What would the world be like without frogs? Earth is in its sixth mass extinction event and amphibians are among the hardest hit.
But in the island of New Guinea, home to 6% of the world’s frog species, there’s a rare opportunity to save them from the potential conservation disaster of a chytrid fungus outbreak.
The amphibian chytrid fungus is a microscopic, aquatic fungus that infects a protein in frog skin. It interferes with the balance of electrolytes and, in turn, effectively gives frogs a heart attack.
If the amphibian chytrid fungus invades New Guinea, we estimate 100 species of frogs could decline or become extinct. This disease, which emerged in the 1980s, has already wiped out 90 species of frogs around the world.
Collaborating with 30 international scientists, we developed a way to save New Guinea’s frog species from a mass extinction, one that’s predictable and preventable. We need urgent, unified, international action to prepare for the arrival of the deadly fungus, to slow its spread after it arrives and to limit its impact on the island.
It’s rare we can identify a conservation disaster before it occurs, but a long history of amphibian declines in Australia and South America has equipped us with the knowledge to protect areas where the amphibian chytrid fungus is yet to reach.
Why we should care about frogs
Like Australian frogs, New Guinea frogs may be particularly vulnerable to the chytrid fungus. These frogs share a close genetic relationship suggesting that, if exposed, New Guinea frogs may respond similarly to Australian ones, where around 16% of frog species are affected.
Losing so many species can have many terrible impacts. Tadpoles and frogs are important because they help recycle nutrients and break down leaf litter. They are also prey for larger mammals and reptiles, and predators of insects, invertebrates and small vertebrates. They help keep insect plagues, such as those from flies and mosquitoes, in check.
Frogs are also an important source of human medical advancements – they were even used for a human pregnancy test until the 1950s.
A call to action to protect frogs
Frogs are one of the most threatened groups of species in the world – around 40% are threatened with extinction.
And species conservation is more expensive once the species are threatened. They can be more costly to collect and more precious to maintain, with a greater need for wider input from recovery groups to achieve rapid results.
In our study, we highlight the increased costs and requirements for establishing captive breeding for two species of closely related barred frog, one common and one threatened. We determined that waiting until a species is threatened dramatically increases the costs and effort required to establish a successful breeding program. The risks of it failing also increase.
Our research draws on lessons learned from other emerging diseases and approaches taken in other countries. By addressing the criteria of preparedness, prevention, detection, response and recovery, we detail a call for action to protect the frogs of New Guinea. It will require dedicated funding, a contingency plan for the likely, eventual arrival of the disease and a task force to oversee it.
This task force would oversee active monitoring for disease and prepare an action plan to implement on the disease’s arrival. We have already begun to establish facilities that can handle captive breeding and gene banking for frogs in collaboration with PNG counterparts.
The need for amphibian conservation in New Guinea also presents an opportunity for investment and training of local scientists. More species unknown to science will be described and the secret habits of these unique frogs will be discovered before they are potentially lost.
Conservation in New Guinea is complicated
The island of New Guinea is governed by Papua New Guinea on the eastern side and Indonesia on the western side. So it will take a coordinated approach to reduce risks in both countries for successful biosecurity.
Historically, New Guinea has had little import or tourism. But as the country develops, it becomes more at risk of emerging diseases through increased trade and and entry of tourists from chytrid-infected regions, especially with little biosecurity at entry ports.
What’s more, many species there are unknown to science and few ecological studies have documented their habitat requirements. Unlike Australia, many of New Guinea’s frogs have adapted for life in the wet rainforest.
Rather than developing into tadpoles that live in water, more than 200 frog species in New Guinea hatch from their eggs as fully formed baby frogs. It’s difficult for us to predict how the amphibian chytrid fungus will affect these frogs because Australia has only a handful of these types of species.
We don’t know how to remove the amphibian chytrid fungus from large areas once it has invaded, so strict biosecurity and conservation contingency planning is needed to protect New Guinea’s frogs.
For example, all incoming goods into New Guinea should be inspected for possible hitchhiker frogs that could carry chytrid. Camping or hiking equipment carried by tourists should also be closely inspected for attached mud, which could harbour the pathogen, as is the case in Australia.
International researchers have experience in emerging amphibian diseases. Papua New Guineans and Indonesians have traditional and ecological expertise. Together we have the opportunity to avert another mass decline of frogs. Without taking action, we could lose a hundred more species from the world and take another step towards mass extinction.
From an appalling environmental scorecard 20 years ago, China has pioneered a “global green shift” towards renewable energy and recycling. The country’s drive to dominate renewables manufacturing benefits both China and the world, by sending technology prices plummeting.
Many have attributed this success to China’s authoritarian political regime.
Unlike a democracy, this line of reasoning goes, the state can override special interest groups or opposition parties to impose “authoritarian environmentalism”. This allows a rapid and encompassing response to severe environmental threats.
We take a different view. As the chief investigators on an Australia Research Council Discovery Project examining East Asia’s clean energy shift, we are examining why and how some East Asian countries – including China – are pursuing ambitious renewable energy transformations, and what Australia might learn from these countries’ experiences.
We argue China’s success in greening and growing its economy is not because, but in spite of, its authoritarian government.
Not that different
China’s approach to greening shares much in common with democratic countries such as Germany, South Korea and Taiwan. All have ambitious programs to rapidly build domestic clean energy industries and “green” their power generation.
As such, our project emphasises the link between China’s green shift and what we call “developmental environmentalism”.
Developmental environmentalism refers to a state approaching greening as an opportunity to promote national techno-economic competitiveness. It helps explain both the drivers of the green shift and the means of its execution.
The “means” are less about authoritarianism and more about the state’s capacity to induce the private sector into a cooperative relationship.
This type of negotiated relationship between the state and industry is the exact opposite of authoritarianism, which pursues its goals irrespective of the wishes of the private sector. Indeed, the pages of history tell us authoritarian leaders are far more likely to misuse their concentrated economic power, resulting in developmental failure.
China is not alone in its green shift. In fact, some of the world’s most ambitious national greening programs have sprung to life in democratic settings.
The clearest example is Germany and its widely admired Energiewende (“energy transition”). Germany took an early lead in the development of solar devices through government-sponsored industrial programs.
Then in 2011, in the wake of the Fukishima nuclear disaster, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced the shutdown of Germany’s nuclear power stations.
Countries around the world are now emulating Germany’s Energiewende.
In one of East Asia’s most vibrant democracies, South Korea, the election of President Lee Myung-bak in 2008 signalled a shift from intensive fossil-fuel development to “low-carbon, green growth”.
Lee’s focus was on greening the economy by investing in renewables and related infrastructure such as smart grids. His successor in 2013, President Park Geun-hye, continued this approach.
Finally, after President Moon Jae-in swept into power in 2017, South Korea committed to scaling down its use of nuclear energy.
Taiwan provides another fascinating example of a proudly democratic country that has followed in Germany’s footsteps. National efforts to establish a renewables industry began in 2009 under President Ma Ying-jeou. These initiatives targeted various clean energy industries for promotion, including generating solar and wind facilities and batteries.
A breakthrough in the country’s highly contentious debate over nuclear energy came with the election of President Tsai Ing-wen in 2016, who committed to the complete shutdown of nuclear reactors in the country.
Developmental environmentalism in action
These examples provide a clue that China’s ability to green its economy stems from something other than its authoritarian political system. We argue China’s success in greening stems from developmental environmentalism in action.
This does not simply mean a state that is “pro-development” and “pro-environment”. Rather, policymakers see greening the economy as chance to gain a competitive edge over other countries. The pursuit of strategic industry development goals involves nurturing – not displacing, as would occur in an authoritarian setting – “governed interdependence” with the private sector.
Best depicted by the Korean example, developmental environmentalism as a policy initially emerged as a response to threats to national industrial competitiveness. These included acute dependence on fossil-fuel imports, which are highly volatile, and global competitive pressures in the race to gain an early lead in the green economy.
Developmental environmentalism is also a strategic response to domestic challenges, such as the need to drive new sources of economic growth.
Lessons for Australia
If an authoritarian government provides little to no advantage for coordinating a green shift, what lessons might these countries have for Australian policymakers?
The key lesson is it’s not about designing the perfect constellation of policies or about pouring more money into entire industries.
Developmental environmentalism involves the political will to take big risks. Policymakers must target technologies – or segments of the economy – where government support could build national competitiveness.
Of course, this means creating a strategic, long-term approach to industry development, coordinated with the private sector.
Despite political gridlock, Australia is well placed to establish a foothold in the rapidly growing clean energy industry.
As the nation’s leaders engage in a fruitless debate over building new coal-fired power stations, Australian companies with world-class strengths in clean energies are emerging. Nowhere is this growing confidence more evident than in the blossoming of companies that have commercially ready smart microgrid and energy-storage solutions.
It would be a great shame – if not a national tragedy – if these companies were allowed to be picked off one by one by foreign multinational enterprises. This is the sad and familiar story of Australian manufacturing: highly innovative companies – a testament to our wealth of knowledge – are bought out, intellectual property rights absorbed, and manufacturing eventually outsourced. Often, shells of our prized national assets (typically the marketing and sales divisions) are all that remain.
Yet, in the absence of a coordinated national strategy that focuses on building a national value chain or ecosystem of upstream and downstream players – as the Koreans and Taiwanese have done in smart microgrids – this future appears all but settled.
Sung-Young Kim, Lecturer in the Department of Modern History, Politics & International Relations, Macquarie University; Elizabeth Thurbon, Scientia Fellow and Associate Professor in International Relations / International Political Economy, UNSW; Hao Tan, Associate professor, University of Newcastle, and John Mathews, Professor of Strategic Management, Macquarie Graduate School of Management, Macquarie University
A mysterious rebound in the emissions of ozone-depleting chemicals – despite a global ban stretching back almost a decade – has been traced to eastern China.
Research published by an international team today in Nature used a global network of monitoring stations to pinpoint the source of the rogue emissions. According to these data, 40-60% of the increase in emissions seen since 2013 is due to possibly illegal industrial activity in the Chinese provinces of Shandong and Hebei.
Chlorofluorocarbon-11 (CFC-11) is a powerful ozone-depleting chemical that plays a major role in the appearance, each spring, of the ozone “hole” over Antarctica.
In the past, CFC-11 had been used primarily as a propellant in aerosol products and as a foam plastic blowing agent. The production and consumption (use) of CFC-11 are controlled by the global Montreal Protocol. CFC-11 consumption has been banned in developed countries since 1996, and worldwide since 2010.
This has resulted in a significant decline of CFC-11 in the atmosphere. Long-term CFC-11 measurements at Cape Grim, Tasmania, show the amount in the atmosphere peaked in 1994, and fell 14% by 2018.
However, this decline has not been as rapid as expected under the global zero production and consumption mandated by the Montreal Protocol since 2010.
A 2014 study was the first to deduce that global emissions of CFC-11 stopped declining in 2002. In 2015, CSIRO scientists advised the Australian government, based on measurements compiled by the Advanced Global Atmospheric Gases Experiment (AGAGE), which includes those from Cape Grim, that emissions had risen significantly since 2011. The cause of this rebound in CFC-11 emissions was a mystery.
An initial explanation came in 2018, when researchers led by Stephen Montzka of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration analysed the CFC-11 data collected weekly at Mauna Loa, Hawaii. They deduced that the increased emissions originated largely from East Asia – likely as a result of new, illegal production.
Montzka’s team concluded that if these increased CFC-11 emissions continued, the closure of the Antarctic ozone hole could be delayed, possibly for decades. This was a remarkable piece of detective work, considering that Mauna Loa is more than 8,000km from East Asia.
A still more detailed explanation is published today in the journal Nature by an international research team led by Matt Rigby of the University of Bristol, UK, and Sunyoung Park of Kyungpook National University, South Korea, together with colleagues from Japan, the United States, Australia and Switzerland. The new study uses data collected every two hours by the AGAGE global monitoring network, including data from Gosan, South Korea, and from an AGAGE-affiliated station at Hateruma, Japan. Crucially, Gosan and Hateruma are just 1,000km and 2,000km, respectively, from the suspected epicentre of CFC-11 emissions in East Asia.
The Korean and Japanese data show that these new emissions of CFC-11 do indeed come from eastern China – in particular the provinces of Shandong and Hebei – and that they have increased by around 7,000 tonnes per year since 2013.
Meanwhile, the rest of the AGAGE network has detected no evidence of increasing CFC-11 emissions elsewhere around the world, including in North America, Europe, Japan, Korea or Australia.
Yet while this new study has accounted for roughly half of the recent global emissions rise, it is possible that smaller increases have also taken place in other countries, or even in other parts of China, not covered by the AGAGE network. There are large swathes of the globe for which we have very little detailed information on CFC emissions.
Nevertheless, this study represents an important milestone in atmospheric scientists’ ability to tell which regions are emitting ozone-depleting substances and in what quantities. It is now vital we find out which industries are responsible for these new emissions.
If the emissions are due to the manufacture and use of products such as foams, it is possible that, so far, we have seen in the atmosphere only a fraction of the total amount of CFC-11 that was produced illegally. The remainder could be locked up in buildings and chillers, and will ultimately be released to the atmosphere over the coming decades.
While our new study cannot determine which industry or industries are responsible, it does provide strong evidence that substantial new emissions of CFC-11 have occurred from China. Chinese authorities have identified, and closed down, some illegal production facilities over the past several years.
This study highlights the importance of undertaking long-term measurements of trace gases like CFC-11 to verify that international treaties and protocols are working. It also identifies shortcomings in the global networks for detecting regional emissions of ozone depleting substances. This should encourage expansion of these vital measurement networks which would lead to a capability of more rapid identification of future emission transgressions.
Paul Krummel, Research Group Leader, CSIRO; Bronwyn Dunse, Climate Science Centre, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere, CSIRO; Nada Derek, Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, CSIRO; Paul Fraser, Honorary Fellow, CSIRO, and Paul Steele, Centre for Australian Weather and Climate Research, CSIRO