Just ten MPs represent more than 600 threatened species in their electorates

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The critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum lives within a single federal electorate. Their local MP has a responsibility to be their voice.
Zoos Victoria

James Watson, The University of Queensland; April Reside, The University of Queensland; Brooke Williams, The University of Queensland; Hugh Possingham, The University of Queensland; Martine Maron, The University of Queensland; Michelle Ward, The University of Queensland; Richard Fuller, The University of Queensland; Scott Consaul Atkinson, The University of Queensland, and Stephen Kearney, The University of Queensland

Australia is rapidly losing its world-famous biodiversity. More than 90 species have gone extinct since European colonisation (including three in just the past decade), and more than 1,700 species are now formally recognised as being in danger of extinction.

Despite the pride many Australians feel in our unique natural heritage (and the billions of dollars made from nature-based tourism) the amount of federal funding for biodiversity conservation has dropped by 37% since 2013.

Read more: The environment needs billions of dollars more: here’s how to raise the money

If a local industry or public institution experienced such a drastic funding cut, the people affected would petition their local representatives and the issue would be raised in parliament as a matter of local or national importance.

Threatened species cannot of course lobby government. But all threatened species on the land have at least one elected official who should take responsibility for them.

Threatened species as local constituents

A member of parliament’s primary job, besides being a party member and parliamentarian, is to speak up for local interests. Data from the Species of National Environmental Significance shows that every federal electorate contains at least one threatened species, so every single federally elected politician has a role to play in abating species extinction.

We’ve used that data to create an interactive map that shows the number of threatened species in each federal electorate, along with details of the local MP and their party. It’s obvious from a glance that a handful electorates contain most of Australia’s threatened species. (You can click on an electorate to view information on the local member, and to download its threatened species lists.)


This is because species are not uniformly spread across the landscape, and also because electorate size varies hugely according to population density. The biggest electorate is the Division of Durack, which at 1.6 million square kilometres is half the size of Germany, while the smallest (the Division of Grayndler in inner Sydney) is 0.002% Durack’s size.

Because extremely large seats are in remote and rural areas, they are dominated by Liberal and National politicians. Melissa Price, the Liberal member for Durack, represents 359 threatened species, or about 20% of Australia’s total.

The box below highlights the 10 seats with the most threatened species. Between them, the members for these 10 electorates represent 609 – or 36% – of all threatened species in Australia. These MPs need to be empowered to protect the natural heritage of their electorates.

Green Fire Science, CC BY-ND

While this issue affects every MP, some 79 electorates contain a species that resides mainly – or even only – inside that electoral boundary. Several electorates have more than 50 species that rely on habitat found in one electorate, including the divisions of Durack (Liberal), O’Connor (Liberal), Lingiari (Labor), and Lyons (Labor).

The figure below shows electorates that contain more than 80% of a species’ range. The size of the bubble scales directly to the size of the electorate. It’s clear that some electorates are important sites of biodiversity.

Author provided

For example, Warren Entsch, the Liberal National member for Leichardt, has the endangered Golden shouldered parrot living entirely within his electoral boundaries. The federal division of Canberra, represented by Labour MP Gai Brodtmann, contains the entire habitat of the spectacular Brindabella Midge-orchid. These are just two of 79 members who can make such a claim.

Local members should not just be aware of this but active in saving these species.

While many of the factors that imperil threatened species come from far outside an electorate’s borders, local threatened species need local voices. As arguably the strongest local voice, all federal MPs can fight for more money and more action for threatened species, especially those within their electoral boundaries. And given the inequity in terms of threatened species per electorate, some will need to fight for much greater resourcing than others.

The ConversationExtinction is forever, and every time we lose a species our world becomes a poorer place. Ultimately, only local action on the ground can prevent the irreversible loss of our precious threatened species.

James Watson, Associate Professor, The University of Queensland; April Reside, Researcher, Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Science, The University of Queensland; Brooke Williams, PhD Candidate, The University of Queensland; Hugh Possingham, Professor, The University of Queensland; Martine Maron, ARC Future Fellow and Associate Professor of Environmental Management, The University of Queensland; Michelle Ward, PhD Student, The University of Queensland; Richard Fuller, Associate Professor in Biodiversity and Conservation, The University of Queensland; Scott Consaul Atkinson, Research Assistant, The University of Queensland, and Stephen Kearney, PhD Candidate , The University of Queensland

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


This is why we cannot rely on cities alone to tackle climate change

Brendan F.D. Barrett, RMIT University and Andrew DeWit, Rikkyo University

A lot of faith is vested in cities to tackle climate change, and with good reason. A day after the June 1 declaration that the US would exit the Paris Agreement, 82 American “climate mayors” committed to upholding the accord.

By August 4, when the US gave formal notice of its withdrawal, there were 372 “climate mayors” representing 67 million Americans.

In Australia, too, national intransigence has led to greater expectations of local actions. The Climate Council’s July report declares that deep cuts in cities’ greenhouse gas emissions can achieve 70% of Australia’s Paris goals.

The report notes that a majority of Australian cities have adopted climate policies. Many are committed to 100% renewable energy or zero emissions. One of the report’s authors argues that, even without national leadership, Australian cities can “just get on with the job of implementing climate policies”.

Many European cities have ambitious emission-reduction targets. Copenhagen plans to be the world’s first carbon-neutral capital by 2025. Stockholm aims to be fossil-fuel-free by 2040.

So, at first glance, cities do appear to be leading the way.

A word of caution

We support local decarbonisation and the desire for cities to be progressive actors. Yet there are ample grounds to be dubious about cities’ ability to deliver on their commitments.

Sam Brooks, former director of the District of Columbia’s Energy Division, has laid out sobering evidence on the reality of climate action in US cities.

Brooks supports stronger local action rather than “press releases” and “mindless cheerleading”. He shows that most emission cuts in US cities can be attributed to state and federal initiatives such as renewable portfolio standards or national fuel-efficiency rules.


America’s narrative of climate-friendly cities relies heavily on California’s leadership to make it credible.

By May 2015, California had built the Under2 Coalition of cities, states and countries committed to keeping the global temperature increase below 2°C. California Governor Jerry Brown was prepared for the June 1 White House announcement, quickly detailing why it was “insane”. Days later Brown signed a deal between China and his state to collaborate on cutting emissions.

California’s activism sets a benchmark. But Brooks details how New York, Boston, Washington DC and other “frequently lauded cities” often do not use the powers they have.

No US city reports its electricity consumption more than annually. Many do not report it at all. Poor monitoring is a key reason they have not cut consumption, in spite of enormous scope for efficiency.

Cities have not added much to national trends

It isn’t just American cities falling short, as Benjamin Barber’s new book, Cool Cities makes clear.

Like Brooks, Barber championed urban action against global warming (he died in April 2017). Yet he looked past the hype to point out shortcomings in the mitigation measures of such exemplary cities as London and Oslo.

London’s stated goal is to cut emissions by 60% by 2040. It seems likely to fail, with blame falling on rapid population growth and inadequate policies in the building sector.

Oslo is committed to a 100% cut in emissions by 2050. But its emissions have risen from 1.2 million tonnes in 1991 to 1.4 million tonnes in 2014. One complication is that oil and gas production comprise 22% of the Norwegian economy. The nation’s emissions are up 4.2% since 1990.

Even the progress of climate superstar cities such as Copenhagen, Stockholm and Berlin is, on close examination, subject to important caveats.

Copenhagen makes much of having cut emissions 21% by 2011 from 2005 levels. Yet the city admits that 63% of its goal of becoming carbon-neutral relies on buying carbon offsets for its emissions.

National policy is a crucial context for urban action. For instance, Copenhagen has benefited greatly from a 27% fall in Denmark’s emissions between 1990 and 2015. Unfortunately, Danish emissions are expected to increase after 2020 without new policies.

Stockholm has cut emissions by around 37% between 1990 and 2015. This is mainly a result of changes to building heating – transport emissions have barely changed.

As in Copenhagen, Stockholm’s achievements rely greatly on a national target –
net-zero emissions by 2045 – backed by a robust policy framework.

As for Berlin, its goal is an 85% cut in emissions by 2050, compared to 1990. By 2013 the city had cut emissions by about one-third. Yet most recent data indicate that emissions have begun to rise slightly. Berlin is at risk of achieving only half of its mid-term goal of a 40% cut by 2020.

Berlin is not responsible for a national policy that remains lax on coal and unduly favours automobiles, the source of 18% of German emissions. But civic leaders in Berlin could do more to nudge a car-centred culture towards sustainability.

What must cities do?

The urgency of real action is clear from the IEA’s 2016 report on sustainable urban energy systems. It warns that business as usual in cities could mean emissions increase by 50% by 2050.

The IEA notes that 90% of the growth in primary energy demand is in non-OECD countries. At the same time, climate science tells us deep emissions cuts must begin by 2020. We have to accelerate decarbonisation, which means demanding greater ambition and transparency from cities. The following steps need to be taken:

  1. Every city should have accurate, timely and transparent data on their performance across a range of indicators. These include emissions, electricity consumption, energy efficiency and renewable energy availability.

  2. We need more robust comparative frameworks to make sense of the data. The 2014 Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories was a valuable start, but has to be expanded.

  3. Cities should be more global when calculating their emissions. At present, they tally up emissions from their own territory and production, leaving out emissions from consumption of traded goods and (often) aviation. The differences can be significant. Were Copenhagen’s emissions measured on a consumption basis, the total would be four to five times higher.

  4. Cities need to differentiate between emission cuts resulting directly from their own actions and those derived from state or national programs. We need to see what cities themselves are doing.

  5. Cities too often advocate climate neutrality rather than zero emissions. The more a city relies on credits for offsets elsewhere, the greater the risk of failing to cut actual emissions within the city.

  6. There should be less cheerleading all around. City mayors need to lobby their state and federal counterparts to ensure co-ordinated action at all levels. And citizens must throw out mayors – not to mention regional and national leaders – who don’t accept the urgency of climate mitigation.

The ConversationSadly, many cities are dangerously complacent about the need for speed in decarbonisation. No press release can obscure the fact that time is not on our side.

Brendan F.D. Barrett, Senior Lecturer, Program Manager, Masters of International Urban and Environmental Management, RMIT University and Andrew DeWit, Professor, School of Policy Studies, Rikkyo University

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

The new Great Barrier Reef pollution plan is better, but still not good enough

Jon Brodie, James Cook University; Alana Grech, James Cook University, and Laurence McCook, James Cook University

The draft water quality improvement plan, released by the federal and Queensland governments this week, aims to reduce the pollution flowing from water catchments to the Great Barrier Reef over the next five years.

It is part of the overarching Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan to protect and manage the reef until mid-century.

Water quality is one of the biggest threats to the reef’s health, but the new guidelines still fall short of what’s required, given the available scientific evidence.

Read more: Cloudy issue: we need to fix the Barrier Reef’s murky waters.

The draft plan, which is open for comment until October, presents several important and commendable advances in the management of water quality on the Great Barrier Reef. It addresses all land-based sources of water pollution (agricultural, urban, public lands and industrial) and includes social, cultural and economic values for the first time.

The principal sources of pollution are nitrogen loss from fertiliser use on sugar cane lands, fine sediment loss from erosion on grazing lands, and pesticide losses from cropping lands. These are all major risk factors for the Great Barrier Reef.

The draft plan also presents updated water quality targets that call for reductions in run-off nutrients and fine sediments by 2025. Each of the 35 catchments that feeds onto the reef has its own individual set of targets, thus helping to prioritise pollution-reduction measures across a region almost as large as Sweden.

The reef’s still suffering

The Great Barrier Reef suffered coral bleaching and death over vast areas in 2016, and again this year. The 2017 Scientific Consensus Statement, released with the draft water quality plan (and on which one of us, Jon Brodie, was an author), reports:

Key Great Barrier Reef ecosystems continue to be in poor condition. This is largely due to the collective impact of land run-off associated with past and ongoing catchment development, coastal development activities, extreme weather events and climate change impacts such as the 2016 and 2017 coral bleaching events.

Stronger action on the local and regional causes of coral death are seen to be essential for recovery at locations where poor water quality is a major cause of reef decline. These areas include mid-shelf reefs in the Wet Tropics region damaged by crown of thorns starfish, and inner-shelf reefs where turbid waters stop light reaching coral and seagrass. Human-driven threats, especially land-based pollution, must be effectively managed to reduce the impacts on the Great Barrier Reef.

But although the draft plan provides improved targets and a framework for reducing land-based pollution, it still doesn’t reflect the severity of the situation. The 2017 Scientific Consensus Statement reports that “current initiatives will not meet the water quality targets” by 2025.

This is because the draft plan does not provide any major new funding, legislation or other initiatives to drive down land-based pollution any further. As the statement explains:

To accelerate the change in on-ground management, improvements to governance, program design, delivery and evaluation systems are urgently needed. This will require greater incorporation of social and economic factors, better targeting and prioritisation, exploration of alternative management options and increased support and resources.

Read more: The Great Barrier Reef’s safety net is becoming more complex but less effective

The draft plan calls on farmers to go “beyond minimum standards” for practices such as fertiliser use in sugar cane, and minimum pasture cover in cattle grazing lands. But even the minimum standards are unlikely to be widely adopted unless governments implement existing legislation to enforce the current standards.

The draft plan is also silent on the impact of land clearing on water quality, and the conversion of grazing land to intensively farmed crops such as sugar cane, as proposed in the White Paper on Developing Northern Australia.

The federal and Queensland governments have committed A$2 billion over ten years to protect the Great Barrier Reef. Under the draft plan, about half of this (A$100 million a year) will be spent on water quality management. This is not an increase in resourcing, but rather the same level of funding that has been provided for the past seven years.

More than loose change

There is a very strong business case for major increases in funding to protect the Great Barrier Reef. Even with conservative assumptions, the economics firm Jacobs has estimated that protecting the industries that depend on the reef will require A$830 million in annual funding – more than four times the current level.

Read more: What’s the economic value of the Great Barrier Reef? It’s priceless.

The draft water quality plan acknowledges the need for a “step change” in reef management, and to “accelerate our collective efforts to improve the land use practices of everyone living and working in the catchments adjacent to the Reef”.

This need is echoed in many other reports, both government and scientific. For example, the 2017 Scientific Consensus Statement makes several wide-ranging recommendations.

One of them is to make better use of existing legislation and policies, including both voluntary and regulatory approaches, to improve water quality standards.

This recommendation applies to both Commonwealth and Queensland laws. These include the federal Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act 1975, which restricts or bans any activities that “may pollute water in a manner harmful to animals and plants in the Marine Park”, and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, which prohibits any action, inside or outside the marine park, that affects the Great Barrier Reef’s World Heritage values.

Another recommendation is to rethink existing land-use plans. For instance, even the best practice in sugar cane farming is inconsistent with the nitrogen fertiliser run-off limits needed to meet water quality guidelines. One option is to shift to less intensive land uses such as grazing in the Wet Tropics region – a priority area for nitrate fertiliser management because of its link to crown of thorns starfish outbreaks. This option is being explored in a NESP project.

The ConversationThese changes would require significantly increased funding to support catchment and coastal management and to meet the draft plan’s targets. Government commitment to this level of management is essential to support the resilience of the Great Barrier Reef to climate change.

Jon Brodie, Professorial Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University; Alana Grech, Assistant Director, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, and Laurence McCook, Adjunct Principal Research Fellow, Partner Investigator, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

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

Australia’s record-breaking winter warmth linked to climate change

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This winter had some extreme low and high temperatures.
Daniel Lee/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Andrew King, University of Melbourne

On the first day of spring, it’s time to take stock of the winter that was. It may have felt cold, but Australia’s winter had the highest average daytime temperatures on record. It was also the driest in 15 years.

Back at the start of winter the Bureau of Meteorology forecast a warm, dry season. That proved accurate, as winter has turned out both warmer and drier than average.

Read more: Australia’s dry June is a sign of what’s to come

While we haven’t seen anything close to the weather extremes experienced in other parts of the world, including devastating rainfalls in Niger, the southern US and the Indian subcontinent all in the past week, we have seen a few interesting weather extremes over the past few months across Australia.

Much of the country had drier conditions than average, especially in the southeast and the west.
Bureau of Meteorology

Drier weather than normal has led to warmer days and cooler nights, resulting in some extreme temperatures. These include night-time lows falling below -10℃ in the Victorian Alps and -8℃ in Canberra (the coldest nights for those locations since 1974 and 1971, respectively), alongside daytime highs of above 32℃ in Coffs Harbour and 30℃ on the Sunshine Coast.

During the early part of the winter the southern part of the country remained dry as record high pressure over the continent kept cold fronts at bay. Since then we’ve seen more wet weather for our southern capitals and some impressive snow totals for the ski fields, even if the snow was late to arrive.

This warm, dry winter is laying the groundwork for dangerous fire conditions in spring and summer. We have already had early-season fires on the east coast and there are likely to be more to come.

Climate change and record warmth

Australia’s average daytime maximum temperatures were the highest on record for this winter, beating the previous record set in 2009 by 0.3℃. This means Australia has set new seasonal highs for maximum temperatures a remarkable ten times so far this century (across summer, autumn, winter and spring). The increased frequency of heat records in Australia has already been linked to climate change.

Winter 2017 stands out as having the warmest average daytime temperatures by a large margin.
Bureau of Meteorology

The record winter warmth is part of a long-term upward trend in Australian winter temperatures. This prompts the question: how much has human-caused climate change altered the likelihood of extremely warm winters in Australia?

I used a standard event attribution methodology to estimate the role of climate change in this event.

I took the same simulations that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) uses in its assessments of the changing climate, and I put them into two sets: one that represents the climate of today (including the effects of greenhouse gas emissions) and one with simulations representing an alternative world that excludes our influences on the climate.

I used 14 climate models in total, giving me hundreds of years in each of my two groups to study Australian winter temperatures. I then compared the likelihood of record warm winter temperatures like 2017 in those different groups. You can find more details of my method here.

I found a stark difference in the chance of record warm winters across Australia between these two sets of model simulations. By my calculations there has been at least a 60-fold increase in the likelihood of a record warm winter that can be attributed to human-caused climate change. The human influence on the climate has increased Australia’s temperatures during the warmest winters by close to 1℃.

More winter warmth to come

Looking ahead, it’s likely we’re going to see more record warm winters, like we’ve seen this year, as the climate continues to warm.

The likelihood of winter warmth like this year is rising. Best estimate chances are shown with the vertical black lines showing the 90% confidence interval.
Author provided

Under the Paris Agreement, the world’s nations are aiming to limit global warming to below 2℃ above pre-industrial levels, with another more ambitious goal of 1.5℃ as well. These targets are designed to prevent the worst potential impacts of climate change. We are currently at around 1℃ of global warming.

Even if global warming is limited to either of these levels, we would see more winter warmth like 2017. In fact, under the 2℃ target, we would likely see these winters occurring in more than 50% of years. The record-setting heat of today would be roughly the average climate of a 2℃ warmed world.

While many people will have enjoyed the unusual winter warmth, it poses risks for the future. Many farmers are struggling with the lack of reliable rainfall, and bad bushfire conditions are forecast for the coming months. More winters like this in the future will not be welcomed by those who have to deal with the consequences.

Climate data provided by the Bureau of Meteorology. For more details about winter 2017, see the Bureau’s Climate Summaries.

The ConversationYou can find more details on the specific methods applied for this analysis here.

Andrew King, Climate Extremes Research Fellow, University of Melbourne

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