Category Archives: Climate change

The Climate Crisis

Governments must acknowledge that ‘Business as Usual’ is unacceptable

The IPCC Special Report

In October 2018, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a Special Report (SR15) on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C. Human activities are estimated to have caused approximately 1.0°C of global warming above preindustrial levels. Global warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 if it continues to increase at the current rate.

In 2016, more than 160 parties to the Paris Agreement reaffirmed “the goal of limiting global temperature increase to well below 2 degrees Celsius, while pursuing efforts to limit the increase to 1.5 degrees”. The IPCC report provides assessments of the difference in impacts likely to occur between 1.5°C and 2°C temperature rise. For example,

  • global sea level rise by 2100 would be 10 cm lower at 1.5°C compared with 2°C,
  • the likelihood of the Arctic Ocean free of sea ice in summer would be once a century at 1.5°C compared with at least once per decade at 2°C,
  • coral reefs would decline by 70–90 per cent at 1.5°C compared with greater than 90 per cent at 2°C,
  • of 105,000 species studied, 6 per cent of insects, 8 per cent of plants and 4 per cent of vertebrates are projected to lose over half of their climatically determined geographic range for global warming of 1.5°C, compared with 18 per cent of insects, 16 per cent of plants and 8 per cent of vertebrates for global warming of 2°C.

The graph below illustrates the impacts on a range of natural, managed and human systems.

IPCC_impacts

In order to limit global warming to 1.5°C, CO2 emissions will need to be reduced by 45 per cent from 2010 levels by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. The IPCC report emphasises the need for essentially drastic change: “Limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” and “rapid and far-reaching transitions in land, energy, industry, buildings, transport and cities”. It has been increasingly recognised over recent years that natural systems such as forests will play an essential role in achieving a reduction in Greenhouse Gas Emissions.

Native forests, especially primary (undisturbed) forests, need to be left alone to allow them to continue absorbing CO2. Trees remove CO2 from the atmosphere, accumulate carbon and store it for up to hundreds of years. In the light of the likely impacts of climate change, logging and clearing native forests is simply irresponsible.

ARCS is a partner in the Griffith University project, Information, Policy and Onground Action for Primary Forest Protection. The project is led by Professor Brendan Mackey who is Co-ordinating Lead Author for a chapter in the next IPCC report.

Planting trees, such as the Federal Government’s “20 Million Trees Program”, while helpful in the long-term, will not have an impact within the required timeframe. We have just 11 years to halve net CO2 emissions. It is essential that existing carbon stores in our native forests be protected and allowed to increase. It will not be possible to meet the 1.5°C target without the protection of existing primary forests. And that protection must start now.

 Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, 129 countries signed a UN agreement on Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) with 17 goals being defined. The SDG Index, which ranks countries on each goal and overall on all goals, is published annually.

In the 2018 SDG Index, Australia’s overall performance was ranked at 37 out of 156 countries ranked. On the goal of Climate Action, Australia ranks last when exports (coal and gas) are included.

 Australia’s response to IPCC

Clearly, we are facing an extremely serious situation. Unfortunately — distressingly — the Australian Government, along with many other governments, notably USA, has not acknowledged the unavoidable disaster that will result from ‘Business as Usual’. In fact, government ministers have essentially rejected the scientific findings in the IPCC report.

When in October 2018 then Federal Environment Minister, Melissa Price, was questioned about the IPCC report, she questioned the conclusions reached by the 91 scientists involved. In response to the IPCC finding that coal needs to be phased out by 2050, Minister Price said “To say that it’s got to be phased out by 2050 is drawing a very long bow” and “That would be irresponsible of us to be able to commit to that.” She expressed confidence in technology being developed to allow ‘clean coal’. In July 2017, Queensland Labor Government committed to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. Federal Resources Minister, Matt Canavan, responded saying “Instead of trying to save the planet in 2050 the QLD labor should just concentrate on saving jobs today!”.

And Matt Canavan is leading the push for a new coal-burning power station in North Queensland.

Australia and Coal

Australia is the world’s largest exporter of coal. That coal is burnt somewhere in the world, contributing to climate change. But our commitment to the Paris Agreement does not include our contribution through our coal exports.

It is commonly argued that Australia produces only 1.3 per cent of global emissions and reducing our emissions will not make much difference. But Australia produces around 7 per cent of the world’s coal, all of which is burnt somewhere in the world. Australia is actually a significant contributor to global warming through our exports of coal and LNG. And Australian governments including the Queensland Government are hell-bent on increasing our exports of both coal and LNG.

In the lead up to the Conference of the Parties (COP21) in Paris in 2015, Anote Tong, President of the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati, wrote to world leaders seeking support for a global moratorium on new coal mines.

Just prior to the Paris meeting, President Tong was in Australia to promote the moratorium. In response, the then FederalResources Minister, Josh Frydenberg, said “Well we’re opening new mines where there’s the necessary investment because there’s global demand for it.”

Apart from the recently approved Adani Carmichael coal mine, there are several new coal mines being considered in the Galilee Basin and the Queensland Government is supportive.

Australia’s Paris Agreement commitments

Federal Government Ministers repeatedly claim that Australia will meet the 2030 target of 26–28% reduction in emissions. But the data produced by the Federal Department of Environment and Energy (released late on 7 June) show we are not at all on target. The graph provided by the Department is reproduced below.

Emissions_projections_2018

When confronted with that fact, the Minister for Energy and Emissions Reduction, Angus Taylor, asserted that the government had developed a plan since the Department provided its forecast. In an interview on ABC RN Breakfast, Angus Taylor claimed that since December the Coalition had laid out a plan “to the last tonne” which would have Australia meeting its target. He specified a saving of 328 million tonnes but the Department’s data show a requirement for 695–762 million tonnes.

Whatever the situation is, our target is not only grossly inadequate but fails to address the much greater contribution of coal exports.

Burning wood from native forests is a double disaster

Burning wood from native forests to generate electricity is a threat to both biodiversity and climate.

Forests in southeast USA are being destroyed to produce pellets exported to Europe as fuel. And there is mounting pressure from the Australian timber industry to follow suit.

The European Union counts burning wood for electricity generation as carbon-neutral and fuel wood as a renewable source. These are myths which are being perpetuated around the world. The fact is that burning wood causes immediate release of carbon to the atmosphere but replacing that carbon through growth of trees will take decades. We don’t have decades.

Further, burning wood to produce electricity releases 50 per cent more CO2 than burning coal.

 What can we expect from our political leaders?

What can we expect from our political leaders? Based on current indications, very little! Implementation of the Paris Agreement, through development of the Rule Book, has not gone well. The outcomes of the Conference of the Parties in Poland in November were disappointing. We may well have to depend on voluntary market decisions based on investment outlook.

The planet is in dire straits.

Keith Scott

 

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The Biodiversity Crisis

1 Million species threatened with extinction

Last month the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) released a landmark new report IPBES Global Assessment Report on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The report begins with these headlines:

  • Nature’s dangerous decline ‘Unprecedented’
  • Species extinction rates ‘Accelerating’
  • ‘Transformative changes’ needed to restore and protect nature
  • Opposition from vested interests can be overcome by public good
  • 1,000,000 species threatened with extinction

Following several years of preliminary meetings, IPBES was ‘established’ in 2012. The IPBES report was produced in response to an invitation from the Conference of the Parties, Convention on Biological Diversity to prepare a global assessment on biodiversity and ecosystem services, “focusing on status and trends, the impact of biodiversity and ecosystem services on human well-being, and the effectiveness of responses, including the Strategic Plan and its Aichi Biodiversity Targets”. The 20 targets can be found at https://www.cbd.int/sp/targets.

The report finds that nature is deteriorating worldwide and biodiversity is declining faster than at any other time in human history.

It would be of no surprise to most people that nature across the globe has been significantly altered by human activities. Seventy- five per cent of the land surface is significantly altered, 66 per cent of the ocean area is experiencing increasing cumulative impacts, and over 85 per cent of the area of wetlands has been lost. Across much of the highly biodiverse tropics, 32 million hectares of primary or recovering forest were lost between 2010 and 2015.

The authors find that human actions threaten more species with global extinction now than ever before. They estimate that around 25 per cent of animal and plant species are threatened, indicating that around one million species already face extinction, many within decades, unless action is taken to reduce impacts. The authors conclude that without such action there will be a further acceleration in the global rate of species extinction, which is already at least tens to hundreds of times higher than it has averaged over the past 10 million years.

The report provides statistics to support their conclusion. More than 40 per cent of amphibian species, almost a third of reef-forming corals, sharks and shark relatives and over a third of marine mammals are currently threatened. The proportion of insect species threatened with extinction is a key uncertainty, but available evidence supports a tentative estimate of 10 per cent. Those proportions suggest that, of an estimated 8 million animal and plant species (75% of which are insects), around 1 million are threatened with extinction. A similar picture also emerges from an entirely separate line of evidence. Habitat loss and deterioration, largely caused by human actions, have reduced global terrestrial habitat integrity by 30 per cent relative to an unimpacted baseline; combining that with the longstanding relationship between habitat area and species numbers suggests that around 9 per cent of the world’s estimated 5.9 million terrestrial species – more than 500,000 species – have insufficient habitat for long-term survival, are committed to extinction, many within decades, unless their habitats are restored.

Ecosystem structure

A critical conclusion from the IPBES report is that goals for conserving and sustainably using nature and achieving sustainability cannot be met by current trajectories, and goals for 2030 and beyond may only be achieved through transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors.

Climate change is, and will continue to be, a significant contributor to biodiversity loss. As noted in the article on The Climate Crisis on page 2 of this newsletter, nature conservation and climate change are intrinsically linked. Mitigating climate change will help nature while nature-based measures are essential for mitigation of climate change. The IPBES report concludes that “nature-based solutions with safeguards are estimated to provide 37 per cent of climate change mitigation until 2030 needed to meet 2°C goals with likely co-benefits for biodiversity” and “land-use actions are indispensable, in addition to strong actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use and other industrial and agricultural activities.”

However, the report includes a caution that “large-scale deployment of intensive bioenergy plantations, including monocultures, replacing natural forests and subsistence farmlands, will likely have negative impacts on biodiversity and can threaten food and water security as well as local livelihoods, including by intensifying social conflict”. The report emphasises the importance of strong legislation for the protection of threatened species. In this context, the Australian Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) is given as an example of “weaker laws” and “less rigorously implemented and enforced”, and therefore less likely to achieve recovery goals.

Australia’s own extinction crisis

Since European settlement, 28 mammals have been declared extinct in Australia, more than in any other country. In recent years, three mammal species — Christmas Island Forest Skink, Christmas Island Pipistrelle and Bramble Cay Melomys, a Great Barrier Reef endemic. The melomys is the first mammal extinction caused by climate change. Sea level rise destroyed the melomys and its habitat.

The EPBC Act is failing. University of Queensland researchers have concluded that up to 7.47 million hectares of threatened species habitat – an area larger than the state of Tasmania or 3.7 million Melbourne Cricket Grounds – has been destroyed since the operation of the EPBC Act (from 2000-2017).

The Senate Environment and Communications References Committee is currently undertaking an inquiry into Australia’s faunal extinction crisis. The scope of the inquiry includes the adequacy of environment laws.

Keith Scott

 

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ARCS dismayed at COP24 outcomes

VirginiaYoungThe Australian Rainforest Conservation Society (ARCS) has expressed its dismay over the outcomes of the UN climate conference COP24. Speaking during her return from Katowice in Poland, Director of ARCS Climate and Forests Programme, Virginia Young, expressed shock and disappointment at  the retreat from ambition represented in the COP24 outcomes.

The UN-commissioned IPCC Special Report released in October warned that keeping the Earth’s temperature rise to 1.5C would need “unprecedented changes” in every aspect of society. COP24 has failed dismally to respond to that call.

The most shocking examples of this retreat are the limiting of the scope of Nationally Determined Contributions to just mitigation, in clear violation of the requirements found in Articles 7, 9, 10, and 11 of the Paris Agreement; the systematic purging of all references to human rights and ecosystem integrity in APA3 and APA5 texts; and a Paris Rulebook held hostage to the use of highly questionable Kyoto CDM carbon credits and weak accounting rules.

The decision fails absolutely to reflect the desire of the overwhelming majority of countries for comprehensive and balanced outcome reflecting all elements of the Paris Agreement.  They fail to address the mandate given in APA Article 3.  A comprehensive and balanced outcome should include cross-cutting principles on rights; a central place for equity, that acknowledges differing country capacity and responsibility, including with respect to the Global Stocktake; and a differentiated Transparency Framework.

It is also highly problematic that progress on developing market- and non-market-based responses to combatting climate change, as contained in Article 6, have been left hanging, for determination at another COP.  We are deeply concerned that Brazil is refusing to show ambition, and preventing the adoption of mechanisms in both 6.2 and 6.4 that would deal with problems of environmental integrity and double-counting.  Finally, while a grievance mechanism is established under article 6.4, the deletion of references to human rights under article 6.2 suggests that further environmental, social and governance safeguards still need to be addressed in any future work plan.

Civil society had hoped that in these respects pertaining to NDCs and Transparency, as well as in advancing ambition consistent with the findings of the IPCC Special Report on the 1.5 Degree goal, the development of a Paris Rulebook would strengthen, rather than weaken, the Paris Agreement.  Instead, we are dismayed by documents that are not only unbalanced with respect to outcomes, but that also downgrade the importance of Paris Agreement preambular elements, weaken the commitment to environmental integrity and the prevention of double-counting, and fail to safeguard ecosystem integrity, food security and respect for human rights, including the rights of indigenous peoples.

After three years of negotiations, it is unconscionable that Parties are considering the adoption of such a weak, unbalanced, and loophole-riddled outcome.  We all can, and must, do better.

Virginia Young 0417 223 280

 

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