there’s a problem. We agreed that in 1992 [at the Earth summit in Rio] and re-agreed it again in Paris [at the 2015 climate accord]. We haven’t acknowledged what is required to solve it. Promises like Paris don’t mean much, it’s wishful thinking. It’s a hoax that governments have played on us since the 1990s.”

Australian climate scientist, Professor Will Steffen, recently warned that we are facing a “Hothouse” Earth if we don’t act now and rapidly. His presentation is available on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1X4IdxXEwA.

The Paris Agreement set a target for global temperature increase of not more than 20C and preferably below 1.50C. We are already at 1.10C. Under the current trajectory, the increase is likely to be more than 30C.

Steffen raises the issue of tipping points in the Earth System. We know that tipping points can come from melting of ice, changes in circulation in the ocean and loss of biomes such as the Amazon rainforest and boreal forest.

With increase in global temperature we can expect tipping cascades. How long have we got before these cascades begin? According to Steffen, not long:

  • Arctic sea ice — probably at the tipping point;
  • West Antarctic — maybe 10 years to a tipping point;
  • Amazon rainforest — maybe 15 years or less, depending on the rate of deforestation the Bolsonaro government inflicts;
  • Greenland ice sheet — 25 years is probably optimistic.

We cannot rule out the possibility of a tipping cascade beginning in the near future and well before the net-zero emissions target of 2050. Professor Steffen says that is “far, far too late”.

Direct human impact on the biosphere is obviously not limited to climate change. The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released in 2019 painted a grim picture of the state of Nature:

  • Nature is declining globally at unprecedented rates;
  • Around 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction, many within decades;
  • The web of life is getting smaller and increasingly frayed.

According to Steffen “We have a double whammy — a rapidly destabilising climate system and a rapidly degrading biosphere.”

Steffen refers to the work of Oxford University economist, Kate Raworth, known for her concept of ‘doughnut economics’, balancing human needs and planetary boundaries. Steffen summarises Raworth’s ‘doughnut — a safe and just place for humanity’ in three main points for an economy for the 21st century:

  • We need systems thinking — not linear cause-effect. We have to go out of GDP thinking and think about dynamic complexity.
  • Equity: our system should be distributive by design.
  • Biosphere: it should be regenerative, not exploitative, by design.

As Professor Steffen says, “our current neoliberal economic system is exactly the opposite of what we actually need”.

Steffen’s analysis shows that we need much more ambitious targets than those of the Paris Agreement. The target for 2030 needs to be a reduction in emissions of at least 50 per cent and net zero by 2040. And to reach those targets we need to act decisively now. We have a climate emergency.

Ahead of the next Conference of the Parties, COP26, to be held in Glasgow in November, around the world, parties to the Paris Agreement are beginning to set more ambitious targets. United Kingdom has committed to a 78 per cent reduction by 2035. USA has committed to a 50–52 per cent reduction by 2030. China has committed to a reduction of 65 per cent by 2030 and ‘carbon neutrality’ by 2060. Other countries have committed to net zero by 2050.

The problem with these commitments is how the emissions are calculated. A recent paper published in The Conversation, “Climate scientists: concept of net zero is a dangerous trap” exposes the flaws in modelling that has been used to verify targets. The paper can be viewed at https://theconversation.com/climate-scientists-concept-of-net-zero-is-a-dangerous-trap-157368.

The authors, one of whom, Robert Watson, has served as Chair of both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the IPBES, say they “arrived at the painful realisation that the idea of net zero has licensed a recklessly cavalier ‘burn now, pay later’ approach which has seen carbon emissions continue to soar” and that it “has also hastened the destruction of the natural world by increasing deforestation today, and greatly increases the risk of further devastation in the future.”

The Integrated Assessment Models involve a range of assumptions including changes in investments and technology that could lead to changes in emissions.

The modelling that suggest that it is possible to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 involve technologies that have never been successfully implemented on a scale anywhere near what would be required. A particular case is carbon capture and storage (CCS) where CO2 emitted when fossil fuels are burned is captured and pumped deep beneath the Earth’s surface.

There is essentially no possibility that CCS will be implemented at the scale required and in time to bring about the reduction in emissions that is needed.

The other problem is biofuels. In the UK, biofuels account for 12 per cent of the energy used to generate electricity. In the EU, biofuels account for 60 per cent of renewables.

The major source of biofuels in Europe is wood pellets imported from USA. The major producer in USA is Enviva which currently produces 35 million tonnes a year. These are produced from what Enviva calls “working forests” around the country. In other words, USA’s forests are being burned in electricity generating plants in Europe.

In calculating emissions, biofuels are counted as carbon-neutral. This is because they come from a renewable source. The argument is that the carbon released on burning will be balanced by carbon absorbed by the trees when they regrow. But, of course, the carbon released on burning is not ‘balanced’ by new growth for many decades. That doesn’t bother Enviva’s Jennifer Jenkins who says “we don’t need to worry about the short versus long term time frame”. Carbon-neutrality of biofuels is a fraud.

In addition, burning wood for electricity generation is inefficient and produces 65 per cent more CO2 than burning coal.

Under the Paris Agreement, Australia’s emissions target is a reduction from 2005 levels of 26–28 per cent.The Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, had declared that Australia will reduce emissions through technology, principally carbon capture and storage.

At the recent G7 meeting in UK, the G7 countries agreed to pursue a phase-out of coal, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the world that Australia would not be moving away from coal anytime soon.

While the scientists recognise that we need to stop burning fossil fuels and we need to start now, the Australian Government proposes to build a new gas-fired generator in the Hunter Valley.

It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the Coalition is beholden to the fossil fuel lobby while Labor, whose position is not much better, is divided over coal mining.

Can we avoid a ‘Hothouse’ Earth? Yes. But will we? Given the trickery, deceit and fraud perpetrated by decision makers and vested interests, the answer is probably No!


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Federal Court rules logging in Victoria’s Central Highlands requires Federal approval

 On 27 May, the Federal Court handed down a decision that could have very significant implications for native forest logging in Australia. The case was brought by Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum against VicForests, the agency responsible for management and sale of timber resources in Victorian State Forests. 

The legal action related to the impact of forestry operations on the Greater Glider and Leadbeater’s Possum in 66 coupes in the Central Highlands. The Greater Glider is listed as ‘vulnerable’ and Leadbeater’s Possum as ‘critically endangered’ under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth). 

The areas in question are covered by the Central Highlands Regional Forest Agreement (RFA). 

 Background to RFAs 

There are 10 RFAs around Australia, five in Victoria, three in New South Wales, one each in Tasmania and Western Australia. They are agreements between the Commonwealth and the State Governments and were signed between 1997 and 2001. There was an RFA process for South East Queensland but it did not end in an agreement— conservation groups led by ARCS rejected the Federal Government’s proposal and persuaded the Beattie Government to develop a State agreement which eventuated as the South East Queensland Stakeholder/Government Forests Agreement. 

The RFAs came out of the National Forest Policy which was agreed between the Commonwealth and the States in 1992. The 1980s and 90s were the times of the “forest wars”. In 1995, a convoy of logging trucks blockaded Parliament House.

Prime Minister Paul Keating was determined to get the Commonwealth out of the picture and instituted the RFA process. The intention was that these agreements would put an end to the “forest wars”. That was not to be. 

The EPBC Act 

A contentious component of the agreements was that forestry operations carried out under an RFA would be exempt from provisions of the Federal Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) including provisions relating to the protection of threatened species. Such species were supposedly to be protected by provisions within the RFAs. These matters were central to the Federal Court’s deliberations. 

 The decision 

Presiding over the Federal Court case was Hon. Justice Debra Mortimer SC. The case involved numerous hearings and stages. In 2018, Judge Mortimer set up a “Separate Question” which was whether VicForests’ forestry operations had the benefit of the exemption in section 38(1) of the EPBC Act. Under the RFA, the Commonwealth accredits the forest management system which includes the Forest Management Plan and the systems and processes established by the Code of Forest Practices for Timber Production. This is the basis for the exemption from section 38(1) of the EPBC Act. 

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Central Highlands logging Photo: Chris Taylor

In relation to the Separate Question, Friends of Leadbeater’s Possum argued that the five-yearly reviews required by the RFA had not been carried out and therefore the exemption did not apply. VicForests argued that as long as forestry operations are conducted within the RFA region the exemption of s 38(1) applies. 

Judge Mortimer rejected both arguments noting in regard to VicForests’ argument that, for the exemption to apply, forestry operations must be undertaken in conformity with the systems of forest management accredited by the RFA. 

A significant focus of the court proceedings was the Code of Practice for Timber Production. Clause 2.2.2.2 of the Code states “The precautionary principle must be applied to the conservation of biodiversity values.” 

For the purposes of the court process, the 66 coupes were divided into Logged Coupes and Scheduled Coupes. Judge Mortimer made the following decision: 

In undertaking forestry operations in the Logged Glider Coupes, VicForests did not apply the precautionary principle to the conservation of biodiversity values in those coupes, as it was required to do by cl 2.2.2.2 of the Code of Practice for Timber Production 2014. Specifically, on the applicant’s case, VicForests did not apply the precautionary principle to the conservation of the Greater Glider as a threatened species present in, and using, the forest in thosecoupes. Accordingly, in relation to the forestry operations undertaken by VicForests in the Logged Glider Coupes, its conduct was not covered by the exemption in s 38(1) of the EPBC Act.

 

Judge Mortimer made a similar decision regarding the Scheduled Coupes arguing that VicForests “is unlikely to apply the precautionary principle to the conservation of biodiversity values in those coupes”. 

Based on those arguments, Judge Mortimer concluded that each forestry operation in each of the 66 coupes is an “action” under the EPBC Act. That means that the forestry operations require the approval of the Federal Minister for Environment, presently Hon. Sussan Ley MP. 

Judge Mortimer has given the parties an opportunity to agree on the appropriate orders the court should make. If there is no agreement, the parties may make short submissions and the court will decide on the final orders. 

Other observations by the Judge 

Judge Mortimer made some general observations that illustrate common issues with native forest logging. At the risk of boring readers with details, they are reproduced below. 

First, what the evidence in this proceeding has demonstrated is that the protection and conservation of biodiversity values – in this case relevantly the two listed threatened species in issue – is essentially a practical matter. Although policies and planning are important precursors and elements in protection and conservation, what happens on the ground in the native forest which supports and encompasses those values is how protection and conservation are achieved. Relevantly to the issues in this proceeding (rather than the wider biodiversity values protected by other aspects of the EPBC Act), understanding a native forest as a living, changing, finely balanced and often vulnerable ecosystem, and understanding the way in which all flora and fauna species in fact (rather than theory) use and depend on that native forest, are what best informs protection and conservation of, and the avoidance of adverse impacts on, those species. The evidence demonstrates the need for this approach is acute when dealing with listed threatened species. 

The second observation addressed the argument put by VicForests that their decisions had “struck a balance between conservation measures and those that relate to the commercial use and exploitation of forest resources in State Forests” and that where there were “value judgments” to be made about that balance, those judgments were the “province of the legislature or the executive rather than the judiciary”. The judge responded arguing that 

the Court’s function is to determine, on the evidence, whether the applicant has proven, on the facts and on the law as applied to those facts, its allegations against VicForests …. Contrary to VicForests’ submissions, there is a significant factual aspect to the applicant’s allegations, which as a trial court, the Court must decide. It necessarily involves examining the competing evidence (including expert opinion evidence) about topics which are the product of wider policies and practices, and factual topics of more general application. In performing its task, the Court acts on the evidence before it, taking account of the submissions made. Where the legal and statutory framework which the Court must consider, by reason of the parties’ respective cases, includes matters of degree, or has some qualitative or evaluative element, the determination of those matters is part of the exercise of judicial power, and not outside it. 

The third observation related to the inherent contradiction in the role of VicForests — and all other forestry agencies. 

On the one hand, it is required to conduct forestry operations in Victoria’s native forest, rather than only in plantations. That native forest is identified as an available timber resource, indeed a principal available timber resource in Victoria, for VicForests to perform its commercial forestry function, as conferred by statute. On the other hand, VicForests is required by law to conduct those forestry operations in a way which avoids and mitigates adverse impacts on a wide range of biodiversity values, a range that is much wider than listed threatened flora and fauna species, but includes them. As I explain later in these reasons and as both VicForests and various reviewing bodies have recognised, for listed threatened species which are highly dependent on the very native forest which is to be subject to forestry operations, and for whom recovery out of the status of being a threatened species is expressed to be an objective, the avoidance of adverse impacts in a real world sense (rather than just an aspiration) inevitably involves compromising available commercial timber resources. Hence the conflict, which may explain (but not necessarily justify) why the actual conduct of forestry operations on the ground often cannot meet the conservation and protection obligations imposed by law.” 

Broader implications of the decision 

Implications for forestry operations in other RFA areas in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia arise from the finding that where forestry operations do not conform with management prescriptions included in the RFA, they could be found to be “actions” under the EPBC Act and require approval of the Federal Minister, Sussan Ley. 

According to The Guardian, a spokesman for Minister Ley said the Department would “carefully consider the Federal Court’s 450 page judgment, noting that formal orders are yet to be made” and that the findings “will require detailed consideration before the department can discuss possible implications”. 

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Toolangi State Forest, Central Highlands     Photo: Peter Campbell


Keith Scott

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Vale Norman Myers

NormanMyersOne of the world’s leading conservation scientists, Dr Norman Myers, died on 20 October 2019 from dementia.

Norman Myers’ most well known scientific contribution was developing the concept of “biodiversity hotspots”. Hotspots were defined as (a) areas with exceptional concentrations of species with high levels of endemism, and (b) areas experiencing exceptional levels of threat. Protecting such areas offered a very effective means of conserving biodiversity.

Norman was born in Lancashire in 1934 to a poor family on a sheep farm but Norman’s mother ensured he had an education and after graduating from grammar school he studied modern languages at Oxford University.

Norman has described developing a great interest in African wildlife as a result of reading Rider Haggard as a boy. In 1958, during the last days of the British Empire, he joined the Colonial Service and took up a post in Kenya. After two or three years, Kenya became independent and Norman lost his job. He became a high school teacher and later a professional wildlife photographer. It was while photographing African wildlife that Norman became interested in species generally.

His studies on cheetah and leopard populations in Kenya earned him a PhD from University of California Berkeley in 1973.

Norman did not have a typical background to being a scientist and never held an academic appointment. Despite that, his scientific contributions have been outstandingly significant. But his contributions were not initially recognised. His first paper on ‘hotspots’ was rejected by mainstream ecology journals but was eventually published in 1988. He developed the concept further and his major paper, Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities, published with colleagues in Nature in 2000, has been cited more than 13,000 times.

In that paper, Myers et al. noted that 44% of all species of vascular plants and 35% of all species in four vertebrate groups are confined to 25 hotspots comprising only 1.4% of the land surface of the Earth.

Norman Myers was particularly interested in tropical forests. His paper, Threatened biotas: “hot spots” in tropical rainforests, published in Environmentalist 8 in 1988, noted that tropical forests contain at least half of all Earth’s species but are being depleted faster than any other biome. In that paper he refers to the tropical rainforests of Queensland as an example of a hot spot area in a developed country, citing ARCS publications on their conservation significance and noting that “despite the scientific value of the area, it continues to be logged, with support from the Queensland Government in the form of abundant subsidies.”

Norman Myers was among the first scientists to draw attention to the increasing rate of species extinctions. In 1979, he published a book The Sinking Ark, A New Look at the Problem of Disappearing Species. At the time, it was general considered that the rate of species extinction was one a year. Myers determined that it was more like one a day. For that he was attacked by the scientific community but was later proved to be right. Leading conservation scientist, Dr Peter Raven of Missouri Botanic Gardens and a friend of ARCS, told science writer Tim Radford “I don’t think Norman’s been seriously wrong on anything.”

Norman Myers produced a ground-breaking and highly influential report in 1980 on the loss of tropical rainforests for the National Research Council, National Academy of Sciences.

Norman Myers was a consultant to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and advised FAO on the loss of tropical forests noting the impacts of the “displaced peasant or landless farmer” on deforestation. In 2008, Myers told FAO “What we do – or don’t do – in the next few decades, will determine the future of our planet for at least the next five million years”.

In 1987, ARCS arranged for Norman Myers to visit Brisbane and he gave a talk at an ARCS meeting to a capacity audience in Brisbane City Hall. This event was a peak in our public campaign to protect the rainforests of Northeast Queensland — the Wet Tropics.

Over his lifetime. Norman Myers received many honours. He was appointed foreign member of the US National Academy of Sciences, named by Time magazine as one of its Heroes of the Environment and made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George by the British Government. In 1992, he shared the prestigious Volvo Environment Prize with Peter Raven. He was also appointed distinguished or visiting professor at numerous universities around the world.

His contribution to biodiversity conservation will be sorely missed. He will forever live in our own hearts as a good friend and unstinting supporter.

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Letter from Dr Tim Cadman to Bellingen Shire councillors | The Bellingen Shire Courier Sun

An open letter to all parties present at Wednesday’s council meeting.
— Read on www.bellingencourier.com.au/story/6455638/letter-managing-the-forests-of-the-upper-kalang/

Some thoughts on the relationship between forests, water, ecosystem services and sustainability in northern NSW

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The Climate Emergency

The next United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference, COP 25, will be held in Chile in December. In a prelude to COP 25, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, organised a Climate Action Summit in New York in September.

The Summit was attended by world leaders but not by Prime Minister Scott Morrison despite the fact that he was in USA at the time. Australia was represented at the Summit by Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne, but she did
not speak.

Antonio Guterres had asked countries to come with a more ambitious plan than that to which they had already committed. If they didn’t, they were requested not to speak. Hence, Marise Payne’s silence.

Griffith University’s Professor Ian Lowe said “Australia’s disinterest in the UN Climate Summit is, frankly, a national embarrassment. Our Government’s encouragement of new coal mines and expanded gas exports runs directly counter to the necessary global efforts.”

One of the speakers at the Summit was Swedish teenage climate activist, Greta Thunberg. Greta gave an impassioned speech extorting world leaders to act on climate change. She said “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you.”

Greta’s role in bringing the Climate Emergency into greater focus internationally is to be applauded. As an independent teenager she is able to express her views in straightforward terms. On the other hand, official representatives are more likely to feel bound by diplomacy or engage in obfuscation and gobbledygook.

Prior to the Summit, the World Meteorological Organization released a report, The Global Climate in 2015–2019. Compared to the previous period 2011–2015, the current period 2015–2019 has recorded

  • continued increase in CO2 emissions
  • an accelerated increase in greenhouse gas emissions
  • increase in oceanic CO2 concentrations with increased ocean acidity
  • the warmest of any equivalent period on record globally with a 1.1℃ increase since pre-industrial period and a 0.2℃ increase compared to 2011–2015
  • an accelerated rising sea level
  • a continued decline in the Arctic sea-ice extent
  • an abrupt decrease in Antarctic sea ice
  • continued mass loss of glaciers and the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets
  • the largest ocean heat content on record in 2018
  • heatwaves affecting all continents resulting in record temperatures for many countries
  • unprecedented wildfires.


The Australian Government remains unmoved by the science that is becoming increasingly worrying. Whereas Scott Morrison did not attend the Climate Action Summit he did address the UN General Assembly in New York and said “Australia is taking real action on climate change and getting results …. We are successfully balancing our global responsibilities with sensible and practical
policies to secure our environmental and economic future.”

Clearly, Scott Morrison and his colleagues have not recognised the seriousness of the issue. As we reported in a previous post, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) provided evidence for the need to limit global warming to 1.5ºC and noted that this “would require rapid, farreaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” and “rapid and far-reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities”.

The IPCC concluded that to limit global warming to 1.5℃, it would be necessary to reduce emissions by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach zero emissions by 2050. A middle-of-theroad scenario requires a 75% reduction in coal use as the primary energy source by 2030 (IPPC Special Report (SR15), Summary for Policymakers, p. 14).

Australia needs to start planning for a phase-out of coal mining and coal use. But we are actually doing the opposite.

In a surprise move, Labor front-bencher Joel Fitzgibbon recently called for the party to adopt the Coalition’s climate policy. That means accepting an emissions reduction target of 26–28% by 2030 rather than the 45% target that Labor took to the last election. His argument is that Australians are “inherently conservative” and will continue to support the Coalition leaving Labor in Opposition for a further six years.

Fortunately, Fitzgibbon’s colleagues rejected his proposal. Labor joined the Greens and cross-bench members in a motion in the House of Representatives to declare a “climate emergency”. It was, of course, defeated.

Scott Morrison’s speech to the UN General Assembly was an exercise in cherry-picking. For example, he noted that emissions from Australia’s electricity sector had fallen 15.7% compared with the peak in 2009. That figure doesn’t even apply Australia-wide — just to the East Coast. Overall Australia’s emissions continue to increase. And according to The Climate Council, if you include our fossil-fuel exports, Australia is the fifth largest emitter in the world, after USA, China, EU and India.

Things need to change.

Keith Scott

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