Today, Australia’s Kyoto climate targets end and our Paris cop-out begins. That’s nothing to be proud of, Mr Taylor



Mick Tsikas/AAP

Penny van Oosterzee, James Cook University

Today marks the end of Australia’s commitments under the Kyoto climate deal as we move to its successor, the Paris Agreement. Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor on Wednesday was quick to hail Australia’s success in smashing the Kyoto emissions targets. But let’s be clear: our record is nothing to boast about.

Taylor says Australia has beaten Kyoto by up to 430 million tonnes — or 80% of one year of national emissions. On that record, he said, “Australians can be confident that we’ll meet and beat our 2030 Paris target”.




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The fact that Australia exceeded its Kyoto targets means it’s accrued so-called “carryover” carbon credits. It plans to use these to cover about half the emission reduction required under the Paris commitment by 2030.

But there’s been little scrutiny of why Australia met the Kyoto targets so easily. The reason dates back more than 20 years, when Australia demanded the Kyoto rules be skewed in its favour. Using those old credits to claim climate action today is cheating the system. Let’s look at why.

The Paris climate deal officially starts today.
Daniel Munoz/Reuters

Australian scorns the spirit of Paris

The Kyoto Protocol was an international treaty negotiated in 1997. Industrialised nations collectively pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2% below 1990 levels. The reductions were to be made between 2008 and 2012.

Any surplus emissions reduction in the first Kyoto period could be carried over to the second period, from 2013 to 2020. In the name of climate action, five developed countries – Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden and the UK – voluntarily cancelled their surplus credits.

However, Australia held onto its credits. Now it wants to use them to meet its Paris target – reducing emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030.

This is clearly not in the spirit of the Paris agreement. And importantly, the history of Kyoto shows Australia did not deserve to earn the credits in the first place.

Sneaky negotiations

Under Kyoto, each nation was assigned a target – measured against the nation’s specific baseline of emissions produced in 1990. During negotiations, Australia insisted on rules that worked in its favour.

Instead of reducing its emissions by 5.2%, it successfully demanded a lenient target that meant emissions in 2012 could be 8% more than they were in 1990.

Our negotiators argued we had special economic circumstances – that our dependence on fossil fuels and energy-intensive exports meant cutting emissions would be difficult. Australia threatened to walk away from the negotiations if its demand was not met.

Australia negotiated an advantageous deal under the UN Kyoto protocol.
Alexandros Michailidis/Shutterstock

Australia then waited until the final moments of negotiations – when many delegates were exhausted and translators had gone home – to make another surprising demand. It would only sign up to Kyoto if its 1990 emissions baseline (the year future reductions would be measured against) included emissions produced from clearing forests.

Here’s the catch. Australia’s emissions from forest clearing in 1990 were substantial, totalling about a quarter of total emissions, or 131.5 million tonnes of carbon.




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Forest clearing in Australia plummeted after 1990, when Queensland enacted tough new land clearing laws. So including deforestation emissions in Australia’s baseline meant we would never really struggle to meet – or as it turned out, beat – our targets. In fact, the rule effectively rewarded Australia for its mass deforestation in 1990.

This concession was granted, and became known as the Australia clause. It triggered international condemnation, including from the European environment spokesman who reportedly called it “wrong and immoral”.

Then prime minister John Howard declared the deal to be “splendid”.

John Howard was thrilled with Australia’s concessions under Kyoto.
LYNDON MECHIELSEN/AAP

A new round of Kyoto negotiations took place in 2010, for the second commitment period. Under the Gillard Labor government, Australia agreed to an underwhelming 5% decrease in emissions between 2013 and 2020.

Australia insisted on using the deforestation clause again, despite international pressure to drop it. It meant Australia’s carbon budget in the second period was about 26% higher than it would have been without the concession.

Had forest clearing not been included in the 1990 baseline, Australia’s emissions in 2017 were 31.8% above 1990 levels.

Forest clearing in 1990 made it easy for Australia to beat Kyoto targets.
Harley Kingston/Flickr

History repeats

At the Madrid climate talks last year, Australia reiterated its plans to use its surplus Kyoto credits under Paris. Without the accounting trick, Australia is not on track to meet its Paris targets.

Laurence Tubiana, a high-ranking architect of the Paris accord, expressed her disdain at the plan:

If you want this carryover, it is just cheating. Australia was willing in a way to destroy the whole system, because that is the way to destroy the whole Paris agreement.

Whether Australia will be allowed to use the surplus credits is another question, as the Paris rulebook is still being finalised.

Analysts say there is no legal basis for using the surplus credits, because Kyoto and Paris are separate treaties.

Australia appears the only country shameless enough to try the tactic. At Senate estimates last year, officials said they knew of no other nation planning to use carryover credits.

Protesters in Spain in January 2020, calling for global climate action.
JJ Guillen Credit/EPA

Nothing to be proud of

Some hoped Australia’s recent bushfire disaster might be a positive turning point for climate policy. But the signs are not good. The Morrison government is talking up the role of gas in Australia’s energy transition, and has so far failed to seize the opportunity to recharge the economy through renewables investment.

Crowing on Wednesday about Australia’s over-achievement on Kyoto, Taylor said the result was “something all Australians can be proud of”.

But Australia abandoned its moral obligations under Kyoto. And by carrying our surplus credits into the Paris deal, we risk cementing our status as a global climate pariah.




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The Conversation


Penny van Oosterzee, Adjunct Associate Professor James Cook University and University Fellow Charles Darwin University, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What an ocean hidden under Antarctic ice reveals about our planet’s future climate



Craig Stevens, Author provided

Craig Stevens, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research and Christina Hulbe, University of Otago

Jules Verne sent his fictional submarine, the Nautilus, to the South Pole through a hidden ocean beneath a thick ice cap. Written 40 years before any explorer had reached the pole, his story was nevertheless only half fiction.

There are indeed hidden ocean cavities around Antarctica, and our latest research explores how the ocean circulates underneath the continent’s ice shelves – large floating extensions of the ice on land that rise and fall with the tides.

These ice shelves buttress the continent’s massive land-based ice cap and play an important role in the assessment of future sea level rise. Our work sheds new light on how ocean currents contribute to melting in Antarctica, which is one of the largest uncertainties in climate model predictions.

The field camp on top of the Ross Ice Shelf.
Craig Stevens, Author provided



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An unexplored ocean

The Ross Ice Shelf is the largest floating slab of ice on Earth, at 480,000 square kilometres. The ocean cavity it conceals extends 700km south from Antarctica’s coast and remains largely unexplored.

We know ice shelves mainly melt from below, washed by a warming ocean. But we have very little data available about how the water mixes underneath the ice. This is often overlooked in climate models, but our new measurements will help redress this.

The only other expedition to the ocean cavity underneath the central Ross Ice Shelf goes back to the 1970s and came back with intriguing results. Despite the limited technology of the time, it showed the ocean cavity was not a static bathtub. Instead, it found fine layering of water masses, with subtly different temperatures and salinities between the layers.

Other ocean studies have been conducted from the edges or from high above. They have provided insight into how the system works but to really understand it, we needed to take measurements directly from the ocean under hundreds of metres of ice.

The team used a hot-water jet to drill through the ice to the ocean below.
Craig Stevens, Author provided

In 2017, we used a hot-water jet, modelled on a British Antarctic Survey design, to drill through 350 metres of ice to the ocean below. We were able to keep the hole liquid long enough to make detailed ocean measurements as well as leave instruments behind to continue monitoring ocean currents and temperature. These data are still coming in via satellite.

We found the hidden ocean acts like a massive estuary with comparatively warm (2℃) seawater coming in at the seabed to cycle close to the surface in a combination of meltwater and sub-glacial freshwater squeezed out from the ice sheet and Antarctica’s hidden rocky foundation.

The hundreds of metres of ice isolate the ocean cavity from the furious winds and freezing air temperatures of Antarctica. But nothing stops the tides. Our data suggest tides push the stratified ocean back and forth past undulations on the underside of the ice and mix parts of the ocean cavity.




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Antarctica’s ice isolates the ocean cavity from furious winds and freezing air temperatures.
Craig Stevens, Author provided

Future projections

This sort of discovery is the ultimate challenge for climate science. How do we represent processes that work at daily scales in models that make projections over centuries? Our data show the daily changes can add up, so finding a solution matters.

For example, data collected outside the ocean cavity and computer models suggest that any given parcel of water spends one to six years making its way through the cavity. Our new data indicate the lower end of the range is more likely and that we should not be thinking in terms of one grand circuit anyway.

The Ross is not the ice shelf in most danger from warming oceans. But its sheer size and its relationship with the neighbouring Ross Sea means it is a vital cog in the planetary ocean system.




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The importance of these ice shelves for sea level rise over the next few centuries is very apparent. Research shows that if atmospheric warming exceeds 2℃, major Antarctic ice shelves would collapse and release ice flowing from the continent’s ice cap – lifting the sea level by up to 3 metres by 2300.

What is less well understood, but also potentially a massive agent for change, is the impact of meltwater on the global thermohaline circulation, an oceanic transport loop that sees the ocean cycle from the abyss off the coast of Antarctica to tropical surface waters every 1,000 years or so.

Antarctic ice shelves are like a pit stop in this loop and so what happens in Antarctica resonates globally. Faster melting ice shelves will change the ocean stratification, with repercussions for global ocean circulation – and one result of this appears to be greater climate variability.The Conversation

Craig Stevens, Associate Professor in Ocean Physics, National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research and Christina Hulbe, Professor and Dean of the School of Surveying (glaciology specialisation), University of Otago

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Our laws failed these endangered flying-foxes at every turn. On Saturday, Cairns council will put another nail in the coffin



David Pinson, CC BY-NC-ND

Justin A. Welbergen, Western Sydney University; Noel D Preece, James Cook University, and Penny van Oosterzee, James Cook University

On Saturday, Cairns Regional Council will disperse up to 8,000 endangered spectacled flying-foxes from their nationally important camp in central Cairns.

The camp is one of the last major strongholds of the species, harbouring, on average, 12% of Australia’s remaining spectacled flying-foxes. But after recent catastrophic declines in spectacled flying-fox numbers, moving them from their home further threatens the species survival.




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Yet, the federal environment minister approved the dispersal last month under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act) – Australia’s key environment legislation for protecting threatened species, and currently under a ten-year review.

This planned dispersal – which the council says is in the interests of the species – is set to conclude a long series of controversial management actions at the site. The EPBC Act failed to protect the species at every turn. The camp may now be non-viable for the flying-foxes.

Spectacled flying-foxes are important pollinators and seed dispersers in Australia’s Wet Tropics.
Inigo Merriman

Decline of the rainforest specialist

Spectacled flying-foxes are critical for pollination and dispersing fruit in Australia’s Wet Tropics, and so underpin the natural values of this world heritage-listed region.

But habitat destruction and harassment largely caused the species’ population to drop from 250,000 in 2004 to 75,000 in 2017. Subsequent monitoring has, so far, shown no sign of recovery.

In late November 2018, another 23,000 bats – a third of the population – died from heat stress. It marks the second largest flying-fox die-off in recorded history.

Today, the camp is not only home to a big portion of the species, but also around 2,000 pups each year. Flying-foxes are extremely mobile in the region, so the camp provides a roosting habitat for more than what’s present at any one time.

Endangered spectacled flying-foxes are set to be dispersed from their camp in Cairns CBD, one of the last strongholds of the species.
Justin Welbergen

Why dispersals don’t work

The council is permitted to disperse the flying-foxes with deterrent measures, including pyrotechnics, intense lighting, acoustic devices and other non-lethal means.

The Conversation sought a response to this article from Cairns Regional Council. A spokesperson said:

Relocation measures will only occur between May and September – outside of the spectacled flying fox pup rearing season to avoid a disruption to the species’ breeding cycle.

The relocation activity will be undertaken by appropriately qualified and experienced individuals and non-lethal methods will be used.

The program is tailored to minimise any stress on the animals and causes no injury of any type.

However, ample evidence shows dispersals are extremely costly, ineffective and can exacerbate the very wildlife management issues they aim to resolve.

Dispersals risk stressing the already disturbed animals, and causing injuries and even abortions and other fatalities. They also risk shifting the issues to other parts of our human communities, as the bats tend to end up settling in an unanticipated location after having been shuffled around town like a game of musical chairs.

Even in the often-cited example of the “successful” relocation of vulnerable grey-headed flying-foxes from the Melbourne Botanic Gardens in 2003, experts couldn’t direct the bats to their designated new camp.

Instead, the flying-foxes formed a permanent camp at Yarra Bend, one kilometre short of the intended destination, where they’re now subjected to renewed calls for culling or dispersal.




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‘Fogging’ is one of several methods used to disperse flying-foxes from their camps.
Australasian Bat Society

Poor management

Cairns Regional Council argues their decision to attempt to move the bats to the Cairns Central Swamp is in the long-term interest of their survival. A council spokesperson says:

Heat stress events, urban development and increased construction in close proximity to the Cairns City Library roost will continue to stress and adversely affect the spectacled flying fox population.

Also, the health of roost trees at the library site, and therefore the viability of the site as a spectacled flying fox roost, is diminishing.

Council believes relocation will mitigate human/flying fox conflict, enable the trees at the library to recover, and will likely reduce the high rates of pup mortality that have been recorded at the library colony.

But these animal welfare concerns arose from the accumulated impacts of the council’s poor management actions, or actions the council supported.

In 2014, the council was found guilty, under the Queensland Nature Conservation Act, of driving away spectacled flying-foxes and illegally pruning the habitat trees.

Over the past seven years, most roosting trees of the Cairns CBD camp were either removed or heavily pruned, resulting in the destruction of more than two-thirds of the available roosting habitat.
Provided by authors

The Cairns camp was then subjected to a series of EPBC-approved roost tree removals in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Collectively these destroyed more than two-thirds of the available roosting habitat at the site.

This directly contradicts the specific EPBC Act referral guideline, which states actions to manage the flying-fox camps should not significantly impact the species.

And in 2015, Cairns Aquarium developers had to destroy trees home to hundreds of spectacled flying-foxes before they could start construction. That’s because under the EPBC Act, no building near or around the flying-foxes is permitted. In this case, the act’s well-intentioned protection measures caused far more harm than good.

Removals (X) of roost trees from the Cairns flying-fox camp between 2013 and 2020. The new white rectangular buildings visible in 2020 are high-rise hotel (centre) and Cairns aquarium (top) developments
Provided by authors

Warnings fall on deaf ears

In the meantime, the national conservation status of the spectacled flying-fox moved too slowly from “vulnerable” to “endangered” in the listing process.

In 2017 the government’s own Threatened Species Scientific Committee advised listing the species as endangered, which would provide them with more protection.

But when the spectacled flying-fox was finally declared endangered in February 2019, they already qualified as critically endangered, according to official guidelines.




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What’s more, the state government’s recovery plan for the spectacled flying-fox – in place since 2010 – has never been implemented.

Are there any solutions?

There are no solutions under the EPBC Act as it’s currently framed.

The tragic end to the story is that a dangerous precedent is being set for flying-fox management in Australia. Bat carers in Cairns are readying themselves for an influx of casualties from the dispersal.

Some bat carers have sadly reached the conclusion the dispersal is now the least-bad option for the bats after their stronghold suffered a death by a thousand cuts, leaving their home unviable.

The review of the EPBC Act must see strengthened legislation to prevent such tragic outcomes for our threatened species. Australia’s inadequate protections allow species to be pushed towards extinction at one of the highest rates in the world.


Maree Kerr contributed to this article. She is a co-convenor of the Australasian Bat Society’s Flying-Fox Expert Group; an invited expert on the Cairns Regional Council’s Flying-fox Advisory Committee; President of Bats and Trees Society of Cairns; and is studying the role of education in public perceptions of flying-foxes at Griffith University

Evan Quartermain contributed to this article. He is Head of Programs at Humane Society International and a member of the IUCN World Commission on Protected Areas.The Conversation

Justin A. Welbergen, President of the Australasian Bat Society | Associate Professor of Animal Ecology, Western Sydney University; Noel D Preece, Adjunct Asssociate Professor, James Cook University, and Penny van Oosterzee, Adjunct Associate Professor James Cook University and University Fellow Charles Darwin University, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Climate explained: will the COVID-19 lockdown slow the effects of climate change?



ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock

Simon Kingham, University of Canterbury


CC BY-ND

Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz


Do you think the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown will slow or possibly reverse the effects of climate change (due to decreased air travel, cars, fossil fuels being emitted)?

The COVID-19 lockdown has affected the environment in a number of ways.

The first is a reduction in air travel and associated emissions. Globally, air travel accounts for around 12% of the transport sector’s greenhouse gas emissions and this was predicted to rise. An ongoing reduction in air travel would lead to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The lockdown has also meant less travel by road, which has resulted in measurably lower vehicle emissions and cleaner air in New Zealand.

Worldwide, daily emissions of carbon dioxide had dropped by 17% by early April (compared with 2019 levels) and just under half of the reduction came from changes in land transport. The same study estimated the pandemic could reduce global emissions by between 4% (if the world returns to pre-pandemic conditions mid-year) and 7% (if restrictions remain in place until the end of 2020).

But even a 7% drop would mean emissions for 2020 will roughly be the same as in 2011. The long-term impact of the pandemic on climate change depends on the actions governments take as economies recover – they will influence the path of global carbon dioxide emissions for decades.




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Choosing how you travel

In New Zealand, the biggest reduction in emissions came from people not travelling as much, or at all. But as the lockdown lifted, these improvements seemed to be short term, with traffic volumes and the associated pollution now back at pre-COVID-19 levels.

There is significant uncertainty about all of the changes prompted by the pandemic lockdown, but international air travel is predicted to remain down in the short to medium term as the risk of inter-country transfer of COVID-19 remains high. For how long depends on the ability of other countries to effectively manage the virus or the availability of a vaccine.




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Land transport is more within our control in New Zealand. How, and how much, we choose to travel will determine our greenhouse gas emissions. While many people are returning to their cars, there are some lockdown changes that could lead to longer-term emissions reductions.

Firstly, people now realise it is possible to work from home and may want to continue doing so in the future.

Secondly, there is evidence some people walked and cycled more than they had done before during lockdown. Retailers are reporting increased demand for bicycles.

Keeping some lockdown changes

In many parts of the world, governments are implementing plans to lock in some of the reductions in traffic caused by the pandemic.

This includes allocating road space to walking and cycling and incentives for people to buy or maintain bikes (such as in France and the UK).

There are also initiatives to decarbonise the car fleet by replacing fossil fuelled vehicles with electric ones. In New Zealand, electric vehicles are exempt from road user charges and the government is investigating ways to increase the uptake of alternative fuels in the road freight industry.




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These measures are important and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, but they are not designed to reduce the number of people travelling, or the mode they use. Congestion is an ongoing issue in Auckland and is now estimated to cost more than NZ$1 billion per year.

Another challenge is the growing rate of obesity, with one in three New Zealanders now obese. This is at least partly a transport-related challenge. We know obesity rates are higher in places where more people travel by car. Increased use of public transport can reduce obesity – as well as making people happier.

How long-lasting the COVID-19 impact on emissions is depends on how much we want some of the temporary changes to continue. For example, COVID-19 showed more people walk and cycle if there are fewer cars, which supports evidence that safety is a big barrier to cycling and we need dedicated cycle ways to keep people away from traffic. We also know people are happy with a little inconvenience to have safer play-friendly streets.

Encouraging some of the lockdown behavioural changes could have additional benefits and reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the same time.The Conversation

Simon Kingham, Professor, University of Canterbury

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.