The future of Australian coal: an unbankable deposit



File 20170502 17263 10ykrtv

AAP/Paul Miller

David Holmes, Monash University

The news last week that Australia’s oldest bank, Westpac, has withdrawn from any prospect of financing Adani’s Carmichael coal mine may well be the death knell for the controversial project. The Conversation

Westpac is the last of the big four Australian banks to have ruled out investing in Adani. ANZ declared its move away from mining in December 2016. The Commonwealth Bank and NAB dissociated themselves from Adani in August and September 2015.

The move means that, even if the Northern Australia Infrastructure Fund proceeds with a A$1 billion subsidy for the mine in the form of a dedicated, “private” railroad for Adani to export the coal, the mine is unlikely to proceed. The timing of Westpac’s decision may be a response to the multiple campaigns being launched against Adani, including consumer activism targeting the bank itself.

Westpac may have perceived these campaigns could have an impact on its customer base, and the savings accounts that underwrite its lending revenue stream. It responded with an update to its position statement on climate change. The statement specifies terminating financing mines with coal quality of less than 6,300 calories per kilo – which rules out Adani’s lower-quality coal from funding.

This is significant beyond just ruling out Adani. Westpac is the first of the big four banks to put restrictions on new thermal coal mines. This signals the largest financial players in Australia are accelerating the transition away from coal, and – as the position statement outlines – toward increasing lending to renewables and energy efficiency projects by two-thirds.

Climate solutions finance group Market Forces’ executive director Julien Vincent said Westpac has “raised the bar” on climate change for the other banks. Whereas banks used to watch each other for who was going to pass on interest rate cuts, it seems now they are also mindful of who is doing the most for climate change.

But even without its new position statement, Westpac could not expose itself to the obvious risks of funding a project that will so rapidly devolve from a global climate pariah to a fossilised stranded asset.

According to a report from 2011 on climate-change issues for the Land Court of Queensland’s hearing of objections to the grant of Adani’s mining lease:

The cumulative emissions related to this mine … are amongst the highest in the world for any individual project, and – to the knowledge of the authors – the highest in the Southern Hemisphere.

Given our current atmospheric CO₂ is 407.5ppm, this gives us 43ppm left to keep warming under 1.5℃, according to IPCC trajectories. Even at Adani’s own conservative estimates that it will emit 4.7 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, which is almost 11% of the remaining global carbon budget.

1.5℃ of committed warming presents an adaptation nightmare for coastal communities around the world. This level is almost approaching the Emian period of 120,000 years ago, when sea levels were six-to-nine metres higher than they are today.

So, while Westpac still has a way to go before it gets off the Market Forces watch-list of fossil-fuel-friendly banks, it has managed to avoid an investment and PR disaster.

Westpac would have studied India’s electricity plan, released in December, which abandoned building any new coal-fired power stations in the next decade in favour of 350 gigawatts of new solar and wind power. Over the weekend, Shadow Environment Minister Mark Butler pointed out that the Modi government has said it intends to phase out thermal coal imports entirely by 2020.

But this did not stop Barnaby Joyce, on Q&A on Monday night, wheeling out the much-discredited argument that Australia has a “moral obligation” to help India keep its lights on. This is actually morally bankrupt when you consider that India is planning to look after itself with renewables.

The turning tide has not stopped The Australian newspaper from doing all it can to support the mine. This has included giving plenty of airtime to Resources Minister Matt Canavan, who last week labelled Westpac “wimps” for abandoning the mine. The Australian reported over the weekend that Canavan met with Guatam Adani in Brisbane, and was “confident the project would get the finance it needed from other lenders”.

But The Australian has been doing the heavy lifting for Adani’s PR campaign for some time now. Post-Cyclone-Debbie articles in April talked up the mine’s declared “huge economic benefits”. One front page headline declared:

Shorten isolated over Adani mine opposition (Unions, mayors, ALP premier unite to back coal project) (April 12)

And there was a blatant editorial promotion of the mine on April 18, entitled:

Adani project offers fresh hope

The April 12 edition even included a front page comment by Simon Benson, that:

Bill Shorten’s repositioning on the Adani coalmine in north Queensland appears to be yet another political retreat into the inner-city streets of leftist fanaticism.

What such a campaign tells us is it seems to be crunch-time for the mine – and the future of the entire Galilee Basin, whose coal deposits will be made to look a little more viable if that railway gets built.

But opposition to the railway subsidy has surfaced in the most unlikely of quarters. Sydney shockjock Alan Jones has weighed in, denouncing the subsidy as a case of taxpayers funding a private venture that is not in the national interest.

Paradoxically, Jones ended his outrage by comparing funding Adani with subsidising windfarms, for which Australians – both present and future – are direct beneficiaries in so many ways. But both The Australian and Jones have ignored the the big story on investment into renewables.

Whereas a giant coal-mining company has taken seven long years to realise no-one is listening – except for major political parties, perhaps eager for political donations they are accustomed to from the mining industry – investors can’t get enough of renewables. Investment opportunities for community projects have been selling out within minutes.

Grassroots solar projects are in high demand for investors. Fifty such projects have been established across Australia and are backed by $24 million. But the ABC reports Australia lags behind Scotland, Denmark and Germany, which all have extensive energy co-operatives that are promoting wind more than solar.

With an average of 7% return on investment, the appetite for such projects in Australia is obviously strong. And it will only take local communities and small businesses to be better organised to take advantage of the renewables investment revolution. At the very least, the remarkable appetite for renewables investment will drive the large banks and lending institutions to service this growing market.


With thanks to Tahnee Burgess for research assistance on this article.

David Holmes, Senior Lecturer, Communications and Media Studies, Monash University

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

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154 Australian scientists demand climate policy that matches the science


James Whitmore, The Conversation

154 Australian experts have signed on open letter to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull demanding urgent action on climate change that matches the dire warnings coming from climate scientists.

The letter, organised by Australian National University climatologist Andrew Glikson, calls on the federal government to make “meaningful reductions of Australia’s peak carbon emissions and coal exports, while there is still time”.

Signatories include leading climate and environmental scientists such as the Climate Council’s Tim Flannery, Will Steffen, and Lesley Hughes, as well as reef scientists Ove Hoegh-Guldberg and Charlie Veron.

They point out that July 2016 was the hottest month ever recorded, and followed a nine-month streak of record-breaking months. Average carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million (ppm) in 2015, and are rising at a rate of nearly 3 ppm each year.

The world is already witnessing the effects of climate change, the letter argues, including an increase in extreme weather events, melting of the polar ice sheets, and ocean acidification.

Australia, along with 179 other nations, has signed the climate treaty brokered in Paris last year, aiming to limit average global warming to “well below 2℃ above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5℃”.

However Glikson warned that “the Paris Agreement, being non-binding, is in danger of not being fulfilled by many of the signatories”. The deal will not enter into force until it is ratified by 55 nations accounting for at least 55% of the world’s greenhouse emissions.

Glikson called for action to “transition from carbon-emitting technologies to alternative clean energy as fast as possible, and focus technology on draw-down (sequestration) of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere”.

Australia’s current greenhouse gas target, which it took to December’s Paris climate summit, calls for emissions to be reduced by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030. It has been widely criticised by experts as not ambitious enough.

Andrew Blakers, professor of engineering at the Australian National University, said Australia could reduce emissions by two-thirds by 2030 “at negligible cost”.

He said the falling cost of renewable energy, particularly solar and wind, the replacement of gas with electricity for heating, and the advent of electric vehicles would eliminate most emissions. Solar and wind installation, currently at 1 gigawatt each year, would need to be increased to 2.5 gigawatts each year to reach 100% renewable energy by 2030.

Remaining emissions, from shipping, aviation, and industry, could be eliminated after 2030 at slightly higher costs.

Lesley Hughes, a member of the Climate Council and professor at Macquarie University, said there were a number of factors causing the gap between science and policy, including vested interests, perception of economic downsides of climate action, ideological biases, and inertia in the system from current investment in fossil fuels. But she said the “most important issue” was the difficulty in convincing people to act to reduce risk decades in the future.

The Climate Change Authority, which advises the government on climate policy, in 2014 recommended Australia adopt a target of 40-60% below 2000 levels by 2030.

In a report released yesterday, The Climate Institute highlighted that aiming for 1.5℃ instead of 2℃ would avoid longer heatwaves and droughts, and give the Great Barrier Reef a better chance of survival.

The institute recommended that Australia adopt an emissions reduction target of 65% below 2005 levels by 2030 and phase out coal power by 2035.

The Conversation

James Whitmore, Editor, Environment & Energy, The Conversation

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

Unique Australian wildlife risks vanishing as ecosystems suffer death by a thousand cuts


Ayesha Tulloch, Australian National University; James Watson, The University of Queensland; Jeremy Ringma, The University of Queensland; Megan Barnes, The University of Queensland, and Richard Fuller, The University of Queensland

Australia is renowned globally for its vast expanses of untouched wilderness. But for anyone who has travelled across its breadth, the myth of Australia’s pristine wilderness is quickly debunked as evidence of human impact spreads before the eye.

Most ecosystems have suffered huge losses. In a recent study, we looked at the magnitude of land clearing since European settlement. Some ecosystems have been devastated.

There are 75 major terrestrial ecosystems or vegetation communities in Australia, each of which are composed of hundreds of smaller communities of plants and animals. As you can see from the map below, many have been cleared extensively.

Much of Australia’s vegetation communities have been extensively cleared – the worst hit ecosystems occur in the south-west and east.
Ayesha Tulloch

Six of these 75 terrestrial ecosystems have lost 50% or more of their original extent which, combined, originally added to almost a million square kilometres. The worst hit are some of the mallee ecosystems in southern Australia, suffering up to 97% loss.

The temperate eucalypt woodlands of south-east Australia previously covered more than a million square kilometres. Now there are less than half that, having been cleared for agriculture and urban development.

Among these areas are some of the most biodiverse woodland communities on Earth, including the critically endangered Box-Gum Grassy Woodland, which has been reduced to less than 10% of its pre-1750 extent.

The critically endangered Box-gum Grassy Woodlands near Young in south-eastern Australia are now largely made up of small patches.
Ayesha Tulloch

The loss hasn’t been confined to trees. Temperate grasslands have lost 80%. Even the open woodland habitats across the north – which have a fraction of the people of the east and are considered the last great savannah wilderness on Earth – have lost 20-30% of their extent largely as a result of pastoral activities.

First cleared, then cut to pieces

But that’s not the worst of it.

As well as the declines in the extent of almost every vegetated ecosystem in Australia, most ecosystems are increasingly fragmented. That is, the ecosystem occurs in smaller and smaller patches surrounded by agriculture, urbanisation, and corridors such as roads and railways.

Many Australian vegetation communities now occur in small patches. Startlingly, one in five Australian vegetation communities have more than half of their remaining extent in patches smaller than 10 square kilometres. This has serious consequences for the species inhabiting these systems.

Most ecosystems in Australia (such as this temperate eucalypt woodland near Gundagai) have been fragmented through clearing from large, adjoining patches of vegetation into thousands more smaller patches.
Ayesha Tulloch

The brigalow forests and woodlands of Queensland contain the only remaining populations of a number of unique species, including the endemic Retro Slider, Brigalow Scaly-foot and Golden-tailed Gecko. Brigalow previously covered almost 100,000 square kilometres of inland Queensland – bigger than Tasmania.

Brigalow has been affected by the double jeopardy of high loss (87%) and high fragmentation. Two-thirds of its remaining extent is in patches smaller than 50 square kilometres.

The Golden-tailed Gecko is a habitat specialist dependent on Brigalow that has been extensively cleared and fragmented.
Jeremy Ringma

In the far north, the Mahogany Glider, one of Australia’s most threatened tree-dwelling mammals, is dependent on lowland tropical rainforest for its survival.

Lowland rainforest is highly vulnerable to loss of small patches – half of its remaining extent consists of patches smaller than 15 square kilometres. The continuous erosion of small patches of rainforest will certainly lead to the extinction of the Mahogany Glider, as well as declines in and extinctions of many other species surviving in small patches around Australia.

Time for new way of thinking

Current environmental policy means we continue to degrade nature at a rapid pace. Clearing of remnant vegetation in Queensland alone nearly doubled from 520 square kilometres in 2012-13 to 950 square kilometres in 2013-14, and nearly quadrupled since 2009-10. The Queensland Labor government has vowed to reform land clearing laws that contributed to this increase.

Patches smaller than five hectares can be routinely cleared without permits. Small patches such as these are mostly ignored by conservation activities, and instead, policies in fragmented landscapes largely focus on keeping remaining large patches intact. This will not be enough to save some ecosystems.

Well over 1,100 square kilometres of remnant vegetation patches have been approved for clearing for High Value Agriculture in Queensland. On a single property in the north, almost 580 square kilometres was recently cleared to make way for high-value agriculture such as sorghum and soy beans.

Patches smaller than 50 square kilometres comprise up to half of the remaining extent of many of the vegetation communities around Australia and are still being cleared. White areas represent no remaining vegetation
Ayesha Tulloch

These cleared ecosystems contained vulnerable and endangered birds such as the Red Goshawk. Satellite analysis has detected unexplained, possibly illegal, broadscale clearing of small vegetation patches in many parts of Queensland that are still mapped as regulated remnant. Much of this clearing is occurring in places where we identified high vulnerability to loss of small patches, such as the tropical rainforests in the far northeast of Australia.

The Red Goshawk is a habitat specialist and Australia’s rarest bird of prey. Land clearing in northern and eastern Australia is a major threat to the species.
James Watson

Policies urgently need to change at state and federal levels. We need to stop the clearing of vegetation communities and fragments. For example, the arbitrary five hectare threshold for land clearing in Queensland needs to be re-evaluated. These thresholds should instead be tailored to each ecosystem.

Globally we need to stop thinking only about the total amount of vegetation loss and consider size and number of remaining fragments. This will be crucial for assessing the health of ecosystems and protecting remnants.

Since most remaining vegetation is on private land, landholders will need incentives to retain small patches, and developers will need a way of choosing between two patches to ensure economic growth and resource consumption needs can still be met.

The long-term consequences of policy inaction is the slow, inevitable decline of remaining vegetation communities, and further loss of the species dependent on them: a death by a thousand cuts.

The Conversation

Ayesha Tulloch, Research Fellow, Australian National University; James Watson, Associate professor, The University of Queensland; Jeremy Ringma, PhD Candidate, Conservation Biology, The University of Queensland; Megan Barnes, PhD Student in Conservation Science, The University of Queensland, and Richard Fuller, Associate professor, The University of Queensland

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

The best places to see Australian birds this summer


Rochelle Steven, Griffith University

So, you’re looking for something to do this holiday season that is outdoors but close to home and won’t cost the earth (literally and figuratively). But you want something more than the average stroll through a national park.

Did you know there are over 300 areas in Australia identified for having populations of birds that are significant in terms of their ecology and conservation?

The Important Bird and Biodiversity Area (IBA) network was established in Australia in 2009 by then Birds Australia (now BirdLife Australia). Australia joined the program in the wake of multiple other countries and regions that have joined BirdLife International in their quest to draw attention to key areas for bird conservation globally.

Sites are assessed for potential inclusion in the network based on the presence of trigger bird species at threshold population numbers.

About 50% of the Australian network overlaps with protected areas (e.g. national parks), and the remaining 50% falls in private and other public lands. Many are accessible for visitors in search of rewarding birdwatching (aka birding) experiences.

If you haven’t discovered the enjoyment to be had in picking up a pair of binoculars and challenging yourself to identify the birds you find in your view, you are missing out!

Australia has some of the most amazing birds in the world. Tim Low has written about the marvels of Aussie birds in his book Where Song Began (2014).

A Satin Bowerbird in Queensland.

There are books that have been published recently outlining numerous spots worth a visit (e.g. Finding Australian Birds by Dolby and Clarke; Best 100 Birdwatching Sites in Australia by Taylor).

Many sites can be found within a couple of hours drive or less of the big cities. You can go birding independently, or if you really want a fruitful day, you can hire a local bird tour guide who will happily share their skills and knowledge of birds in your area.

Bird tour operators can be found in all capital cities, and recent research published in PLOS ONE shows they visit important bird areas frequently during their tours. Without further ado, here is your guide to the best places for birding close to some of our main cities.

Sydney

Greater Blue Mountains and Richmond Woodlands IBAs provide the chances to see species like the Regent Honeyeater or Flame Robin. Other trigger species here include: Swift Parrot, Yellow-faced Honeyeater, Pilotbird, Rockwarbler and Diamond Firetail.

Diamond Firetail
David Cook/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Melbourne

Werribee and Avalon IBA is arguably Australia’s most popular birding destination among domestic birders. Access to the main birding site (the Western Treatment Plant) site requires a permit from Melbourne Water.

Cheetham and Altona IBA is open access via Altona Coastal Park and Point Cook Coastal Park. Both areas are winners for waterbirds and shorebirds.

Many shorebirds arrive in Melbourne’s wetlands from the Northern Hemisphere.
Rochelle Steven

Brisbane and Gold Coast

Moreton Bay and Pumicestone Passage IBA covers the extent of the coast from north Brisbane down the Gold Coast Broadwater. This IBA is an important site for migratory shorebirds that rest here after their epic journey flying from Alaska or Siberia.

Heading inland the Scenic Rim IBA overlaps with Lamington National Park and visitors to this IBA can be treated to excellent views of the Satin and Regent Bowerbirds. You might even get to see the Albert’s Lyrebird scurrying through the rainforest floor.

Satin Bowerbird
Rochelle Steven

Cairns

Daintree and the Coastal Wet Tropics IBAs provide rainforest experiences like no other. The list of trigger species for these IBAs is very long, but on the top is the Southern Cassowary.

You don’t see the cassowary, but the cassowary sees you.
Madeleine Deaton/Flickr, CC BY

Darwin

Alligator River Floodplains IBA and Adelaide and Mary River Floodplains IBA comprise the extensive river networks east of Darwin. Kakadu National Park overlaps with the former IBA, and Fogg Dam with the latter. At the very least, a trip to Fogg Dam is a must where Magpie Geese and Wandering Whistling Ducks gather in large flocks, giving awesome views.

Magpie geese congregate in huge flocks in the Top End.
Ewen Bell/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Perth

Bindoon-Julimar and Peel-Harvey Estuary IBAs overlap with numerous nature reserves, providing good access for day trippers. Shorebirds and ducks are in good numbers at Peel-Harvey, whereas Bindoon-Julimar provides the chance to see some woodland species such as Red-capped Parrot and Western Spinebill.

The Western Spinebill has a sweet tooth and feeds on nectar.
Julia Gross/Flickr, CC BY

Hobart

Bruny Island and South-east Tasmania IBAs are some of the best places to see birds found in Tasmania and nowhere else. The Forty-spotted Pardalote is a little bird that attracts big attention from birders, together with the Tasmanian Native-hen.

Spot the Forty-spotted Pardalote in southern Tasmania.
Francesco Veronesi/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Adelaide

There are fewer than 50 orange-bellied parrots in the wild: you’ll be lucky to see one.
Ron Knight/Flickr, CC BY

Lakes Alexandrina and Albert IBA is a great spot to see another sought after bird, the Cape Barren Goose. Large flocks of Australian Shelduck are also on offer here. If you are truly lucky you will see the Orange-bellied Parrot, but they are on the decline so be quick.

Kangaroo Island IBA is more than likely a weekend trip, but well worth it to see the waterbirds and shorebirds on offer. The Western Whipbird is an often heard but rarely seen resident and you have a good chance of seeing the Purple-gaped Honeyeater here also.

If you would like to take your birding to the next level, and get involved in bird conservation visit www.birdlife.org.au to find out more.

The Conversation

Rochelle Steven, Researcher – Environmental Futures Research Institute, Griffith School of Environment, Griffith University, Griffith University

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

After Paris, the future of Australian coal is downhill


Gary Ellem, University of Newcastle

The ink is barely dry on the Paris climate agreement and the debate has already started on how the deal will affect the future of fossil fuels, particularly coal.

Following the deal on Sunday, the mining industry has responded that Australian coal will remain an important provider of affordable energy to developing countries. The industry argues new low emissions technologies will keep coal in business as the world cuts carbon.

Foreign minister Julie Bishop echoed the sentiment in Paris last week, stating “coal-fired power generation is here to stay.”

The agreement aims to limit global temperature rise to less than 2℃, with an aspiration of 1.5℃. So what is the future of coal in a world that meets these temperature limits?

Who’s going to build the new coal infrastructure?

Keeping warming “well below 2℃ above preindustrial levels and pursuing efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5℃” essentially means all new electricity generation from now on must be zero emissions or have a short amortisation life. Current emissions-intensive generation will also have to be phased out in line with the end of its initial design life.

Most coal in Australia is mined to be exported. For Australian coal exports to continue to play a significant role in our balance of trade, we must have international customers.

Australia produces both thermal coal for electricity and metallurgical coal for manufacturing, which is exported mainly to countries in Asia. Some of these customers, such as China and India, have their own coal production sectors, which produce significantly more coal than Australia. Others, such as Japan, are completely import dependent.

Whichever way the coal is used, it will add to the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere unless these emission are captured by carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies.

The infrastructure that will power our international customers’ electricity grids, steel and cement plants in 2050 largely hasn’t been built yet. In a less than 2℃ world, all of this infrastructure will have to be close to zero emissions. In a 1.5℃ world, any remaining emissions will have to be offset.

This means that if our customers decide to stay with coal, they will have to replace their existing infrastructure with new infrastructure incorporating carbon capture and storage, and even further offset emissions for a 1.5℃ future with the use of biomass.

It’s clear that China has already opted for an anything but coal policy. The policy future for India is not so clear, but they are clearly planning to be more self sufficient in coal production regardless of climate objectives. Neither of these look good for the future of Australian coal exports in either the short or long term.

The competition is heating up

The Australian coal export sector is threatened by both the rise of competing technologies and other suppliers.

Competing technologies in the electricity generation space are numerous and include nuclear as well as a swathe of renewable energy technologies that are becoming cheaper and more practical.

It’s clear that carbon capture and storage technologies have failed in the current competition environment as a cheap alternative to the other low and zero-emissions technologies such as renewables. Coal has rapidly ceded ground to gas, wind, hydro and solar in key markets such as the US and China.

The long-term outlook for coal for electricity then, is shaky at best. Australia is competing for market share in a shrinking market. The International Energy Agency report quoted by the Minerals Council for a rosy coal future is very clear that the modelling is based on the continuation of pre-Paris trends rather than the Paris agreement.

Even the well-trodden claims that intermittent renewables can’t supply the baseload power normally supplied by coal are looking flaky. Energy storage in the form of batteries in particular is rapidly getting cheaper and building in production capacity. A number of different battery types including lithium ion, sodium ion, aluminium ion and liquid metal batteries are all in development with on grid storage markets in mind.

The outlook for metallurgical coal may be more promising, simply because there are fewer technologies to compete.

Coal is used predominantly in blast furnaces to convert iron ore into metallic iron. Blast furnaces use coking coal to hold iron ore in place, while cheaper Pulverised Coal Injection (or PCI) coal is used to remove oxygen from the iron.

PCI coal can be replaced by charcoal from plants, reducing emissions by 18% to 40%. But there’s no current replacement for coking coal used in a blast furnace.

The Hismelt process from Rio Tinto can convert iron ore to new iron without the need for coking coal. But this technology is in its commercial infancy.

Should we rely on the Australian coal industry?

The coal industry has played an important role in the development of Australia as a modern industrialised economy. It has formed the basis for energy security in the Australian electricity sector and our domestic steel sector.

In more recent times, coal has been a major export commodity for Australia and has also powered the export-focused aluminium sector. Despite all of these great achievements, it’s hard to see a long-term positive future for the industry in a global marketplace looking for competitive solutions to their 2℃ and 1.5℃ needs.

Innovation is borne of constraint however, and it will be good for all of us if carbon capture and storage could be made cheap enough and deployable enough for widespread use. There are reasons for pursuing this technology besides coal. Carbon capture and storage can be combined with bioenergy in the form of BECCS to develop one of the few large-scale ways in which we may actively remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Given the likely demise of this substantial national export industry over the next few decades, we would be wise to think about what other innovative opportunities we can draw from the sector while it still has scale. Our coal miners are in the energy industry, but we would be foolish and simplistic if we think the only replacement industries emerging from coal is renewable energy.

We have a coal export industry simply because we have an area of natural advantage in coal i.e. high quality coal resources with rail and port access. We are yet to identify an equivalent area of natural advantage in renewables that could power a similarly scaled export industry. Yes we have sun and wind in abundance, but there is no real mechanism yet to export that to an international market.

But all is not lost. Mines are large consumers of energy and technology resources and have management responsibilities for significant tracts of the Australian landscape.

With the right guidance and incentives, the industry may yet lay the foundations for a sustainable legacy for our national economy and local communities in exportable products such as an innovative approach to professional services, transport technology and high intensity food production.


Gary will be on hand for an Author Q&A between 10 and 11am AEST on Wednesday, December 16, 2015. Post your questions in the comments section below.

The Conversation

Gary Ellem, Conjoint Academic in Sustainability, University of Newcastle

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

Harry Butler Has Died


The link below is to an article reporting on the death of naturalist Harry Butler, an icon of the Australian bush.

For more visit:
http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/dec/12/harry-butler-tv-presenter-and-conservationist-dies-at-85

Stop the miners: you can help Australia’s birds by planting native gardens


Kathryn Teare Ada Lambert, University of New England

Some Australian birds are pushing out other species, and even damaging trees. Noisy and bell miners are two of Australia’s most aggressive bird species. Found throughout eastern Australia, in recent years their numbers have increased at the expense of our smaller birds.

Both species are spreading to new areas, largely due to human destruction of habitat. Noisy miners are able to invade areas where habitat has been modified, particularly gardens.

Bell miners, meanwhile, can invade areas that have invasions of weeds in the understorey such as blackberry and lantana that they use for nesting.

The good news is we can help stop the spread of these birds, by putting native plants in our gardens.

Masked mobster: noisy miners are increasing in number and spreading at the expense of smaller birds.
Kathryn Lambert, Author provided

Good birds gone bad

Both species of these miners (genus Manorina) have been found to reduce bird diversity through their aggressive behaviour, and have been associated with eucalypt dieback.

Human disturbance has been linked to increasing numbers of noisy miners. One study in the box-ironbark forests of southeast Australia, found that noisy miners an move into areas of smaller fragments and unhealthy trees.

They then chase away other birds, reducing the number of species and potentially having knock-on effects on ecosystems. The problem is so serious that noisy miners are listed as a national threatening process.

More research is needed to find out why bell miners are becoming more common. But our research has found that bell miners show similar behaviour to noisy miners. They have a distinctive call that travels for tens of metres through the forest.

Bell miners cause Bell Miner Associated Dieback in trees. It is thought that their feeding and breeding behaviours lead to the death of eucalypts on the east coast of Australia. They also take over habitat that would be used by other birds.

Bell miners are known for their loud calls.
Sascha Wenninger/Flickr, CC BY-SA

Are the birds to blame?

Where miners are normally found in lower numbers, disturbances by people can tip the balance in their favour. This includes increasing noise levels, removing corridors of connecting native vegetation, creating gardens with exotic plants, building cities, houses, parks, logging and introducing invasive species that create thick understories.

These disturbances increase the habitat available for these two species, allowing them to increase in number and drive out the smaller birds that compete for their food sources.

Noisy miners particularly favour open areas that don’t have thickets of shrubs of smaller trees underneath the canopy. Conversely, bell miners prefer thick understoreys, particularly those create by introduced weeds such as lantana.

So if we are causing these birds to increase in number, how can we reduce their numbers and re-create the original habitat where all species could co-exist?

Build a bird-friendly garden

You need to create a multi-layered habitat of ground covers, small and medium shrubs, and trees that provide food and shelter locations all year for a variety of species.

These plant species need to have diverse structures, and should be close together to form dense, protective thickets, including climbers within medium-to-tall shrubs and trees, nectar-bearing and seed-bearing plants. Mulch can also encourage insect life for insectivorous birds.

Plants should also be local species that grow naturally in the area and are suited to the climate. Native birds that live in the area will then visit your garden as another food source in their territory.

A bird-friendly garden.
Karthryn Lambert, Author provided

Reducing weeds in your garden and neighbouring bushland (many weeds are derived from garden plants) can help native species. General natives can also be planted if you can’t find local natives in your local nursery.

Even in gardens where noisy miners dominate, smaller birds can survive in a dense understorey.

Meanwhile, a thin midstorey with fewer leaves may help to reduce bell miner abundance, as suggested by our recent study near Kyogle, New South Wales.

You should also consider the timing of flower and fruit production, to ensure that there is always food available for birds. You should also remove fruiting plants such as cotoneaster and blackberry that attract predators such as currawongs, to help reduce predation on smaller bird species.

Using chemical-free weed and pest control and mulching garden waste can also increase the food available for birds.

Lawns can also be replaced with native grasses that produce seed to attract finches and other seed-eaters such as crimson rosellas. Birds also need fresh water, which you can provide with a pond or bird bath. This should be placed within vegetation to ensure birds feel safe from predators.

Why are native gardens important?

Local biodiversity can be maintained by native gardens, ensuring long-term ecological sustainability. Small birds and other wildlife benefit from planting native species.

Many species are negatively affected by the current structure of gardens such as lawns, few scattered trees and the placement of concrete and houses without any access to nesting habitat.

Gardening in Australia needs to be changed to favour more native species and provide structure on a landscape scale that includes a variety of gardens.

The Conversation

Kathryn Teare Ada Lambert, Research Associate, University of New England

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