Labor pledges 45% emissions cuts by 2030, but the science says more is needed


Anita Talberg, University of Melbourne

Opposition leader Bill Shorten has proposed an emissions reduction target of 45% below 2005 levels by 2030, based on recommendations from the government’s climate change policy advisory body, the Climate Change Authority. Shorten has also pledged zero net emissions by 2050, and ongoing reviews of the target.

In its review, the Climate Change Authority recommended that Australia adopt a target of between 40% and 60% by 2030 on 2000 levels.

Converting this to the 2005 baseline gives a target of around -44% to -63% on 2005 levels. So Labor’s target would match the very weakest within the Climate Change Authority’s range.

We plugged this target into our mitigation-contributions.org interactive webtool. The website allows the effectiveness of climate pledges from G20 countries to be assessed using different assumptions of what is a “fair” distribution of emissions reduction efforts.

What we found was that, first, Labor’s proposed 2030 target meets the Climate Change Authority’s recommended 2025 target of -30% below 2000 levels, as you can see in the chart below.

Second, Labor’s target may or may not be sufficient to keep the world within 2C, depending on what you consider a fair distribution of emissions between nations. Let’s unpack that a little more.

Most people agree that globally we should be striving for equal emissions per person. However, there are two broad views on how to get there:

  • Either we acknowledge historic emissions and “punish” those countries that have used a disproportionate amount in the past

  • Or we ignore past emissions and all countries strive for equal-per-capita emissions from now until some point in the future.

Under the latter option, Labor’s proposed target is sufficient to give the world a 67% chance of staying within 2C (see image below). This assumes that Australia adopts Labor’s target and all other countries match the effort of the target by using the same formula for calculating equal per-capita emissions.

However, if historic emissions are included we assume that because Australia has one of the highest per-capita emissions in the world it has a responsibility to reduce its emissions more rapidly and severely. Using this approach, Labor’s target does not do enough (see image below).

Here, again, we are assuming that Australia adopts Labor’s target and all other countries follow suit in a way that takes into account historic emissions and aims for equal, cumulative per-capita emissions. There is of course no guarantee that this will happen.

Essentially, Labor’s proposal improves on Australia’s current target of 26% to 28% below 2005 levels by 2030 and this is one step in the right direction. However, to be considered a good global citizen by factoring in past emissions as well as future emissions, Australia would need to commit to the tighter end of the Climate Change Authority’s target and do even more.

In fact, a target of -64% on 2005 levels by 2030 is what would be needed.

For more information on how to understand and use the mitigation-contributions website see this Briefing Note.

The Conversation

Anita Talberg, PhD student in the Australian-German Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Anglers have helped detect a shift in the habitat of black marlin


Tom Bridge, James Cook University; Andrew Tobin, James Cook University, and April Reside, James Cook University

We know that climate change is driving changes in the world’s oceans. Currents are shifting, temperatures are climbing and the availability and dynamics of nutrient upwelling is changing.

But the question is whether marine species can adapt at the rate at which these changes are occurring?

The coastal waters of south-eastern Australia are a climate change hotspot, warming at a rate three to four times the global average. This is in part due to an increase in the strength and southward penetration of the East Australian Current (EAC), which carries warm water from the tropics down Australia’s east coast.

In response, numerous marine species have been documented extending their distributions polewards, affecting the functioning of coastal and marine ecosystems in south-eastern Australia. This will have knock on effects for local communities and fisheries, many of which are not well prepared.

With so many species on the move and changes happening so quickly, scientists have enlisted the help of citizen scientists – such as recreational SCUBA divers and fishers – to help record when, where and how often species are sighted. Initiatives such as Redmap have helped scientists identify many tropical species shifting their ranges south.

Tagging program

Another successful example of citizen science is the New South Wales state government’s gamefish tagging program. This world-leading gamefish tagging program, established in 1974, asks recreational anglers to tag and release gamefish and provide information on the species, size, and release location which is sent back to the Department of Primary Industries (DPI).

More than 400,000 fish from at least 20 different species have been tagged, and more than 7,000 recaptures recorded.

All black marlin tag release locations recorded in the NSW DPI tagging program within the south-west Pacific Ocean.
Authors, Author provided

This has enabled us to investigate whether there had been any geographical shifts in suitable habitat for the highly-mobile black marlin (Istiopmax indica) in the previous 16 years.

The black marlin is one of the most keenly sought gamefish species targeted by recreational anglers in Australia, with more than 54,000 records of tagged black marlin within the NSW DPI’s database.

Big business

An annual aggregation of large adults, some weighing more than 500kg, occurs off the northern Great Barrier Reef each spring, forming the basis of a charter fishery that will celebrate its 50th year of operation in 2016.

At the other end of the spectrum, juvenile black marlin from 15kg to 40kg undertake an annual migration southward along the east coast in association with the EAC.

Anglers target these juveniles off Cairns and Townsville in late winter, south-east Queensland in late spring, and Port Stephens, NSW, in late summer. Depending on the behaviour of the EAC, juvenile black marlin may even extend as far south as Bermagui, NSW, in some years.

But our research, published in October in Global Change Biology, aims to identify any changes in the distribution of marlin habitat through time. We used the release positions of black marlin in the NSW DPI database and satellite-derived data such as sea surface temperature and current velocity.

The extensive spatial and temporal coverage of the tagging data allowed us to model the geographic distribution of black marlin habitat in the South-West Pacific for 192 consecutive months from 1998 to 2013.

On the move

We found variability in the location of suitable black marlin habitat across months and years.

On an annual basis, conditions favoured by black marlin occurred off north Queensland at the start of spring and gradually shifted south along Australia’s east coast from October to April. This coincided with the peak availability of black marlin to recreational anglers and also to a seasonal pulse in the EAC.

From May to August, suitable habitat retreats back towards the equator as cold water currents push north over winter. We also identified a strong effect of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), with black marlin habitat extending up to 300km further south during La Niña phases.

In addition to the large variability on shorter timescales, we also found that suitable marlin habitat has shifted south at a rate of about 88km per decade across all seasons, independently of the influence of ENSO.

Heading south

We found that habitat is shifting faster during summer months (111km per decade) in contrast to the rest of the year (77km per decade). This suggests that suitable habitat is extending south quicker than it is contracting at its northern edge.

Poleward shift in the distribution of suitable black marlin habitat across all three seasons from 1998-2013.
Authors, Author provided

This result adds to the growing body of evidence showing that many species’ habitat is shifting polewards in response to climate change.

Considering that all highly mobile tuna and billfish species respond to a similar suite of environmental factors, numerous species are likely responding to climate change.

What does this mean for Australian fishers, black marlin and similar pelagic species? These are questions that still need answering.

What is clear from this study is that mobile fish species are not immune from the impacts of climate change, and that long term data sets from recreational fishers are valuable tools in discerning such changes.


This article was co-authored by Dr Julian Pepperell, a marine biologist and an external co-supervisor of honours and PhD students, and his JCU honours student Nick Hill.

The Conversation

Tom Bridge, Postdoctoral research fellow, James Cook University; Andrew Tobin, Sen Research Fellow, Centre for Sustainable Tropical Fisheries and Aquaculture, James Cook University, and April Reside, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Spatial Ecology, James Cook University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cents and sensibility: why it’s unwise to put dollar figures on nature


Brian Coffey, RMIT University

More and more studies are attempting to “value” nature by attributing (sometimes huge) dollar figures to things like threatened species. Apparently, this makes it possible to compare their value – for the record, a sea otter is worth twice as much as a sea turtle, according to one estimate.

This fits within a wider approach that attempts to view and manage nature as an “asset”. Advocates argue that valuing the “ecosystem services” provided by “natural capital” and specific “natural assets” will ensure the environment is given due consideration in decision-making.

Indeed, this week a diverse group of people from government, business and environmental organisations assembled at the World Forum on Natural Capital in Edinburgh to explore how and why this must be done.

However, I think it makes more sense to question what economic terminology achieves and where it leads. Instead of asking “what’s the value of nature?”, I would rather ask “why is nature important?” and “how can we live with, and within, it?”

How we think (and write and talk) about nature has important implications for how it is appreciated and governed. Cognitive linguists George Lakoff and Mark Johnson made this clear in their seminal 1980 book Metaphors We Live By. Put simply, when we signify things through one metaphor rather than another, different realities are created.

Reframing nature

Embracing different metaphors works by reframing situations and enabling different questions to be asked. For example, while not without their own problems, metaphors such as “green infrastructure” and “ecological foundations” reframe the importance of nature in significant ways: anyone familiar with the classic children’s tale of The Three Little Pigs will attest to the importance of good infrastructure.

In a similar way, “building” metaphors are already used to understand waterways and beach nourishment. There is potential to explore further opportunities in this area, including through metaphors such as ecological “renovation” and “restoration”.

The importance of embracing new metaphors for nature is highlighted in an essay by US environmental scientist Thomas Princen, who wrote that “change occurs not when people argue well, but when they speak differently”. Using “building” or other metaphors can therefore help to understand nature in ways that do not commodify and financialise it.

In contrast, the idea of “living with nature” re-imagines the relationship between humans and the world we live in. It does not view human-nature relationships through a narrow, commodified lens using concepts like “ecosystem services”. It avoids creating singular measures (such as dollars) to represent all the diverse ways we interact with and benefit from nature.

Such a perspective aligns with an emerging body of literature that focuses on the ways in which we encounter nature in everyday situations, and the implications that arise from this. This highlights the fact that human understandings of nature are closely connected with our experiences of it.

This forces us to consider the intimate and pervasive ways we encounter nature in our daily lives: nature is not just “out there” in national parks and wilderness areas. If we learn also to understand “everyday” nature, we will realise the coarseness of using economic metaphors to understand it. As others have argued, embracing economic metaphors serves to “work inside and perpetuate the very logics that have produced biodiversity loss in the first place”.

Clearly, the use of economic metaphors is politically significant. For me, economic metaphors represent a continuing neoliberalisation of environmental policy: nature is only important to the extent that “natural capital” provides “good and services” that are viewed as having a financial value to humans. The reality, of course, is that our dependence on nature goes far deeper than money.

New metaphors for nature and why it matters are needed so that new questions, new understandings and new answers can be explored. Perhaps it’s time for our political leaders, policy and business elites, and environmental researchers and practitioners to cast their minds a bit wider.

The Conversation

Brian Coffey, Lecturer, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.