The best places to see Australian birds this summer


Rochelle Steven, Griffith University

So, you’re looking for something to do this holiday season that is outdoors but close to home and won’t cost the earth (literally and figuratively). But you want something more than the average stroll through a national park.

Did you know there are over 300 areas in Australia identified for having populations of birds that are significant in terms of their ecology and conservation?

The Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) network was established in Australia in 2009 by then Birds Australia (now BirdLife Australia). Australia joined the program in the wake of multiple other countries and regions that have joined BirdLife International in their quest to draw attention to key areas for bird conservation globally.

Sites are assessed for potential inclusion in the network based on the presence of trigger bird species at threshold population numbers.

About 50% of the Australian network overlaps with protected areas (e.g. national parks), and the remaining 50% falls in private and other public lands. Many are accessible for visitors in search of rewarding birdwatching (aka birding) experiences.

If you haven’t discovered the enjoyment to be had in picking up a pair of binoculars and challenging yourself to identify the birds you find in your view, you are missing out!

Australia has some of the most amazing birds in the world. Tim Low has written about the marvels of Aussie birds in his book Where Song Began (2014).

A Satin Bowerbird in Queensland.

There are books that have been published recently outlining numerous spots worth a visit (e.g. Finding Australian Birds by Dolby and Clarke; Best 100 Birdwatching Sites in Australia by Taylor).

Many sites can be found within a couple of hours drive or less of the big cities. You can go birding independently, or if you really want a fruitful day, you can hire a local bird tour guide who will happily share their skills and knowledge of birds in your area.

Bird tour operators can be found in all capital cities, and recent research published in PLOS ONE shows they visit important bird areas frequently during their tours. Without further ado, here is your guide to the best places for birding close to some of our main cities.

Sydney

Greater Blue Mountains and Richmond Woodlands IBAs provide the chances to see species like the Regent Honeyeater or Flame Robin. Other trigger species here include: Swift Parrot, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Pilotbird, Rockwarbler and Diamond Firetail.

Diamond Firetail
David Cook/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Melbourne

Werribee and Avalon IBA is arguably Australia’s most popular birding destination among domestic birders. Access to the main birding site (the Western Treatment Plant) site requires a permit from Melbourne Water.

Cheetham and Altona IBA is open access via Altona Coastal Park and Point Cook Coastal Park. Both areas are winners for waterbirds and shorebirds.

Many shorebirds arrive in Melbourne’s wetlands from the Northern Hemisphere.
Rochelle Steven

Brisbane and Gold Coast

Moreton Bay and Pumicestone Passage IBA covers the extent of the coast from north Brisbane down the Gold Coast Broadwater. This IBA is an important site for migratory shorebirds that rest here after their epic journey flying from Alaska or Siberia.

Heading inland the Scenic Rim IBA overlaps with Lamington National Park and visitors to this IBA can be treated to excellent views of the Satin and Regent Bowerbirds. You might even get to see the Albert’s Lyrebird scurrying through the rainforest floor.

Satin Bowerbird
Rochelle Steven

Cairns

Daintree and the Coastal Wet Tropics IBAs provide rainforest experiences like no other. The list of trigger species for these IBAs is very long, but on the top is the Southern Cassowary.

You don’t see the cassowary, but the cassowary sees you.
Madeleine Deaton/Flickr, CC BY

Darwin

Alligator River Floodplains IBA and Adelaide and Mary River Floodplains IBA comprise the extensive river networks east of Darwin. Kakadu National Park overlaps with the former IBA, and Fogg Dam with the latter. At the very least, a trip to Fogg Dam is a must where Magpie Geese and Wandering Whistling Ducks gather in large flocks, giving awesome views.

Magpie geese congregate in huge flocks in the Top End.
Ewen Bell/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Perth

Bindoon-Julimar and Peel-Harvey Estuary IBAs overlap with numerous nature reserves, providing good access for day trippers. Shorebirds and ducks are in good numbers at Peel-Harvey, whereas Bindoon-Julimar provides the chance to see some woodland species such as Red-capped Parrot and Western Spinebill.

The Western Spinebill has a sweet tooth and feeds on nectar.
Julia Gross/Flickr, CC BY

Hobart

Bruny Island and South-east Tasmania IBAs are some of the best places to see birds found in Tasmania and nowhere else. The Forty-spotted Pardalote is a little bird that attracts big attention from birders, together with the Tasmanian Native-hen.

Spot the Forty-spotted Pardalote in southern Tasmania.
Francesco Veronesi/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Adelaide

There are fewer than 50 orange-bellied parrots in the wild: you’ll be lucky to see one.
Ron Knight/Flickr, CC BY

Lakes Alexandrina and Albert IBA is a great spot to see another sought after bird, the Cape Barren Goose. Large flocks of Australian Shelduck are also on offer here. If you are truly lucky you will see the Orange-bellied Parrot, but they are on the decline so be quick.

Kangaroo Island IBA is more than likely a weekend trip, but well worth it to see the waterbirds and shorebirds on offer. The Western Whipbird is an often heard but rarely seen resident and you have a good chance of seeing the Purple-gaped Honeyeater here also.

If you would like to take your birding to the next level, and get involved in bird conservation visit www.birdlife.org.au to find out more.

The Conversation

Rochelle Steven, Researcher – Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith School of Environment, Griffith University, Griffith University

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

Five ways to reduce your eco-footprint this Christmas


Peter Daniels, Griffith University

Our impact on the environment might not be at the forefront of our minds during the rush of the Christmas festive season. We might be far more worried about our light wallets from the expected pile of presents and massive food feast. Many of us are concerned about just getting through it.

But the consumer madness of late December is the perfect time to ponder the consequences of our habits and excesses. Christmas is probably the most extravagant of our Western celebrations.

And if we check out the latest science, we are likely to get a surprise about the main sustainability offenders amongst our Yuletide season choices and actions. They are not the usual suspects.

Your eco-footprint is a measure of your environmental impact. This involves more than just pollution and resources. It also includes the full life cycle and global supply chain of good and services you use. There is also now a greater emphasis on well-being in eco-footprints, rather than just reducing our environmental impact.

There have been rapid advances in improving the accuracy of measurements of the environmental, economic, and social footprints of our activities.

Using these new tools, we can identify five major areas that will have a real effect on our eco-footprints this Christmas:

1. Electricity

For Australia, electricity is a major source of environmental impact. This is because about 86% of it comes from fossil fuels.

The Christmas lights aren’t really an issue here. Even with 2,500 LED bulbs glorifying your home five hours a day for 30 days they will only add about 2% to your annual power bill (around A$50). It will be 10 times more if you use incandescent bulbs.

The biggest energy hog is actually space heating and cooling. About 40% of residential electricity use, depending on your local climate of course, goes into indoor temperature control.

Fans, on the other hand, typically use about 20% (or less) of the energy consumed by air-conditioners. So, rather than running the air-con all day, why not sit on the veranda or use a fan, and make sure you’re stocked up on cool drinks?

2. Diet

With newer and more detailed methods for measuring footprints, we can get a firmer grip on the primary environmental offenders. Apart from electricity use in the home, food and transport consistently top the list. Most people still link greenhouse gas emissions mainly to transport. However, the livestock industry and other meat production produce more than all forms of transport combined.

On average, meat, poultry, and dairy products have far greater pressures on nature than other food. The carbon footprint of a heavy meat diet is considered to be about double that of a vegetarian_ (and more than that for a vegan). Meat and dairy also tend to be worse for the use of water and energy and across many pollution and soil degradation issues.

So it’s best to minimise meat and dairy in the Christmas feast. We should also consider planning for how much food we actually need in order to minimise over-consumption and waste.

3. Gifts

Gift-giving has become a central part of the Christmas experience. But gifts often also come with a huge footprint.

As a first step, consider buying fewer gifts. And at least get your loved ones gifts that will last a long time, are efficient in their use of energy, water, and other resources, and are easy and safe to dispose of. This is especially critical for whitegoods, appliances, and electronic gear.

Solid waste, including electronic waste, is a major environmental problem, and one of the few that is getting worse in high income nations. Buying smaller products with less packaging and presenting them without or with recyclable gift wrapping all help.

And maybe you should reconsider buying that newest e-gadget – is it really needed, and if so, could you find a quality secondhand product instead?

A great way to reduce your material footprint is to go for non-consumptive, immaterial gifts in the form of services such as e-books, massage, yoga classes, cinema tickets, and gym memberships. As a bonus, many of these have additional health benefits.

Another key part of improving sustainability is to buy ethical gifts that can be shown to have been made without exploiting workers in terms of wages, conditions, safety, human rights and child labour, and environmental harm.

4. Travel

Oh no, this one really hurts. Unfortunately, we can’t do much in the short-term about having to take the car to the rellies for the Christmas festivities. Yet transport fuels are well-known as major sources of greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and related problems. So if you need to drive, why not try and car pool; road trips are more fun with company.

But, while reducing low occupancy car use is vital, it seems that one flight can undo all our good work. Taking a plane from Sydney to Bali, for example, has almost the same carbon footprint as a typical year’s worth of driving. I wonder if Santa has Skype?

5. New Year’s resolution

If such austerities are all too much in the expected pleasures of Christmas, then perhaps you could defer them to your 2016 resolutions for a new, more sustainable lifestyle.

Ideally, it would be good to commit to:

  • eat less meat and dairy
  • continue to get more efficient space heating and cooling equipment and use fans whenever possible (fingers crossed for bearable levels of global warming!)
  • convert your home to solar energy and hot water, economise on long travel, and exercise more

Such changes obviously need support across the community. So, another lifestyle change would be to commit political support for renewable energy, energy efficiency, better public transport and more compact cities, alternative long distance travel modes, and more.

Peace and goodwill to all

And in the Christmas cheer, remember not to drink too much and accidentally procreate.

In high income countries, the most unsustainable thing we can do is have another child over above the replacement rate of 2.1 children per couple. There is already evidence of a surge in Australian births about nine months after Xmas!

This Christmas, let us reflect a little more on how we might help bring peace and goodwill to all in our highly connected and finite world.

The Conversation

Peter Daniels, Senior Lecturer, Griffith School of Environment, Griffith University

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

We’ve got a climate goal of 1.5 degrees – so how do we get there?


Kate Dooley, University of Melbourne and Doreen Stabinsky, College of the Atlantic

The Paris climate agreement, which commits countries to “pursue efforts” to limit global warming to no more than 1.5℃ above pre-industrial temperatures, sends a much-needed political signal that the world is ready to take serious action on climate change.

But how do we actually go about limiting warming to 1.5℃? The Paris Agreement acknowledges that developed countries need to lead on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but action in developing countries will also need to be swift, with poorer countries requiring support for a rapid transition to a clean energy future.

While the Paris Agreement has been interpreted as heralding the end of coal and ushering in a new age of renewable energy, it doesn’t explicitly say those things. But the more important question is to ask how the agreement sets the stage for a global energy transition of the scale and speed required to hit the 1.5℃ target.

Article 4.1 of the agreement (see page 22) outlines how global emissions should peak “as soon as possible” and should decline rapidly thereafter, to “achieve a balance between anthropogenic sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of this century”.

This ambiguous wording is intended to reflect the recommendation from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Assessment Report that emissions will need to go to zero and then below (“net-℃zero”) in the second half of the century.

The Paris Agreement’s accompanying decision text suggests a specific pathway for getting below 2℃ of warming, which involves reining in global greenhouse emissions to 40 gigatonnes in 2030, rather than the currently projected 55 Gt. It also suggests commissioning a special report from the IPCC to look at the numbers that would get us to 1.5℃.

The problem with these numbers is that for 40 Gt by 2030 to be consistent with a 2℃ temperature limit, this would require large volumes of carbon to be removed from the atmosphere later in the century (known as negative emissions). Getting beyond this to ensure that we hit a 1.5℃ is likely to rely on even higher volumes of carbon removal later in the century.

What are negative emissions?

Achieving negative emissions involves a form of geoengineering known as Carbon Dioxide Removal (CDR). Options for negative emissions include large-scale forest plantations, bioenergy crops with carbon capture and storage, or directly capturing carbon from the atmosphere. As well as technology limitations, these options are severely limited by the scale of land required.

Of the scenarios in the IPCC database with a 50% or greater chance of limiting warming to below 2℃, around 85% assume large-scale uptake of negative emissions. For 1.5℃, all scenarios rely on even larger volumes of negative emissions.

Relying on taking carbon out of the atmosphere later in the century brings a risk that we might delay action in the next few critical decades while waiting for the technology to catch up). This could result in runaway warming if the negative emissions options prove to be unfeasible or too expensive, or socially unacceptable.

What next?

Pathways for delivering the 1.5℃ goal will require unprecedented action. If we carry on burning fossil fuels at current rates, our likely chance of achieving 1.5℃ would be blown in just 6 years (a likely chance of 2℃ gives us 20 years of emissions at current rates).

Carbon Countdown
The Carbon Brief

This highlights that, rather than incremental action, immediate and aggressive emission reductions are needed in rich nations, in order to keep the need for negative emissions options to an absolute minimum, or (for a 2℃ pathway), to avoid relying on carbon drawdown at all.

The special report to be produced in 2018 by the IPCC will offer an opportunity for a more informed debate on the level of negative emissions that might be feasible, and the level of action that will be needed over the coming decade in order to limit our reliance on drawing carbon back out of the atmosphere in the second half of the century.

Keeping global warming below 2℃ or 1.5℃ of warming over pre-industrial levels is still within reach, but it will require an honest and informed picture of the scale of the challenge, and a clear-eyed appreciation of the risks if we delay.

The Conversation

Kate Dooley, PhD candidate, Australian German Climate & Energy College, University of Melbourne and Doreen Stabinsky, Professor of Global Environmental Politics, College of the Atlantic

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

As big business goes green, green bonds ready for takeoff


Usman W. Chohan, UNSW Australia

The climate summit in Paris has shown that global big business is now also on board with the transition to a low-carbon economy.

However, the most promising instruments in finance for promoting green investing, particularly green bonds, have been around for almost a decade now, starting with the European Investment Bank (EIB) Climate Awareness Bond in 2007.

Why haven’t green bonds entered the mainstream of finance, and what is holding them back?

To be clear, the rise of green bonds has been dramatic: whereas issuances amounted to only US$4 billion in 2010, they were nearly ten times that amount by 2014, representing US$37 billion in new issuance volume. However, green bonds haven’t yet achieved a critical mass because their growth stems from a small base, given that global fixed income constitutes US$80 trillion in outstanding value.

An important factor constraining the wider proliferation of green bonds is the fact that their issuance is still relegated to a few large players. The largest emitters of green bonds remain the large multilateral development institutions which collectively accounted for almost half (44%) of new issuances in 2014, while the corporate sector accounted for another one-third of the total.

The World Bank alone has conducted 100 green bond transactions in 18 different currencies that cumulatively represent more than US$8.5 billion.

Having such a concentrated base of issuers is insufficient for a wider introduction of green financial instruments, and new institutional players, particularly private sector entrants, are required to enlarge the green bond market.

Looking back, an overarching reason for limited private sector participation in green bonds was that “green credentials” were less important in past corporate cultures. However, with the cultural shift taking place as seen at COP21, more entities are expected to “green-up” their business models.

It is important to note that, because green bonds are properly certified as climate-friendly financial instruments, they only represent a portion of a larger, more loosely defined “climate-aligned” bond market.

While not officially labelled as “green” bonds according to environmental rubrics this market accounts for more than US$600 billion.

The green bond market also suffers from a lack of project diversity. For the broader “climate-aligned bond market” that includes green bonds, the two largest segments are transport (nearly 70%) and energy (another 20%), but transport is almost entirely rail networks backed by state entities. Only 10% of the “climate-aligned” market covers the remaining construction, agriculture, waste management, and water categories.

It is heartening to see that developing countries have taken the lead in issuing “climate-aligned” securities (not necessarily certified as green bonds), with China alone accounting for 33% (US$164 billion) of the climate-aligned issuances. India (US$15 billion), Brazil (US$3 billion), and South Africa (US$1 billion) are also among the emerging markets engaging in the climate-aligned capital raising process.

In Australia, the scope for green bond issuances is extremely promising, but in the context of the overall Australian A$1.5 trillion bond market, green bonds still reflect a minute portion of the issuances, and the country has generally lagged behind in its adoption. This is partly due to regulatory uncertainty and political hostility. However, there’s actually a strong interest in green bonds in Australia, as the 2015 green bond issuance of A$600 million by ANZ bank and this South Australian A$200 million wind farm project evidently show.

In fact, most of the major Australian banks, including NAB, Westpac, and ANZ are dipping their toes in the space. To facilitate stronger growth in Australia, however, non-bank financial institutions will also need to be part of the equation, which is why it is encouraging that sectors such as the property market are turning to green bond vehicles for raising capital.

The outlook on market volume growth for green bonds is overwhelmingly positive. Some forecasts are suggesting the green bond market will treble again this year as it did in 2014, touching US$100 billion. Given the growth and engagement on the “greening” of finance, green finance could soon become mainstream.

The Conversation

Usman W. Chohan, Consultant, World Bank Institute (previous); Doctoral Candidate, Economics, Fiscal Policy Reform, UNSW Australia

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