Category Archives: Government Policy

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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Future of Australian forests is vital to our own

Dr John Van Der Kallen

JohnVanDerKallenImage

Forests add value to our lives in so many ways

They clean our air and water, promote rain formation and protect soils from salinity and erosion.

They are a source of a rich variety of foods, especially for indigenous peoples, as well as bioactive compounds for modern medicines, including plants whose potential medicinal and nutritional value is yet to be determined.

They have multiple health benefits, with some studies showing that spending time in a forest lowers blood pressure, cortisol levels and feelings of stress.

Importantly, they provide indispensable carbon storage – vital in helping to combat climate change, the biggest global health threat this century.

With so many benefits, protecting our public forests is a no brainer.

However, for the past 20 years, Regional Forest Agreements that were introduced in Victoria, New South Wales, Tasmania and Western Australia to conserve Australia’s forests while permitting logging have failed to deliver.

Initially, RFAs were set up to be reviewed every five years, but the failure to implement this has seen the loss of forests and sustainable jobs for forestry workers.

The NSW government has also proposed new logging laws called Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals.

These would be a disaster as previously protected areas will be logged, animal habitats destroyed and even more impacts to biodiversity.

With the NSW government asking for feedback on these laws and RFAs in most states due to end shortly, we now have the opportunity to shift from destructive logging practices to conservation.

Individuals have the opportunity to enter submissions to government that demand both forests and biodiversity have improved preservation.

If more people make submissions and support forest protection, local members of parliament and government will be pressured to act.

Encouraging statewide campaigns can also help.

The National Parks Association’s “Forests For All” proposal has created an alliance of regional communities, doctors, environment, business and outdoor recreation groups who support the sustainable management of forests across the country.

Not only do campaigns like this help protect forests but they also increase public access to recreation, nature-based tourism, therapeutic opportunities and education therefore, ensuring regional communities thrive.

Meanwhile, maintaining healthy forests will be vital in our bid to reduce the impacts of climate change over the next century.

With so many benefits arising from our forests, protecting them is a win for all.

Dr John Van Der Kallen is a rheumatologist and member of Doctors for the Environment Australia. This article was published in The Examiner, 1 July 2018

 

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Burning biomass for energy threatens forests and the climate

Parties to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will be meeting in December in Poland. At the meeting, parties must finalise the “rulebook” – the operating manual required when the agreement takes force in 2020.

A technical meeting was held in Bonn, Germany, during May 2018 to try to reach agreement on the “rulebook”.

Director of ARCS International Forests and Climate Program, Virginia Young attended the meeting. Virginia gave a presentation, along with Dr Mary Booth, Director, Partnership for Policy Integrity, and Peg Putt, CEO Markets for Change. Their theme was ecosystem integrity and biodiversity protection.

Bonn_presentations

Dr Mary Booth presented evidence showing that burning biomass, such as wood from native forests, produces more greenhouse gas emissions than coal or gas facilities.

Graph_emissions

On 13 June 2018, European Union policymakers agreed on a new Renewable Energy Directive with potentially disastrous consequences for forests, particularly in USA, as well as for climate. Ignoring advice from hundreds of scientists from around the world, they continued acceptance of burning wood for electricity generation as being “carbon neutral”.

The decision by the EU policymakers appears to have been influenced by lobbying by the UK where biomass is a significant source of energy generation.

DraxPowerplant

Most of the wood used for power generation in the UK comes from USA where forests are being destroyed as a consequence.

ForestCutForBiomass.jpg

ForestHarvestingUSA

The link below will take you to the full presentation.

PFPI side event talk

 

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We face two major threats to Life on Earth: The Biodiversity Crisis and the Climate Crisis

Parties to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will be meeting in December in Poland. At the meeting, parties must finalise the “rulebook” – the operating manual required when the agreement takes force in 2020.

A technical meeting was held in Bonn, Germany, during May 2018 to try to reach agreement on the “rulebook”.

Director of ARCS International Forests and Climate Program, Virginia Young attended the meeting. Virginia gave a presentation, along with Dr Mary Booth, Director, Partnership for Policy Integrity, and Peg Putt, CEO Markets for Change. Their theme was ecosystem integrity and biodiversity protection.

Bonn_presentations

Virginia Young argued that the Biodiversity Crisis and the Climate Crisis, if unchecked, will result in ecosystem collapse, release large relatively stable long-lived carbon stocks into the atmosphere and create severe social and economic disruption.

Virginia emphasised the importance of maintaining primary forests and preventing clearing and the degradation caused by logging.

LoggingImage

Another  major cause of forest loss and degradation is the construction of new roads through intact forests.

RoadingImage

New roads not only directly cause clearing but also open up the forest to clearing for mining, agriculture, and other degradation.

DeforestationImage.jpeg

The link below will take you to the full presentation.

Virginia Young – Ecosystem Intergrity-compressed

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Accounting for Forests that is fit for purpose under the Paris Agreement

Parties to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change will be meeting in December in Poland. At the meeting, parties must finalise the “rulebook” – the operating manual required when the agreement takes force in 2020.

A technical meeting was held in Bonn, Germany, during May 2018 to try to reach agreement on the “rulebook”.

Director of ARCS International Forests and Climate Program, Virginia Young attended the meeting. Virginia gave a presentation, along with Dr Mary Booth, Director, Partnership for Policy Integrity, and Peg Putt, CEO Markets for Change. Their theme was ecosystem integrity and biodiversity protection.

Bonn_presentations

Peg Putt focused on the problems with accounting for emissions under Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) which was established under the Kyoto Protocol.

LULUCF is defined by the UN Climate Change Secretariat as  a “greenhouse gas inventory sector that covers emissions and removals of greenhouse gases resulting from direct human-induced land use such as settlements and commercial uses, land-use change and forestry activities.”

Peg identified a range of loopholes in LULUCF accounting. One loophole relates to biomass and biofuel accounting which is accounted as carbon neutral when burnt in the energy sector on the assumption that emissions would be accounted for in the land sector. However, these emissions are frequently not accounted for at all.

Peg argued that emissions from burning wood need to be accounted where they are burned.

PegPuttBioenergyAccounting

The link below will take you to the full presentation.

PegPuttBonn

 

 

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ARCS needs your help to maintain tax-deductible gift status

We previously reported on the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment Inquiry into the Register of Environmental Organisations. The inquiry was set up under the government led by Tony Abbott. Our Springbrook Rescue project was one of the few sites visited by the Committee.

The Committee recommended that deductible gift recipients spend at least 25 per cent of their gift income on environmental remediation. Whereas ARCS is heavily involved in such remediation, we depend on donations to our gift fund to help cover basic administrative costs. Both Federal and State governments have withdrawn grant programs for administrative costs and it is very difficult to get granting bodies to provide such funding.

At the time it was unknown what a Turnbull Coalition government would do with the Committee’s recommendations. Now, it appears that the government intends to proceed with implementation of the recommendations.

Federal Treasury has produced a Discussion Paper on Tax Deductible Gift Recipient Reform Opportunities. Comments on the Paper are due by 14 July.

The Discussion paper can be downloaded from the Treasury web site by clicking here

Comments can be submitted by email to DGR@treasury.gov.au.

Of particular concern is the proposal to require environmental Deductible Gift Recipients (DGRs) to direct 25 per cent, or possibly 50 per cent, of the donations they receive to on-ground environmental work (“remediation”).

In 2015-16, ARCS spent $46,460 on rainforest restoration, but none of the funding for that work came from donations. The restoration work, including the wages of our one employee, is funded from the two non-profit accommodation businesses ARCS runs at Springbrook.

The tax-deductible donations are essential in helping to cover ongoing operational expenses including electricity, rates, telephone and internet, insurance, etc. (no salaries involved). If we can’t keep the Society functioning, we can’t do the restoration work.

You can help by providing comments to Treasury. Some points for you to consider follow.

  • there is no logical reason to require all environmental DGRs to be involved in on-ground activities;
  • the negative impacts of diminishing advocacy, lobbying and public campaigning would outweigh the benefits of remediation work (planting 1 hectare of cleared land can cost $20,000 or more);
  • for some organisations, donations are critically important for covering basic administrative costs and it would be a significant burden to be required to direct any of those funds to remediation; this is particularly the case as the government discontinued the GVESHO program which was specifically for administration costs.

Our full submission to Treasury is included below.

With gratitude for your support,

Aila Keto signature
Dr Aila Keto AO
President

***

ARCS response to Discussion Paper

Comment on Deductible Gift Recipient Reform Opportunities

Background to Australian Rainforest Conservation Society Inc

Australian Rainforest Conservation Society Inc (ARCS) was established in 1982. It was one of the eight organisations first listed on the Register of Environmental Organisations on 12 March 1993. Since its inception, ARCS has been involved in a wide range of environmental activities including advocacy, lobbying, public campaigning including political campaigning, delivering co-operative agreements between seemingly disparate parties leading to greatly expanded protected areas and “on the ground” rainforest restoration. Our ongoing 20-year Springbrook Rescue Rainforest Restoration Project has been included as one of 12 international case studies by IUCN WCPA in Ecological Restoration for Protected Areas — Principles, Guidelines and Best Practices.

This submission deals with Consultation questions 4 to 6 and 12.

Consultation questions 4 to 6

Government members and agencies demonstrate an inordinate concern about advocacy. It would not be unreasonable to conclude that the purpose is to stifle dissent.

The ACNC Guidelines state that it is not OK for a charity to have a purpose to promote or oppose a political party or a candidate for political office. The Commission fails to make a clear distinction in this regard between a purpose and an activity. An environmental DGR may have no intrinsic purpose with respect to a political party but may wish to engage in an activity that opposes a party because that will further its environmental purpose.

Consider the case where a political party proposes oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef — as did the Bjelke Petersen-led Queensland National Party. If an environmental DGR had a purpose of protecting the Reef, it would be completely consistent with its environmental purpose for it to engage in activities that opposed that political party. Their members, donors and the general public would expect them to do so.

ARCS does not support any further reporting requirements regarding advocacy.

We also note that the ACNC is not altogether clear about determining advocacy. The Guidelines state “In determining whether a charity has a disqualifying political purpose, the ACNC will consider all the relevant circumstances of the charity, including its governing rules and its activities. Assessment of these matters will be a question of fact and degree.”

Consultation question 12

The recommendation by the House of Representatives Standing Committee on the Environment to require environmental DGRs to commit no less than 25 per cent of the annual expenditure from their public fund to environmental remediation was clearly politically motivated. It is unfortunate that the Discussion Paper not only considers that proposal but also raises the possibility of doubling the requirement.

Despite statements by various politicians to the contrary, there has been no requirement for environmental DGRs to be involved in environmental remediation work.

In his letter to the Committee requesting the inquiry, the then Minister for Environment, Greg Hunt, wrote “The Register of Environmental Organisations plays an important role in Australia’s actions to improve the environment, supporting local communities to undertake on-ground environmental works.”

Committee Chair, Alex Hawke, Liberal Party Member for Mitchell, said on ABC 7.30 Report “the environment register is for groups to do actual practical environmental work or some education and other purposes”.

Member of the Committee, George Christensen, National Party Member for the Queensland electorate of Dawson, states on his web site “Environmental groups should focus on practical environmental programs and stay out of politics if they want taxpayer subsidies.”

All of these statements are misleading. The REO is established by the Income Tax Assessment Act 1997. The Act requires organisations listed on the Register to have as their ‘principal purpose’

  • the protection and enhancement of the natural environment or of a significant aspect of the natural environment; or
  • the provision of information or education, or the carrying on of research, about the natural environment or a significant aspect of the natural environment.

There is no mention of on-ground activities.

Further, neither the Committee nor Treasury has provided any evidence to suggest that donors to environmental DGRs expect them to be carrying out on-ground activities. When a member of the public makes a donation to an environmental DGR, they are presumably doing so because they support what the DGR is doing. It would be reasonable to assume that a taxpayer making a donation to a DGR that is currently working to protect the Great Barrier Reef expects their donation to be used for advocacy and, consistent with the requirements of the REO, “the provision of information and education”. It is not for the government to dictate how the donation will be spent as long as the expenditure is consistent with the DGR’s environmental purpose.

The implication that only organisations carrying out on-ground works are worthy of support flies in the face of the history of protection of the natural environment in Australia. Many of the most significant gains in protection of Australia’s natural environment have been the result of intense and protracted public and political campaigns, including —

  • preventing oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef,
  • saving the Franklin River from being dammed,
  • stopping logging of tropical rainforests in North Queensland and achieving their protection and World Heritage Listing,
  • protecting Fraser Island, now a World Heritage Area, from sand mining and logging,
  • stopping large-scale land clearing in Queensland, and
  • protecting the Great Barrier Reef from dredge spoil dumping.

There are numerous environmental organisations that are not involved in on-ground environmental remediation but have made and continue to make essential contributions to protection of the natural environment and unquestionably deliver outcomes for the public good.

Further, neither the Committee nor Treasury make any attempt to justify involvement of all environmental DGRs in on-ground remediation nor provide any quantification of the expected benefits. It is virtually certain that the benefits would pale into insignificance compared the historical achievements resulting from advocacy, lobbying and public campaigning.

Specific implications for ARCS

In 2015–16, ARCS made an appeal to members and supporters to make donations to our public fund to allow ARCS to purchase and protect an area of rainforest in the Gold Coast Hinterland. An amount of $244,480 was raised.

Putting that aside for the moment, other donations to our public fund amounted to $6165. None of those funds were allocated to on-ground environmental remediation. However, through funding from other sources, ARCS spent $46,460 on on-ground rainforest restoration.

Clearly, ARCS would meet the proposed criteria of being involved in environmental remediation. But that activity does not receive any moneys from our public fund.

It is critically important that the public fund be available to cover administrative costs. This is particularly the case since the Abbott Government withdrew the GVESHO program which specifically provided funding for administration.

Returning to the money donated through our public fund to allow the purchase and protection of rainforest land, it would be a complete betrayal of our donors’ trust were we to allocate 25 per cent (or 50 per cent!) of their donations to restoration work. This emphasises the point made earlier in this submission that donors know what they are doing when they make a donation to support any particular campaign. It is not the role of government to intervene in how their donation is used.

In summary, ARCS does not support any mandatory requirement to allocate expenditure from the public fund to environmental remediation.

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Australia’s land clearing rate is again among the highest in the world

Today, more than 400 scientists and four scientific organisations have issued yet another dire warning to Australian governments regarding the impact of land clearing. The major focus is on Queensland and New South Wales.

Yellow-footed antechinus

Yellow-footed Antechinus (Photo: Christine Hosking)

Thirteen years ago, scientists from across the world expressed their grave concern about ongoing high rates of forest and woodland destruction in Queensland. In 2004, the Queensland Government lead by Peter Beattie introduced laws to stop broad scale clearing in the state. As a result, the rate of clearing was greatly reduced. However, the Liberal National Party government, which came to power in 2012, greatly weakened controls on land clearing. As a result, clearing doubled with 300,000 hectares of land now cleared each year.

In March 2016, the Queensland Government (Labor) introduced legislation to reinstate land clearing controls. The legislation has passed through an extensive consultation process and is due to go to parliament in the near future.

The proposed changes to land-clearing laws, while strongly supported by today’s statement from eminent scientists, has sparked a campaign led by lobby group, AgForce. Chief executive Charles Burke claims the status quo is sustainable saying “We want to talk about the science, we want to make sure we stick to the facts and make sure it’s not caught up in, sometimes, the conservation rhetoric.”

In New South Wales, the government has proposed scrapping existing legislation including the Native Vegetation Act and the Threatened Species Conservation Act and replacing that legislation with new legislation that will to a significant extent put vegetation management in the hands of landholders. Niall Blair, Minister for Primary Industries, said: “Our farmers are our frontline environmental custodians and it makes sense to give them the flexibility to manage and protect the land…”. The new legislation depends heavily on offsets where areas of land are protected to supposedly compensate for the loss of currently protected vegetation.

Today’s declaration by eminent scientists notes that “between 1998 and 2005 an estimated 100 million native birds, reptiles and mammals were killed because of destruction of their habitat in NSW”  and “in Queensland, the estimate was 100 million native animals dying each year between 1997 and 1999.”

In 2014, the Federal Government launched the 20 Million Trees Programme to be completed by 2020. But the scientists’ statement points out that 20 million trees are cleared every year in Queensland alone.

Clearing_image_Laurance

Photo: William Laurance

The future of the proposed legislative changes in Queensland is difficult to predict. The Labor government does not have a majority in the parliament. The proposed changes are opposed by the two Katter Party members and the government will be dependent on the votes of independents Rob Pyne and Billy Gordon who will be heavily lobbied by AgForce and the LNP.

Today’s declaration by scientists can be found on the web site of Society for Conservation Biology Oceania.

For more information on the Queensland legislation amendments, go to Environmental Defenders Office.

You can help

In Queensland, email the following asking them to support the legislation changes:

Rob Pyne:  Cairns@parliament.qld.gov.au

Billy Gordon:  Cook@parliament.qld.gov.au

Peter Wellington:  speaker@parliament.qld.gov.au

In New South Wales, sign the petition at Stand Up for Nature.

 

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Stopping logging native forests could save millions in carbon credits

As indicated in the blog article “Native forests for burning”, burning native forest “residues” as a source of renewable energy is expected to help the declining native forest timber industry, especially in Tasmania and Victoria. It has been revived by the Abbott Government based, at least in part, on the notion that burning wood waste for electricity generation will reduce the need to burn coal.

But recent research suggests that far greater reductions in greenhouse gas emissions could be achieved by stopping native forest logging altogether.

For decades, ARCS has been arguing that native forest logging should be phased out and hardwood production moved to plantations. Our position has been based on biodiversity conservation but it now appears there are additional benefits including major economic benefits. The following text is an extract from a paper by Professor David Lindenmayer, ANU, and Professor Brendan Mackey, Griffith University.


Analysis done using the Australian government’s public native forest model suggests that stopping all harvesting in the public native forest estate would generate in the order of 38 million tonnes of potential credits (that is, the equivalent of 38 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions avoided) each year in the short to medium term.

While this is the technical capacity, the Kyoto Protocol’s rules cap credits from forest management at 3.5% of base-year emissions, or around 15 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent per year. So if Australia ratifies the second commitment period of the Protocol, which runs from 2013 to 2020, the cap would limit forest management credits to 120 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent over the commitment period.

The Australian government’s latest emissions projections estimate that, in order to meet its 5% emissions-reduction target in 2020, Australia has to reduce its emissions by 236 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent over the second commitment period. This means stopping harvesting in public native forests could provide 51% of the abatement task to 2020.

Native forest logging results in significant greenhouse gas emissions because typically less than 5% of the biomass carbon of logged forests ends up as long-term timber products like furniture. The majority of the biomass carbon is made into short-lived products such as paper, which simply delays emissions for around three years.

Meanwhile, up to 60% of the remaining biomass in Victorian Mountain Ash forests is logging slash – tree heads, lateral branches, understorey trees, bark and other unwanted forest residues. Most of the carbon stored in this slash is emitted to the atmosphere, either in high-intensity stand-regeneration fires or through accelerated decomposition.

Research shows that the logging of several thousand hectares of Victoria’s Mountain Ash forest each year produces emissions equivalent to about one-third of the annual greenhouse emissions of Yallourn Power Station.

Carbon book-keeping
Since the start of 2013, Australia has been required to account for carbon emissions from forest management in the national greenhouse gas accounts. This includes emissions (and carbon sequestration) due to the management of public native forests (usually known as “state forests”), plantations established before 1990, and private forests that have been harvested since 1990.

The accounting is based on a “baseline-and-credit” system. The Australian government was required to make a projection of net emissions (emissions minus sequestration) from its forest management lands over the period 2013 to 2020. If Australia’s actual net emissions from forest management are below this reference level, it receives credits that it can use to offset emissions from other sectors. If its net emissions are above the reference level, it receives debits.

Phasing out native forestry
The Kyoto cap on forestry credits means that any plan to stop harvesting would be best done in a staged manner, with logging areas progressively being shut down. This would also minimise the transitional issues for workers, while still maximising the claimable carbon credits for Australia. If done well, stopping harvesting in native forests could move workers into more profitable and sustainable plantation-based industries, while providing an ongoing and low-cost source of carbon abatement that can be used to meet current and future emissions targets.

The Australian government could do this using its Emissions Reduction Fund. It could effectively pay states like Victoria, New South Wales and Tasmania for the substantial carbon abatement derived from not logging their native forests. The states in turn could use the money to transition workers out of the native forest sector.

An added benefit of this strategy is that it would remove the major competitive disadvantage faced by the plantation sector, which has to compete against a heavily subsidised and major loss-making native forest logging sector. The impact on wood production would be limited given that plantations are already the source of more than 80% by volume of all wood products.

Don’t burn it
The current policy is almost exactly opposite of what is needed, with wood from native forests (including sawlogs from Victorian forests) set to be burned to generate electricity as part of the Renewable Energy Target (RET). Indeed, the federal forestry minister Richard Colbeck recently admitted that the native forest sector is not viable without burning forests for energy.

However, when it receives renewable energy credits, burning native forest biomass cannot reduce emissions from electricity generation by coal-fired power stations. The way the RET works means that when biomass is burned it merely displaces forms of renewable electricity generation (like solar and wind), rather than coal as the forest industry consistently maintains.

This means that including native forest biomass in the RET will not reduce emissions from electricity generated by coal-fired power stations. But it could very well significantly increase emissions from forest management, thereby making it harder for Australia to reach its emissions target.
Of course, there would be significant other benefits of not logging native forests, including securing the water supply of cities like Melbourne, and better conserving critically endangered species like Leadbeater’s Possum.

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