Anthony Albanese will commit a Labor government to adopting a target of zero net emissions by 2050, in a speech titled “Leadership in a New Climate” to be delivered on Friday.
The opposition leader’s embrace of this target, which the ALP also took to the last election, is in line with the policies of state and territory governments, many companies and the Business Council of Australia. It is also the public stand of some Liberal moderates but is totally rejected by the Nationals and hard-line Liberals.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has refused to adopt it.
“Currently no one can tell me that going down that path won’t cost jobs, won’t put up your electricity prices, and won’t impact negatively on jobs in the economies of rural and regional Australia, ” he said this week.
In his speech, released ahead of time, Albanese also says a Labor government would never use Kyoto credits to meet Australia’s Paris targets, as the government will do if that is necessary.
And Albanese again condemns the government for putting $4 million into a feasibility study for a coal-fired power station in Collinsville, Queensland.
But Albanese is leaving until closer to the election the shorter-term emissions reduction target Labor will adopt.
At the last election it committed to a 45% reduction in emissions by 2030. Labor first took that target to the 2016 election and Albanese has previously said it was a mistake not to review it before the 2019 poll.
He says in his speech the 2050 carbon-neutral target should be “as non-controversial in Australia as it is in most nations”.
“This will be a real target, with none of the absurd nonsense of so-called ‘carryover credits’ that the prime minister has cooked up to give the impression he’s doing something when he isn’t.
“That’s not acting. It’s cheating. And Australian’s aren’t cheaters.”
On the Collinsville project, he says: “Let’s be clear. There is nothing to stop a private company investing its money in such a proposal. The reason it hasn’t is it doesn’t stack up.”
The $4 million is “just hush money for the climate sceptics who are stopping any real reform and who stopped the National Energy Guarantee supported by Turnbull, Morrison and Frydenberg.
“It’s pathetic. If it made sense the market would provide funding.
“The climate sceptics are market sceptics as well,” Albanese says.
“Investors will not contribute because the economic risks are simply too great. The costs are higher and rising. And the cost of alternatives like renewables is lower and falling.
“Everyone in the electricity sector knows that the only way a new coal power plant will be built in Australia is through significant taxpayer subsidies, including a carbon risk indemnity that the Australian Industry Group estimates would cost up to $17 billion for a single plant.
“That’s why one hasn’t been opened since 2007, construction hasn’t begun on one since 2004 and tenders haven’t been called this century,” Albanese says.
Meanwhile the terms of reference for the bushfire royal commission, released by Morrison on Thursday steer away from the issue of emissions reduction.
They acknowledge “the changing global climate carries risks for the Australian environment and Australia’s ability to prevent, mitigate and respond to bushfires”. But the inquiry is to report on
Australians have helped raise millions of dollars to support Australia’s imperilled wildlife, such as to set up triage centres and evacuate threatened species like eastern bristlebirds and Macquarie perch.
But beyond the vital role of providing financial support, here are a few simple things individuals can do – and avoid – to help our native wildlife recover.
Photos of well-meaning people offering water from bottles to animals, especially thirsty koalas, often go viral online. But this is not a safe way to help koalas.
Animals must be allowed to drink water themselves, rather than us pouring water into their mouths. Animals, such as koalas, can’t drink quickly and poured water can fill their lungs, leading to potentially fatal aspiration pneumonia.
Still, providing safe, fresh drinking water is one crucial and practical way we can help them as summer grinds on.
This is particularly important since recent storms have washed ash, sediment and chemicals from burnt infrastructure into waterways, contaminating many catchments.
Water should be stationed at ground level, in a shaded location safe from predators, and in trees for birds and tree-dwelling species like possums, gliders and koalas. Check out DIY guides for building drinking fountains, or “watering pods”, for wildlife.
Sticks and rocks should be placed in the water to allow small species, such as reptiles, to climb out if they fall in. Water must be checked and changed regularly to ensure hygiene and avoid the spread of disease. And pets must be kept away from these locations (especially cats).
Authorities are searching the fire grounds for injured animals, and the public is reminded to avoid these areas until they’re confirmed as safe to enter.
But if you happen upon an injured survivor, what should you do?
First of all, call government agencies or trained wildlife rescuers, who can assist any injured wildlife.
Many animals may be in pain and frightened and some, including kangaroos, koalas and wombats, are potentially dangerous if approached. In urgent cases, such as when an animal is in obvious distress or has clear injuries, some animals can be carefully caught and wrapped in a towel, then placed in a well-ventilated, dark and secure box for quiet transport to wildlife veterinary hospitals for care.
Sadly, many animals are hit by cars during fires when they’re disoriented and panicked, and so it’s important to slow down in such areas.
You can also check animals found by roads for injuries and surviving young in pouches, and call authorities to assist. But always be careful of traffic when attending to animals on roadsides, and help other drivers be aware of you by putting hazard lights on and wearing bright clothes.
But feeding wildlife without expert advice and legal approval can do more harm than good.
Feeding inappropriate foods like processed foods, over-feeding, providing unhygienic foods or food stations, and attracting predators to food stations, can all be fatal for native wildlife.
Even some foods suggested online, such as bait balls (peanut butter mixes), can cause gastrointestinal issues for wildlife, potentially killing them. Similar issues can arise if wildlife are given some types of hay, vegetables, seeds, and fruits.
Supplementary feeding isn’t advised unless habitat and sources of food have been completely destroyed, and is only appropriate as a short-term emergency intervention until natural resources recover.
In some cases, fire may mean native animals are more prone to predators killing and eating them. And, depending on the habitat, it may take months or even years for plants and animals’ homes to recover sufficiently to provide safety once again.
However, new approaches – such as building artificial shelters out of fencing wire and shade cloth – may help to buy species time, keeping small mammals, reptiles and other potential prey safe from hungry mouths. This could occur both on private and public land.
Caring for wildlife after fires, whether they’re injured or have lost their homes, is a marathon, not a sprint. And given the scale of these fires, our wild neighbours need our increased support.
Some wildife species, such as bristlebirds, corroboree frogs, and mountain pygmy-possums, are being pushed to the brink of extinction and may need long-term captive breeding and release programs, or investment in active management of wild populations (such as the newly constructed feral predator-free area for Kangaroo Island dunnarts).
We can all help to make a difference and protect our remarkable and unique wildlife that so desperately needs our help.
Marissa Parrott, Reproductive Biologist, Wildlife Conservation & Science, Zoos Victoria, and Honorary Research Associate, BioSciences, University of Melbourne; Dale Nimmo, Associate professor/ARC DECRA fellow, Charles Sturt University, and Euan Ritchie, Associate Professor in Wildlife Ecology and Conservation, Centre for Integrative Ecology, School of Life & Environmental Sciences, Deakin University
When it comes to reducing the extent of bushfires, scientists disagree on the best way to do it. Hazard-reduction burning (also known as “prescribed burning” or “controlled burning”) is controversial and, depending on the scientific paper, it’s shown to either be effective or not work at all.
Hazard-reduction burning is the process of removing vegetation that would fuel a fire – the “hazard” – through burning, slashing or grazing. It’s one of the ways state governments try to prepare for looming bushfire seasons.
The Climate Council published a fact sheet in January this year titled “Setting the record straight on hazard reduction”. It concluded that, while important, in future “no amount of hazard reduction will protect human lives, animals and properties from catastrophic fires”.
So why are there conflicting views?
For its report, the Climate Council relied heavily on a 2015 study based on fire and weather records from southeastern Australia over a period of 34 years. This is a relatively short time when it comes to ecosystem cycles – the earth’s natural recycling process of resources like water and carbon.
The researchers of this study used a metric called “leverage” to evaluate the effect of hazard-reduction burning on reducing the extent of wildfires. “Leverage” in this context refers to the ratio between the area burnt by wildfires and the area burnt by prescribed burning.
And they concluded hazard-reduction burning has a statistically significant effect on the extent of wildfires, but only in forested areas with distinct annual drought periods.
The leverage measure implies that prescribed burning only increases the total area burnt, and is therefore ineffective in reducing fire extent.
Like all scientific papers, the conclusions of the 2015 paper are drawn from several assumptions. And while the conclusions are valid for the researchers’ focus, several assumptions don’t work in a land management context. For instance, it’s assumed only the extent of the area burnt is important, rather than the severity.
But the recovery of the plants, animals, nutrients and habitat after low-intensity fire is much quicker than after high-intensity wildfire, according to a long-term Victorian study.
Several other assumptions were also made in the 2015 study, and it is such assumptions that lead to conflicting conclusions with others. While this study is valid within the context in which it was undertaken and includes useful analysis, the conclusions the Climate Council draws from it aren’t supported.
A 2009 study looking at 52 years of fire history in southwest Western Australia identified the benefits of hazard-reduction burns. This includes it leading to fewer fires starting and a greater ability to suppress fires in prescribed burnt areas.
A big reason for the different findings is because, unlike the 2009 study, the 2015 study didn’t explicitly consider how past prescribed burns lower the severity of new high-intensity fires when they move in. This helps fire suppression efforts and helps reduce the spread of wildfires.
The 2009 study showed prescribed burning less than about 4% of a million hectares of forested landscape per year wasn’t enough to show trends in reducing wildfires.
But in the 2015 study the Climate Council used, only included 2% of prescribed burning in the forested landscape of southeast Australia, so a conclusion that prescribed burning was ineffective could have been expected.
In other words, not enough of the landscape was prescribed burnt to have a measureable effect, so it cannot be concluded that prescribed burning is ineffective at reducing the impact of bushfires from this analysis.
The Climate Council should have taken a broader view of the available scientific studies before drawing its conclusions.
There are many dimensions to the debate about whether to use hazard-reduction burns to mitigate and prepare for wildfires. And not all scientific studies will be equally relevant in addressing particular issues.
So before we decide whether hazard-reduction burning for land management is a good thing, we need to consider all of the variables. This includes increased ecosystem resilience, mitigation of wildfire number and extent, impact on human health, economic value, social impact, Traditional Owner culture, and more.
The Climate Council’s conclusions are drawn only from the consideration of reduced wildfire extent.
In debating the value or otherwise of prescribed burning, we need to use good scientific evidence, but our decisions must be based on the whole picture, not just a selective part of it.