Not declaring the Great Barrier Reef as ‘in danger’ only postpones the inevitable


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Jon C. Day, James Cook University; Scott F. Heron, James Cook University, and Terry Hughes, James Cook UniversityAfter much anticipation, the World Heritage Committee on Friday decided against listing the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger”.

The decision ignored the recommendation of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the UNESCO World Heritage Centre — a recommendation based on analyses by Australian scientific experts of the reef’s declining condition.

In many ways, the outcome from the committee was expected. The Australian government fought very hard against this decision, including lobbying all the committee members, as it has done in previous years.

There was consensus among most of the 21 committee members to not apply the in-danger listing at this time. Instead, Australia has been requested to host a joint UNESCO/IUCN monitoring mission to the reef and provide an updated report by February, 2022.

This decision has only postponed the inevitable. It does not change the irrefutable evidence that dangerous impacts are already occurring on the Great Barrier Reef. Some, such as coral bleaching and death from marine heatwaves, will continue to accelerate.

The reef currently meets the criteria for in-danger listing. That’s unlikely to improve within the next 12 months.




Read more:
The Barrier Reef is not listed as in danger, but the threats remain


Political distractions

Last month, the World Heritage Committee released its draft decision to list the reef as in-danger, noting the values for which the reef was internationally recognised had declined due to a wide range of factors. This includes water pollution and coral bleaching.

The draft decision had expressed concerns that Australia’s progress:

has been largely insufficient in meeting key targets of the Reef 2050 Plan [and the] deterioration of the ecological processes underpinning the [Reef has] been more rapid and widespread than was previously evident.

A photo depicting two threats to the Great Barrier Reef: coal ships anchored near Abbot Point and a flood plume from the Burdekin River (February 2019); such plumes can carry pollutants and debris to the Great Barrier Reef.
Matt Curnock

In response, the government claimed it was “blindsided”, and said the UNESCO Secretariat hadn’t followed due process in recommending the decision. It also suggested there had been undue interference from China in making the draft recommendation.

These were political distractions from the real issues. During last night’s debate, one committee member strongly refuted the claims about interference from China and expressed concerns the dialogue had become unnecessarily politicised.

Following the draft decision, the intense campaign to reverse the decision began, with environment minister Sussan Ley undertaking a whirlwind visit to numerous countries to meet with ambassadors.




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The Great Barrier Reef is in trouble. There are a whopping 45 reasons why


The government even hosted international ambassadors from 13 countries and the EU, taking them on a snorkelling trip. And it reported an increase in coral cover over the past two years as good news, ignoring the fact the assessment had cautioned the recovery was driven by weedy coral species most vulnerable to future climate impacts.

This wasn’t the first time Australia has undertaken significant levels of diplomatic lobbying of World Heritage Committee members to gain support for its position.

In 1999, Australia also strongly opposed the recommended in-danger listing of Kakadu National Park, following the Jabiluka mine proposal. This led to an extraordinary meeting of the committee being convened in Paris, specifically to discuss this matter.

Turtle
Australia is expected to hand in an updated report on the reef in February 2022.
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More focus on climate change

During its current meeting, the World Heritage Committee approved the draft UNESCO Climate Action Policy, which will guide the protection and conservation of World Heritage sites.

This policy will be ratified at the UN General Assembly later this year, but the fact it’s still a draft was one of several excuses the Australian government made as to why the reef should not be “singled out”.

The reef is one of the most iconic marine protected areas on the planet. Given Australia continues to have one of the highest per capita emission rates in the world, and has more capacity to address climate change than most other countries, it makes sense for the spotlight to be on Australia’s actions.

Aerial photo of part of the reef
Marine heatwaves and water pollution are major threats to the Great Barrier Reef.
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Not surprisingly, climate change was the central issue during the committee’s debate last night. UNESCO is now more focused on climate change than ever before, recognising the “window of opportunity to act” is now.

The delegates broadly agreed climate change remains the most serious threat, not just to the Great Barrier Reef but also to many other iconic World Heritage properties. Venice, for example, also dodged a potential in-danger listing at this meeting.

Rather than making challenging decisions now, it’s clear the committee is simply kicking the can down the road.

Some committee members remarked during the meeting about the need to “maintain the credibility of the Convention” and acknowledged that the world is watching. The spotlight on the reef, and on Australia, will only intensify in coming years.

The government’s own report from 2019 shows many of the values for which the reef was inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1981 have declined in recent decades. Yet every delay weakens Australia’s claim it is doing all it can to protect the reef.

Later this year, the next major international climate summit will be held in Glasgow, Scotland, where even more attention will be placed on Australia’s inadequate actions.

An in-danger listing is not a punishment

It’s important to remember that throughout the meeting, UNESCO and the committee made it clear an in-danger listing is not a sanction or punishment. Rather, it’s a call to the international community that a World Heritage property is under threat, thereby triggering actions to protect it for future generations.




Read more:
Is Australia really doing enough for the Great Barrier Reef? Why criticisms of UNESCO’s ‘in danger’ recommendation don’t stack up


Now, more than ever, it is important to expand efforts to reduce the locally manageable impacts, such as poor water quality, while rapidly accelerating action on climate change.

These efforts must occur locally, nationally and globally. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is critical to stop the worst of the impacts now unfolding, not just on the reef, but on all the world’s natural and cultural heritage.


This story is part of Oceans 21

Our series on the global ocean opened with five in-depth profiles. Look out for new articles on the state of our oceans in the lead up to the UN’s next climate conference, COP26. The series is brought to you by The Conversation’s international network.The Conversation


Jon C. Day, PSM, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University; Scott F. Heron, Associate Professor, James Cook University, and Terry Hughes, Distinguished Professor, James Cook University

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

Is Australia really doing enough for the Great Barrier Reef? Why criticisms of UNESCO’s ‘in danger’ recommendation don’t stack up


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Terry Hughes, James Cook University; Jon C. Day, James Cook University, and Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, The University of QueenslandIn case you missed it, last week the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO revealed its draft decision to list the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger” — a decision that appeared to shock the Australian government.

In an opinion piece published yesterday in The Australian newspaper, Environment Minister Sussan Ley acknowledged climate change is the biggest threat to the Great Barrier Reef, and that it “has been through a few rough years”.

She has also suggested, however, UNESCO’s draft in-danger decision is a surprise and was politically motivated. Neither of these claims is credible.

So let’s look at Australia’s reaction so far, and why criticisms of UNESCO’s draft decision don’t stack up.

The poster child for climate change

An in-danger listing of a World Heritage property recognises a decline in the “outstanding universal value” that makes the site internationally significant. It sets off alarm bells to identify the underlying causes of decline, and triggers stronger interventions to prevent further damage.

Ley foresees a negative effect of the proposed in-danger listing on reef tourism. However, there’s no evidence from the Galapagos Islands, the Belize Barrier Reef or the Everglades National Park — all World Heritage properties and tourism hotspots — that an in-danger listing led to any discernible impacts on tourist numbers.

Most tourists, international or domestic, are already well aware of the pressures facing the Great Barrier Reef, but they are still keen to see it. From 2015–2018, more than two million visitors each year used a tourism operator to visit the reef. During 2020, COVID led to significant decline in visitor numbers so this period has been particularly difficult for the tourism industry.

Ley also claimed Australia, and the reef, didn’t deserve to be the poster child for climate change perils. But why can’t they be? The Great Barrier Reef is one of the most obvious examples of the costs of inaction on anthropogenic climate change.

The Great Barrier Reef was inscribed as a World Heritage Area in 1981. And for the past two decades Australia has meticulously documented its ongoing deterioration.

According to Australia’s regular reporting to UNESCO, the major causes of the reef’s decline in outstanding universal value is pollution from agricultural runoff, which has now been eclipsed by heat stress from climate change.




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We just spent two weeks surveying the Great Barrier Reef. What we saw was an utter tragedy


Extreme summer temperatures in 1998, 2002, 2016, 2017 and 2020 have reduced coral cover and changed the mix of species, altering the biodiversity and other World Heritage attributes of the reef for many decades to come.

Unless global warming is stabilised soon, the reef will become unrecognisable. Indeed, in 2019, Australia’s latest five-yearly Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report projected the future of the reef as “very poor”.

Is Australia doing enough?

Ley also suggests Australia is doing everything it can to protect the reef — but is it really?

UNESCO certainty doesn’t think so. The draft decision from UNESCO, which will be considered next month by the World Heritage Committee, noted that interventions to reduce inshore pollution over the past five years have been “largely deficient”.

Bleached coral
There has been slow progress in meeting reef water quality targets.
Shutterstock

There have been some positive achievements in reducing water pollution levels. But the slow progress in meeting many of the water quality targets is documented clearly in the 2017–2018 and 2019 reef Water Quality Report Cards, produced jointly by the federal and Queensland governments.

UNESCO cites Australia’s poor progress on reducing emissions as an additional area requiring considerable improvement, to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement and Australia’s responsibilities under the World Heritage Convention.




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Does tourism really suffer at sites listed as World Heritage In Danger?


UNESCO has also asked Australia to work with it to develop corrective measures and to ensure the revised Reef 2050 Plan — the overarching framework for protecting the reef to 2050 — addresses the threats.

An in-danger listing is a call to arms to all countries to work together to save the reef from human-caused heating. So the ongoing collaboration between Australia and UNESCO could then enable the Great Barrier Reef’s removal from the in-danger list.

Is Australia suddenly being singled out?

Ley wrote that the Great Barrier Reef was suddenly and unexpectedly “singled out” for an in-danger listing, which she interpreted as a suggestion that “Australia can single-handedly change the emissions trajectory of the whole world”.

However, the dialogue between UNESCO and Australia on the Great Barrier Reef’s protection has a long history. And in making its in-danger recommendation, UNESCO acknowledged Australia “on its own cannot address the threats of climate change”. But UNESCO does appear to have concerns about Australia’s record on emissions reduction.

For example, in 2011 the World Heritage Committee expressed “extreme concern” over the approval for liquefied natural gas facilities on Curtis Island within the boundary of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area. A year later, it asked Australia to ensure coastal development isn’t permitted if it effects the outstanding universal value of the property.

In 2012, 2013 and 2014, prior to the annual meetings of the World Heritage Committee, UNESCO raised the possible inscription of the Great Barrier Reef on the in-danger list.

Significantly, in 2017, the World Heritage Committee emphasised the importance of state parties (countries adhering to the world heritage convention, such as Australia) undertaking the most ambitious implementation of the Paris Agreement. This is an important pathway to reduce the risks and impacts of climate change on World Heritage properties.

UNESCO invited all state parties to act on climate change under the Paris Agreement “consistent with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities”.

So what are Australia’s responsibilities?

Ley is correct to point out that all 29 World Heritage listed coral reefs, scattered throughout the tropics, are extremely vulnerable to human-caused climate change.

However, Australia is responsible for the world’s largest coral reef system, and has far higher capabilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than other, less wealthy countries.

But Australia’s record on protecting ecosystems and people from climate change is comparatively very poor. And despite being responsible for 20 World Heritage Areas, we have one of the highest per capita emission rates in the world.

The federal government continues to spruik a fossil-fuelled, gas-led COVID recovery, with ongoing subsidies for new coal mines. This support for coal and fossil gas is inconsistent with Australia’s commitments to the World Heritage Convention.

Rejecting the science-based assessments by UNESCO is further damaging Australia’s reputation as a laggard on addressing climate change. Surely, Australia can do better.




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The Conversation


Terry Hughes, Distinguished Professor, James Cook University; Jon C. Day, PSM, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, and Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, Professor, The University of Queensland

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

UNESCO has always been mired in politics and squabbling, but this shouldn’t detract from its work


Stephen Hill, University of WollongongAustralia’s Great Barrier Reef made the international headlines this week. It was not good news for the reef, described by David Attenborough as “one of the greatest and most splendid natural treasures that the world possesses”.

A report tabled by the World Heritage Centre of UNESCO recommended adding the reef to the list of 53 other World Heritage sites considered “in danger” — a move the Morrison government suggested was motivated by political pressure.

The “in danger” classification matters to Australia since the reef is estimated to support 64,000 jobs and contribute A$6.4 billion to the economy per year.

If the World Heritage Committee downgrades the reef’s status as a World Heritage site, this will almost certainly damage its attractiveness as a tourism destination and thus Australia’s economic benefit.

But why does such a report from this UN agency matter so much? The reason is the World Heritage Committee has significant clout on the global stage — and politics have indeed been an unfortunate part of its operations since its inception.

The Australian government said it was ‘blindsided’ by the UN recommendation to list the Great Barrier Reef as ‘in-danger’.
KYDPL KYODO/AP

‘Clearly there was politics behind it’

UNESCO’s mandate to build peace through international cooperation in education, the sciences, culture and media freedom stems from its founding principles in 1945 after the second world war. The preamble to its constitution declares,

… since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defences of peace must be constructed.

Nations are elected to UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee at a biennial conference of all 193 UNESCO member states. This committee has significant power — it is authorised to make decisions on behalf of the world. And though the UN member states may complain about its decisions, none can challenge the committee’s independence or authority.

The current chair of the World Heritage Committee is China, which adds to the reason why Australia has protested so loudly at its recommendation.

Australia’s environment minister, Sussan Ley, and minister for foreign affairs, Marise Payne, were immediately on the phone to UNESCO’s director-general, Audrey Azoulay, in Paris, to express their deep concerns. Ley said,

This decision was flawed and clearly there was politics behind it, and that has subverted the proper process.

The head of UNESCO’s World Heritage Marine Program, Dr Fanny Douvere, pointed out, however, that the report was a rigorous scientific document with inputs from Australia’s own Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and official government reports on water quality — assessed and analysed by an expert team in the World Heritage Centre.

Furthermore, she said, work on the report started years ago, and the Chinese government was “not aware” of the recommendations being made.

We have yet to see how this altercation will play out, likely at the next meeting of the World Heritage Committee in China in July.

How UNESCO is structured

Behind the scenes at UNESCO, there is a complex play of international politics and UN bureaucratic processes and actions which do, at times, have an influence on the agency’s work.

I was appointed to a senior level within UNESCO from 1995–2005, working in both a field office and at its headquarters in Paris, and I played a central role in the organisation’s attempts to reform and decentralise its operations in the early 2000s. So, I have good knowledge of the beast from the inside.

The first thing to realise is there is a divide between headquarters and the field. Nearly all attention is focused on UNESCO’s headquarters. This is where member state ambassadors have their offices and all the important committees are based. As a result, decisions on international conventions and actions are the province of the officialdom in Paris.

But this is not where the most effective program action happens — this is the work of the more than 50 field offices around the world. And the UNESCO field offices do make a real difference.

In my own work in Indonesia, as examples, we reformed the country’s entire basic education system from centralised rote learning to decentralised open classroom exploration. We also helped the country move from total censorship of the media by helping pass legislation to ensure a free press and built a radio network of 32 independent stations across the country trained in investigative journalism.

Headquarters provided excellent technical assistance, but the field office ran the show and found the funding.

Much of the criticism aimed at UNESCO is focused on its over-bureaucratic structure and poor productivity. This criticism is largely fed by the attention placed on what happens at headquarters in Paris, not at the field offices in places like New Delhi, Jakarta and Maputo.




Read more:
Australian government was ‘blindsided’ by UN recommendation to list Great Barrier Reef as in-danger. But it’s no great surprise


Member states withdrawing funding

The second thing to realise about UNESCO is it is a “technical” agency, not a “funding” organisation like, for example, the UN Development Program.

Because funding is dependent on member states, this has real consequences. Sensitive political issues can cause member states to become upset, prompting them to withdraw from the organisation — with their funding.

For instance, after Palestine was added as a full member in 2011, both the US and Israel stopped paying their dues. The US, which accounted for more than 20% of UNESCO’s budget, accrued some US$600 million in unpaid dues.

The Trump administration then pulled the US out of the organisation altogether after the World Heritage Committee designated the old city of Hebron in the West Bank as a Palestinian World Heritage site in 2017. The US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, called UNESCO’s politicisation a “chronic embarrassment”.

Israel and the US opposed the move to designate Hebron a Palestinian World Heritage site that was also ‘in danger’.
Bernat Armangue/AP

This wasn’t the first time the US withdrew. In 1984, the Reagan administration pulled out of UNESCO amid complaints about the way it was run and what one American official, Gregory Newell, called “extraneous politicisation”. He decried what he perceived as

… an endemic hostility toward the institutions of a free society — particularly those that protect a free press, free markets and, above all, individual human rights.

Keeping in mind UNESCO’s mandate

UNESCO’s listing of the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger” is at its heart a moral decision concerned with minimising the effects of climate change and stimulating member states into action.

Because it is playing out at headquarters level, however, there is the whiff of political involvement. This is, after all, where states play power politics with their memberships, funding and influence.




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Is UNESCO World Heritage status for cultural sites killing the things it loves?


But the organisation is so much more when you move away from the glitter of the world’s capitals and into the field. Here, the agency’s business is about building trust and connecting with communities to make change happen.

This is in keeping with UNESCO’s mandate, which is important to remember when attention is diverted to self-interested squabbling among its members.The Conversation

Stephen Hill, Emeritus Professor, Faculty of Law, Humanities and the Arts, University of Wollongong

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

Australian government was ‘blindsided’ by UN recommendation to list Great Barrier Reef as in-danger. But it’s no great surprise


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Jon C. Day, James Cook University; Scott F. Heron, James Cook University, and Terry Hughes, James Cook UniversityThe Australian government on Tuesday expressed shock at a draft decision to list the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger”. But the recommendation has been looming for some time.

The recommendation, by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), acknowledges Australia’s commitment to implementing the Reef 2050 Plan, an overarching framework to protect the natural wonder for future generations.

But the “outstanding universal value” of the Great Barrier Reef has continued to decline.

The draft decision will now be considered at the World Heritage Committee meeting, to be held online next month. The development is significant for several reasons – not least that Australia’s progress under the Paris Agreement is being linked to its stewardship of the reef.

Last year, severe bleaching struck all three regions of the Great Barrier Reef.
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

What did UNESCO say?

In recommending the in-danger listing, UNESCO and IUCN cited a 2019 report by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority which found the ecosystem’s long-term outlook had deteriorated from poor to very poor. It said global warming had also triggered coral bleaching events in 2016 and 2017 – which were followed by another mass bleaching event in 2020.

The report said Australia’s progress on the Reef 2050 Plan “has been insufficient in meeting key targets”. It said the plan requires stronger and clearer commitments, in particular on urgently addressing threats from climate change, and improving water quality and land management.

Among other recommendations, the draft decision called on the international community to “implement the most ambitious actions to address climate change […] and fulfil their responsibility to protect the Great Barrier Reef”.




Read more:
‘Severely threatened and deteriorating’: global authority on nature lists the Great Barrier Reef as critical


The 2020 coral bleaching event was the second-worst in more than two decades.
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

No real surprise

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley’s said the government was “blindsided” by the draft recommendation. However the move has been a long time coming.

As noted above, the government’s 2019 Outlook Report documented the impacts and threats to the Great Barrier Reef in no uncertain terms, and identified climate change as the most serious threat.

There were other indicators the recommendation was looming. In 2020, the IUCN World Heritage Outlook listed the Great Barrier Reef as “critical” due to threats including climate change and poor water quality. The rating – the worst on a four-point scale — was a decline from the 2017 rating of “significant concern”.

And in 2018, a report predicted that without major reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, all 29 World Heritage coral reefs, including the Great Barrier Reef, will cease to be “functioning ecosystems by the end of the century”.

Finally in 2012, the World Heritage Committee warned the Great Barrier Reef could be placed on the in-danger list “in the absence of substantial progress”.




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Climate change isn’t the only concern

While climate change is a major concern in the draft decision, it is but one of numerous pressures on the Great Barrier Reef. Poor water quality due to nutrient and sediment runoff – the latter linked to land clearing – are also big problems.

The IUCN outlook report said climate change is the biggest threat to all the world’s natural heritage places. In this regard, this week’s draft decision sets an important precedent for the World Heritage Committee. It would seem the committee is now prepared to directly address the issue of climate change, after being less so inclined in previous years.

The Reef 2050 Plan does not adequately address the climate change threat. The UNESCO report calls on Australia to correct this, and ensure the plan sufficiently addresses other threats including water quality.

Decisions by the World Heritage Committee are not binding on any country. Still, we expect the committee’s concerns to result in Australia amending the Reef 2050 Plan to better acknowledge climate change as a significant issue.

The draft decision will be considered at the annual meeting of the World Heritage Committee in July, chaired by China and comprising 21 countries.

Two snorkelers
Getting placed on the in-danger list isn’t likely to impact tourism.
Shutterstock

An end to tourism?

The experience of other major tourist destinations suggests an in-danger listing may not damage tourism at the Great Barrier Reef, as some have feared.

Take the Everglades in the United States, Belize in the Caribbean and the Galapagos Islands. An analysis of these World Heritage properties showed no discernible tourism downturn after an in-danger listing. However, if the Great Barrier Reef’s condition continues to deteriorate, industries that rely on a healthy Reef are likely to endure long-term damage.

An in-danger listing is not permanent, nor does it mean the Great Barrier Reef will be permanently removed from the World Heritage list. Currently, 53 World Heritage properties are on the in-danger list; others were taken off the list once concerns were addressed.

The Great Barrier Reef will continue to be harmed until nations collectively adopt more ambitious climate goals, global emissions of greenhouse gases fall to net-zero and sea temperatures stabilise.

Without real and urgent actions at all levels — global, national, and local — the values that make all heritage places special will decline. That makes it less likely that future generations will be able to enjoy these wonders as we have done.




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The Conversation


Jon C. Day, PSM, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University; Scott F. Heron, Associate Professor, James Cook University, and Terry Hughes, Distinguished Professor, James Cook University

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

Marine protection falls short of the 2020 target to safeguard 10% of the world’s oceans. A UN treaty and lessons from Antarctica could help



John B. Weller, Author provided

Natasha Blaize Gardiner, University of Canterbury and Cassandra Brooks, University of Colorado Boulder

Two-thirds of the world’s oceans fall outside national jurisdictions – they belong to no one and everyone.

These international waters, known as the high seas, harbour a plethora of natural resources and millions of unique marine species.

But they are being damaged irretrievably. Research shows unsustainable fisheries are one of the greatest threats to marine biodiversity in the high seas.

According to a 2019 global assessment report on biodiversity and ecosystem services, 66% of the world’s oceans are experiencing detrimental and increasing cumulative impacts from human activities.

In the high seas, human activities are regulated by a patchwork of international legal agreements under the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). But this piecemeal approach is failing to safeguard the ecosystems we depend on.




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Empty pledges

A decade ago, world leaders updated an earlier pledge to establish a network of marine protected areas (MPAs) with a mandate to protect 10% of the world’s oceans by 2020.

But MPAs cover only 7.66% of the ocean across the globe. Most protected sites are in national waters where it’s easy to implement and manage protection under the provision of a single country.

In the more remote areas of the high seas, only 1.18% of marine ecosystems have been gifted sanctuary.

The Southern Ocean accounts for a large portion of this meagre percentage, hosting two MPAs. The South Orkney Islands southern shelf MPA covers 94,000 square kilometres, while the Ross Sea region MPA stretches across more than 2 million square kilometres, making it the largest in the world.

Weddell seal pup and mother
Currently, the world’s largest marine protected area is in the Ross Sea region off Antarctica.
Natasha Gardiner, CC BY-ND

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) is responsible for this achievement. Unlike other international fisheries management bodies, the commission’s legal convention allows for the closing of marine areas for conservation purposes.

A comparable mandate for MPAs in other areas of the high seas has been nowhere in sight — until now.




Read more:
An ocean like no other: the Southern Ocean’s ecological richness and significance for global climate


A new ocean treaty

In 2017, the UN started negotiations towards a new comprehensive international treaty for the high seas. The treaty aims to improve the conservation and sustainable use of marine organisms in areas beyond national jurisdiction. It would also implement a global legal mechanism to establish MPAs in international waters.

This innovative international agreement provides an opportunity to work across institutional boundaries towards comprehensive high seas governance and protection. It is crucial to use lessons drawn from existing high seas marine protection initiatives, such as those in the Southern Ocean, to inform the treaty’s development.

The final round of treaty negotiations is pending, delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and significant detail within the treaty’s draft text remains undeveloped and open for further debate.

Lessons from Southern Ocean management

CCAMLR comprises 26 member states (including the European Union) and meets annually to make conservation-based decisions by unanimous consensus. In 2002, the commission committed to establishing a representative network of MPAs in Antarctica in alignment with globally agreed targets for the world’s oceans.

The two established MPAs in the high seas are far from an ecologically representative network of protection. In October 2020, the commission continued negotiations for three additional MPAs, which would meet the 10% target for the Southern Ocean, if agreed.

But not a single proposal was agreed. For one of the proposals, the East Antarctic MPA, this marks the eighth year of failed negotiations.

Fisheries interests from a select few nations, combined with complex geopolitics, are thwarting progress towards marine protection in the Antarctic.

Map of marine protected areas around Antarctica.
CCAMLR’s two established MPAs (in grey) are the South Orkney Islands southern shelf MPA and the Ross Sea region MPA. Three proposed MPAs (hashed) include the East Antarctic, Domain 1 and Weddell Sea proposals.
C. Brooks, CC BY-ND

CCAMLR’s progress towards its commitment for a representative MPA network may have ground to a halt, but the commission has gained invaluable knowledge about the challenges in establishing MPAs in international waters. CCAMLR has demonstrated that with an effective convention and legal framework, MPAs in the high seas are possible.

The commission understands the extent to which robust scientific information must inform MPA proposals and how to navigate inevitable trade-offs between conservation and economic interests. Such knowledge is important for the UN treaty process.




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Why are talks over an East Antarctic marine park still deadlocked?


As the high seas treaty moves closer to adoption, it stands to outpace the commission regarding progress towards improved marine conservation. Already, researchers have identified high-priority areas for protection in the high seas, including in Antarctica.

Many species cross the Southern Ocean boundary into other regions. This makes it even more important for CCAMLR to integrate its management across regional fisheries organisations – and the new treaty could facilitate this engagement.

But the window of time is closing with only one round of negotiation left for the UN treaty. Research tells us Antarctic decision-makers need to use the opportunity to ensure the treaty supports marine protection commitments.

Stronger Antarctic leadership is urgently needed to safeguard the Southern Ocean — and beyond.The Conversation

Natasha Blaize Gardiner, PhD Candidate, University of Canterbury and Cassandra Brooks, Assistant Professor Environmental Studies, University of Colorado Boulder

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

Attention United Nations: don’t be fooled by Australia’s latest report on the Great Barrier Reef


Jon C. Day, James Cook University

For some years, Australia has been on notice: the world is watching how we care for the Great Barrier Reef. The iconic natural wonder is the largest living organism on the planet. But its health is deteriorating.

In 2017 UNESCO, the United Nations body that granted the reef world heritage status, asked Australia to report back on how the reef was faring.

Australia this month submitted its latest report. It provides a wealth of information on many threats to the reef, such as water quality and crown-of-thorns starfish.

But the report’s overall message is that the reef’s world heritage values are fine and the threats are in hand, when the reality is far different.

Bleached coral on the Great Barrier Reef.
OVE HOEGH GULDBERG

A global jewel

The Great Barrier Reef was listed as a World Heritage Area in 1981. It was recognised as globally significant or, in the parlance of the world heritage committee, having “outstanding universal value”.

In ensuing years, a myriad of impacts have devastated the reef’s health. They include coral bleaching exacerbated by climate change, poor water quality from land-based runoff, and unsustainable fishing and coastal development.




Read more:
The Great Barrier Reef is in trouble. There are a whopping 45 reasons why


UNESCO considered listing the reef as “in danger” but in 2017 decided against it. Australia was asked to report back to show it was protecting the reef’s outstanding universal value.

But Australia’s report is deficient. It claims the reef “maintains many of the elements” that make up its outstanding universal value – yet its methodology fails to properly assess this.

Why the report is deficient

The report relies on assessments made by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in its five-yearly outlook report released in August. Our analysis shows four flaws in that otherwise commendable report have carried over to the report to UNESCO.

First, instead of assessing the world heritage values themselves, the report assessed the four natural criteria for which the reef was granted world heritage status.

These four broad criteria cover the reef’s exceptional natural beauty; its evolution over millennia; its outstanding demonstration of significant ecological and biological processes; and its enormous biodiversity of habitats and species.

Each of these criteria comprise many “values”, or features. The outlook report assesses the status and trends of these values but fails to identify which are specifically world heritage values – which is what UNESCO really needs to know.

A photo depicting two threats to the Great Barrier Reef: coal ships anchored near Abbot Point and a flood plume.
Matt Curnock

Here’s an example. The biodiversity criterion encompasses coral reefs, sandy and muddy habitats, mangroves and seagrass, dugongs, whales, dolphins, turtles and birds.

For biodiversity, the report gives an overall grade of “poor”. But this obscures the fact large areas of coral – a key world heritage value – are in very poor health.

This method is used despite the federal government’s own legislation specifically requiring the reef’s world heritage values, not the criteria, be assessed.

Second, the latest assessment is measured against results in 2014. So it does not show the degradation since the reef was listed 38 years ago.




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Third, the report wrongly assesses the reef’s “integrity”, an important part of its outstanding universal value. Integrity refers to the “wholeness and intactness” of the area and its threats, and requires separate investigation. Instead, the report assumes the assessments of the criteria answer the integrity question.

Fourth, both reports fail to acknowledge Indigenous people’s links to the reef are clearly part of its outstanding universal value.

In essence, the report to UNESCO sends the message Australia is well in control of the threats to the reef. This is misleading, and does not accord with the 2019 outlook report which downgraded the reef’s prospects from “poor” to “very poor”.

These criticisms may seem semantic. But the report will be critical when the world heritage committee meets next year in China to assess how the reef is faring.

What the report should have said

The table below demonstrates a more logical and relevant way of reporting back to UNESCO. Information in the outlook report is rearranged in this example against one of four world heritage criteria.



CC BY-ND

If a summary against all four criteria, plus integrity, is necessary, it would be better presented as per the table below showing the grades and trends of all relevant values.



CC BY-ND



Read more:
The Barrier Reef is not listed as in danger, but the threats remain


Looking ahead

Problems with the government’s report to UNESCO extend beyond the issues outlined above. The government acknowledges climate change is the biggest threat to the reef, and limiting temperature rise to 1.5℃ this century is widely accepted as the critical threshold for reef survival.




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But the government’s report fails to explain how Australia is reducing emissions in line with this goal. A recent analysis suggests if Australia’s efforts were matched globally, warming would not be kept within 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.

Without clear and unambiguous information, the world heritage committee cannot draw an informed conclusion about whether the Great Barrier Reef should be listed as “in danger”. The listing would not fix the problems – but it might force Australia to act.


Correction: a previous version of Table 2 in this report contained outdated figures for the category “Habitats for conserving biodiversity”. The figures have been corrected.The Conversation

Jon C. Day, PSM, Post-career PhD candidate, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

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

‘We will never forgive you’: youth is not wasted on the young who fight for climate justice



Swedish activist Greta Thunberg joins other children from across the world to present an official human rights complaint on the climate crisis.
Michael Nagle/EPA

Danilo Ignacio de Urzedo, University of Sydney

Last week’s United Nations climate summit may go down in history – but not for the reasons intended. It was not the tipping point for action on global warming that organisers hoped it would be. It will instead probably be remembered for the powerful address by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg, who castigated world leaders on behalf of the generation set to bear the brunt of inaction.

Young people are not sitting back and waiting for older generations to act on the climate crisis. Days before the summit, school students led a climate strike attended by millions around the world. And at the first ever UN youth climate summit, more than 500 young people from 60 countries, including myself, explored how to meet the commitments of the Paris Agreement.

This group of activists, innovators, entrepreneurs, and change-makers aged between 18 and 30 showcased potential solutions and put global political leaders on notice: they must fight off the climate crisis at the scale and pace required.

A young boy takes part in the global climate strike on September 20 at Parliament Square in London.
Neil Hall/EPA

Youth voices matter

Youth aged 15 to 24 years represent 16% of the world population and will reach 1.3 billion people by 2030. Obviously the action (or otherwise) of today’s decision makers on climate change and other environmental threats will affect generations to come – a principle known as intergenerational equity.

Millions of young people around the world are already affected by climate change. Speaking at the youth summit, Fijian climate action advocate Komal Kumar said her nation was at the frontline of a crisis and worldwide, young people were “living in constant fear and climate anxiety … fearing the future”.




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“Stop hindering the work [towards a sustainable future] for short term profits. Engage young people in the design of adaptation plans,” she said. “We will hold you accountable. And if you do not remember, we will mobilise to vote you out.”

UN Secretary-General António Guterres attended the event and his deputy Amina Mohammed took part in a “town hall” with the attendees, alongside senior representatives from government and civil society.

Young people are not sitting idly by

Technological solutions presented by youth summit participants included 3D printing using plastic waste, data storage in plant DNA, a weather app for farmers and an accountability platform for sustainable fashion.

Participants learnt how to amplify their voices using Instagram and how to create engaging videos with their mobile phones. An art workshop taught youth how creativity can help solve the climate emergency, and a networking session showed ways that youth leaders to stay connected and support each other.

Greta Thunberg, second from right, speaks as United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and young climate activists listen at the start of the United Nations Youth Climate Summit.
Justin Lane/EPA

Elsewhere, you don’t have to look far to see examples of young climate warriors, including in the developing world.

Programs funded by the UN development program include in Kazakhstan where youth are helping implement an energy efficiency project in schools, and in Namibia where young people are being trained as tour guides in national parks and nature reserves. In Nepal, young people cultivate wild Himalayan cherry trees as a natural solution to land degradation.

Harness the power of nature

Kenyan environmental activist Wanjuhi Njoroge told the youth summit of her nation’s progress in restoring the country’s forest cover.

Nature-based solutions to the climate crisis – such as conserving and restoring forests, grasslands and wetlands – were a key focus at the summit. Efforts to meet the Paris climate goals often focus on cutting fossil fuel use. But nature has a huge ability to store carbon as plants grow. Avoiding deforestation keeps this carbon from entering the atmosphere.

Thunberg and British writer George Monbiot released a film ahead on the New York summit calling on world leaders protect, restore and fund natural climate solutions.

A film by Greta Thunberg and George Monbiot calling for more nature-based climate change solutions.

To date, such solutions have received little by way of investments and funding support. For example in 2015, agriculture, forestry and land-use received just 3% of global climate change finance.

Appearing at the youth summit, the global Youth4Nature network told how it mobilises young people to advocate for nature-based solutions. Their strategy has included collecting and sharing youth stories in natural resources management in more than 35 countries.

Youth ‘will be watching’ their leaders

When it comes to climate change, young people have specific demands that must be acknowledged – and offer solutions that other generations cannot.

But globally there is a lack of youth representation in politics, and by extension, they are largely absent from climate change decision-making.




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Some youth summit participants reportedly questioned whether it achieved its aims – including the value of some workshops, why celebrities were involved and whether anything tangible was produced.

A young girl attends the the global climate strike in Brisbane.
Dan Peled/AAP

Certainly, there was little evidence that world leaders at the climate summit were listening to the demands of young people. This was reflected in the failure of the world’s biggest-polluting countries to offer credible emissions reduction commitments.

But the youth summit went some way to granting young people space and visibility in the formal decision-making process.

Pressure from young people for climate action will not subside. Thunberg said it best when she warned world leaders that youth “will be watching you”.

“The eyes of all future generations are upon you,” she said. “If you choose to fail us, I say we will never forgive you”.The Conversation

Danilo Ignacio de Urzedo, PhD candidate, University of Sydney

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

Highly touted UN climate summit failed to deliver – and Scott Morrison failed to show up



US President Donald Trump during his brief attendance at the UN climate summit.
HAYOUNG JEON/EPA

Matt McDonald, The University of Queensland

Swedish schoolgirl Greta Thunberg had an angry message for world leaders at the United Nations climate summit in New York overnight.

“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones,” she said.

“People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?”

The summit was touted as a chance for the world to finally get its climate action on track. But by almost any standard, the event was a disappointment.




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There was a handful of positive stories. Almost 80 countries and more than 100 cities promised to achieve net zero greenhouse emissions by 2050. Some (mainly developing) nations pledged an end to coal use. And a few developed nations committed more money to the Green Climate Fund, which helps poor nations deal with climate change.

But for the most part, the urgent action needed to avert a global warming catastrophe looked a long way off.

Teen activist Greta Thunberg makes an emotional plea to world leaders to act on climate change.

High hopes but low expectations for the summit

Days out from the summit, millions of protesters marched at global climate strikes to call for strong climate action.

The task was given even greater urgency by a new report by the World Meteorological Organisation, coinciding with the summit, which said emission reduction efforts must at least triple to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

In his opening remarks, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called on world leaders to take swift, dramatic climate action.

“Nature is angry. And we fool ourselves if we think we can fool nature, because nature always strikes back and around the world, nature is striking back with fury,” Guterres said.




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Why our response to climate change needs to be a just and careful revolution that limits pushback


Guterres convened the summit to ensure countries are developing concrete, realistic pathways to enhance their pledges under the Paris climate treaty. He wanted world leaders to outline plans to become carbon-neutral by 2050, tackle subsidies for fossil fuels, implement taxes on carbon, and end new coal power beyond 2020.

Few predicted the summit would deliver the global change required. For the most part, world leaders lived up to these low expectations.

President of Guatemala Jimmy Morales speaks during the New York summit.
Justin Lane/EPA

The summit did not deliver

Under President Donald Trump, the United States had already pulled out of the Paris agreement – and its emissions continue to rise. China, arguably disincentivised to act without American participation, also failed to announce new targets and insisted developed nations should lead climate action efforts.

India outlined new plans for reaching emissions targets, but remains committed to coal projects well beyond 2020. And even the European Union, a traditional international leader on climate change ambition and action, did not announce a plan to reach carbon neutrality by 2050.

In a few bright spots, Slovakia confirmed that its subsidies to coal mines will end in 2023. Finland says it will be carbon-neutral by 2035, and Greece will reportedly close its brown coal plants by 2028.

But the disappointing showing by the world’s largest emitters means the summit was effectively a failure.

Australia: a climate summit wallflower

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison did not attend the summit – despite being in the US at the time. Foreign Minister Marise Payne attended but did not speak.

Morrison’s non-attendance largely reflected the position Australia took to the summit: ever-increasing emissions, no new mitigation targets beyond those announced in Paris, and no new strategies to reach the targets.




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Why our response to climate change needs to be a just and careful revolution that limits pushback


Morrison was in good company. His host, Trump, also did not attend, except for a brief entry to hear Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel speak.

Australia was not alone in failing to announce new climate action. But its wallflower status at the summit cemented its global reputation as a climate action laggard. Australia was also roundly criticised by our vulnerable neighbours at the Pacific Islands Forum in Tuvalu weeks before, confirming the growing gap between Australia’s climate action and its view of itself as a responsible global citizen.

US President Donald Trump and Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the opening of Pratt Paper Plant in Ohio this week.
AAP/Mick Tsikas

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that Andrew Highman, chief executive of global climate lobby group Mission 2020, said representatives from other countries had noticed Australia’s lack of participation.

“It is really very obvious who is absent from the room,” he reportedly said.

“Everyone is well aware that Australia has not made good on its promises in Paris to scale up its commitment to climate action.”

Where to now?

The World Meteorological Organisation said the five years to 2019 will likely be the hottest on record. We are in the midst of a climate crisis, and urgent action is clearly required.

Internationally, the challenge will be to create momentum in the face of US obstructionism and Chinese ambivalence. Guterres indicated he will continue to host these summits and will expect nations to pledge more specific and ambitious targets. Global protest action and mounting scientific reports of accelerating climate change may ramp up pressure for international action.

Youth in the crowd at the global climate strike in Melbourne on September 20.
James Ross/AAP

What about implications for Australian climate politics and policy? The US’ planned withdrawal from the Paris deal may have given Australia some cover for its own lack of climate action. But criticism from other international peers, including our Pacific neighbours, suggests that substantive action may be needed to achieve our foreign policy goals and restore our international reputation.

Pressure is also likely to build on the Morrison government at home. Opinion polls since 2012 have consistently shown growing public support for climate action, in the face of reduced government ambition. In the face of this, the federal government may eventually be prodded into meaningful action. But the climate clock is ticking fast.The Conversation

Matt McDonald, Associate Professor of International Relations, The University of Queensland

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

With 15 other children, Greta Thunberg has filed a UN complaint against 5 countries. Here’s what it’ll achieve


Juliette McIntyre, University of South Australia

Yesterday, climate activist Greta Thunberg joined 15 other children from around the world to submit a complaint – or “communication” – to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. They targeted Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey.

Ranging from nine to 17 years old, and from twelve different nations, the group includes a young Sami reindeer herder, a member of the Indigenous Yupiaq tribe, and teenagers from the Marshall Islands who fear their island home will vanish under rising sea levels.




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Their communication argues these countries are violating the standards set in the Convention of the Rights of the Child – which is run and monitored by the committee.

They allege these countries are:

recklessly causing and perpetuating life-threatening climate change [and] have failed to take necessary preventive and precautionary measures to respect, protect, and fulfill the petitioners’ rights.

In particular, the communication alleges the petitioners’ rights to life, health, and culture have been violated.

But whether or not the petitioners are successful, the mere act of filing the complaint has already brought the matter into the public eye.

Greta Thunberg gives a searing speech to world leaders at the UN Climate Action Summit.

So what role does the committee play? And can their claim actually change international climate policy?

Standing up for the rights of the child

The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is an international human rights treaty that concerns the right to protection and the economic, social, cultural and political development of all children.

And it’s the job of the Committee on the Rights of the Child – a group of 18 independent experts – to monitor the worldwide implementation of the convention’s standards.

The convention came into force in 1990 and is “the most rapidly and widely ratified human rights treaty in history”. All the countries of the world bar one – the United States – have ratified the treaty.

The CRC establishes global standards with respect to human rights as they apply to children. In particular, article 3 of the CRC requires:

in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

How the CRC works

The CRC committee has two functions. First, it oversees the implementation of the convention by receiving reports every five years from participating countries outlining the steps taken to fulfil their obligations.




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Information is also gathered from NGOs and other sources to identify areas of concern. For example, Australia’s last report to the committee was submitted in January 2018. It addressed issues such as the offshore detention of child refugees.

The Australian government appeared before the committee on September 9 and 10, and the committee’s recommendations will be received by the end of this week.

But the second, relatively new, function of the committee permits an individual, or group of individuals, submit a communication arguing their rights have been violated. This “Optional Protocol” – adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2011 – is what Greta Thunberg and the 15 other children are using.

Communications may only be made in respect of countries that have ratified the Optional Protocol and, to date, only 45 out of the 196 state parties have done so. Australia, the United States, Great Britain and China are among those countries that have not signed or ratified.

Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany and Turkey have ratified the Optional Protocol and have also ratified the substantive international legal obligations relating to climate change. As Greta recently tweeted, this is why these particular five countries were selected.

What next?

There are a number of procedural legal hurdles that must be cleared before the committee can address the substance of the issue.

First, it must be determined if the communication is actually admissible, which includes whether the petitioners have exhausted the legal options in their home countries for addressing their concerns.

But while Thunberg and her co-petitioners have not brought any actions in state or federal courts it may be the committee allows the matter to proceed anyway, since taking such action may have been “unreasonably prolonged or unlikely to bring effective relief”.

Second, the committee must rule on jurisdiction, as the obligations of the CRC only apply to each child within a country’s jurisdiction.

Some of the petitioners meet this requirement by virtue of their nationality or residence, but the communication makes a broader claim: any child is within the jurisdiction of a country when its polluting activity impacts the rights of children, within or outside that country’s territory.

This is a very significant claim: essentially, that carbon pollution leading to climate change violates the rights of children worldwide.

Only once these hurdles are cleared will the committee investigate the substance of the complaints, proceed to a hearing, and make recommendations to any country responsible for violation.

Are they likely to succeed?

The success of the claims may seem a foregone conclusion, as the committee is one of five UN human rights treaty bodies to recently issue a joint declaration stating: “climate change poses significant risks to the enjoyment” of human rights. And that climate change is “a children’s rights crisis” seems an inevitable conclusion.

Still, the communication must clear all the legal hurdles set out above.

But even should the committee agree with Thunberg, the options for redress are limited. After the committee transmits its views and recommendations, they’ll follow up six months later to see if its recommendations have been implemented.




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If they haven’t, there’s not much the committee can do to compel a country to take action.

But the committee’s conclusions are not without impact. Its views and recommendations are strong advocacy tools.

Alongside the school strikes, the communication is part of a broad campaign designed to focus political attention on the issue of urgent action on climate change.The Conversation

Juliette McIntyre, Lecturer in Law, University of South Australia

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

Australia to attend climate summit empty-handed despite UN pleas to ‘come with a plan’



The Port Kembla industrial area in NSW. Industry emissions can be cut by improving efficiency, shifting to electricity and closing old plants.
Dean Lewins/AAP

Frank Jotzo, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

This story is part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of more than 250 news outlets to strengthen coverage of the climate story.

Climate action will be on the world stage again at a meeting of world leaders in New York on September 23. The United Nations has convened the event and urged countries to “come with a plan” for ambitious emissions reduction.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres called the meeting because he says global efforts to tackle climate change are running off-track. He wants leaders to present concrete, realistic pathways to strengthen their existing national emissions pledges and move towards net zero emissions by 2050.

Australia is not expected to propose any significant new actions or goals. Prime Minister Scott Morrison – in the US at the time to visit President Donald Trump – will not attend the summit. Foreign Minister Marise Payne will attend, and is likely to have to fend off heavy criticism over Australia’s slow progress on climate action.

Australia: procrastinator or paragon?

Australia has gained an international reputation as a climate action laggard – plagued by political acrimony over climate change, offering few policies to reduce emissions and embroiled in diplomatic rifts with our Pacific neighbours over, among other things, support for coal.

For many afar, it is difficult to understand the policy vacuum in a country so vulnerable to climate change.

In turn, the federal government points out that Australia is one of the few countries that has fully met its emissions reductions targets under the Kyoto protocol period to 2020, and says that it expects to meet the 2030 Paris emissions targets.

An island in the low-lying Pacific nation of Tuvalu, which is threatened by inundation from rising seas.
Mick Tsikas/AAP

Come with a plan, and make it good

The landmark Paris agreement includes a global goal to hold average temperature increase to well below 2°C and pursue efforts to keep warming below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Countries set so-called “nationally determined contributions” (NDCs) outlining an emissions reduction target and how they will get there.




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Australia set a target to reduce emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030. Under the Paris treaty, the national pledges should be reviewed and strengthened every five years.

The UN convened the summit to ensure countries are developing concrete, realistic pathways to enhance their NDCs. The new pledges should be in line with a 45% cut to global greenhouse gas emissions over the next decade, and net-zero emissions by 2050.

Australia’s emissions are rising

Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions are about 12% lower than in 2005, the base year for the Paris target. But since 2013 they have steadily risen, and are continuing to rise.

In the electricity sector, recent declines in coal-fired power and increases in renewables are reducing carbon output. But those savings are being negated by rises in the gas industry and from transport.

Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, past and projected. Data drawn from Department of the Environment and Energy report titled ‘Australia’s emissions projections 2018’
Department of the Environment and Energy

Nevertheless, the Australian government is loudly confident of reaching the Paris target – including by using a large amount of accumulated credits from the Kyoto Protocol period. On average, Australia stayed below the Kyoto emissions budgets from 2008 to 2020, and the plan is to count this “carry-over” against an expected overshoot in the period to 2030.

This may be compatible with the Paris Agreement rule book. But it would receive scorn from countries that care about climate commitments. The Kyoto targets were not in line with the ambition now spelled out in the Paris agreement, and Australia’s Kyoto targets are seen by many countries as lax.

We could do so much better

With meaningful policy effort, Australia could meet the Paris target without resorting to Kyoto credits, and possibly meet a much more ambitious target. This would set us up better for deeper cuts down the road.

Rapid and large emissions reductions could be made in the electricity sector – especially if the investment boom in renewables of the last two years were to continue. However the latest indications are that renewables investment is tailing off.

The transition to renewables is transforming the electricity sector. Pictured: a high voltage electricity transmission tower in central Brisbane.
Darren England/AAP

Large improvements can readily be made in transport by shifting to electric vehicles and improving the rather dismal fuel efficiency of conventional cars still sold in Australia. Gas and coal use in industry can be cut by improving efficiency and shifting to electricity, and by phasing out some old energy-hungry and often uneconomic plants like aluminium smelters.

The gas industry can do better through improved management of leaks and reduced venting of methane; we can also improve agricultural practices and land management.




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The transition in the energy sector will definitely happen, based on the cost advantage of renewables, unless governments actively stand in the way. The question is how quickly and smoothly it will happen.

The advantages of the renewables transition extend beyond our shores. Solar and wind energy could be converted to carbon-free hydrogen and other zero-emissions fuels at massive scale and then exported. Electricity could also be sent through undersea cables to Asia.

This is shaping up as a real possibility, depending on technology costs and whether the world kicks the fossil fuel habit.

Outside electricity generation, policy measures are needed to achieve, or at least encourage, these changes. A price on carbon like many countries now have, would do a very good job, combined with the right regulation and public investment.

Cattle stir up dust on a property outside Condobolin in NSW’s central west. Most of the nation is currently gripped by drought.
Dean Lewins/AAP

2050: defining a strategy

Limiting the risk of catastrophic climate change demands that global emissions fall rapidly in coming decades. Keeping temperature rise to 2°C or less means reducing emissions to net-zero.

Australia will be expected to table strategies to get to net-zero by 2050 next year, at the UN’s climate COP, or “conference of the parties”. That process should be a chance for Australian governments, industry and civil society to put heads together about how this could work.




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The year 2050 is beyond the horizon of most corporate interests vested in existing assets, and it allows greater emphasis on long term opportunities than on short term adjustments. This should encourage a more open discussion than the often acrimonious debates about 2030 emissions targets and short-term policies.

Australia should show the world it can imagine a zero-emissions future, and hatch the beginnings of a plan for it. It would help position the nation’s resources industries for the future and help with our international reputation.The Conversation

Frank Jotzo, Director, Centre for Climate and Energy Policy, Crawford School of Public Policy, Australian National University

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