Majority of Australians in favour of banning new coal mines: Lowy poll


Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraMore than six in ten Australians – 63% – support a ban on new coal mines opening in Australia, according to the Lowy Institute’s Climate Poll 2021.

A similar proportion would favour reducing Australian coal exports to other countries.

“Australian views of coal exports and coal mines … appear to have shifted significantly in recent years,” the report says.

Only three in ten people would back the federal government providing subsidies for building new coal-fired power plants.

There are notable age differences in attitudes to coal. More than seven in ten (72%) of those aged 18–44 support banning new coal mines, but only 55% of people over 45.

The government’s “gas-fired recovery” has majority support – 58% back increasing the use of gas for generating energy.

The poll found most people want Australia to have more ambitious climate policies ahead of the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow late this year.

Seven in ten people say Australia should join other countries, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, to increase its commitments to address climate change.

Some 60% say Australia is doing too little to combat climate change. But Australians are critical of other countries for not doing enough – 82% say China is doing too little. The figures for the US and India doing too little are 71% and 81% respectively.

Nearly eight in ten Australians (78%) support setting a net zero emissions target for 2050.

Scott Morrison has been edging towards embracing this as a target and is likely to do so before Glasgow, although he faces some resistance within the Coalition. All the states and territories have this target.

The federal government is coming under considerable pressure from the Biden administration and the Johnson government over the climate issue.

Climate questions will be a feature of the G7 summit in June to which Morrison has been invited.

The Lowy poll found 74% believe the benefits of taking further action on climate change would outweigh the costs.

More than nine in ten people (91%) support the federal government providing subsidies for the development of renewable energy technology, while 77% favour the government subsidising electric vehicle purchases.

More than half (55%) say the government’s main priority for energy policy should be “reducing carbon emissions”. This was an 8 point increase since 2019.

Six in ten people agree with the proposition “global warming is a serious and pressing problem. We should begin taking steps now, even if this involves costs”. This was a 4 point increase from last year

Six in ten Australians (64%) support “introducing an emissions trading scheme or carbon tax”.

The report, authored by Natasha Kassam and Hannah Leser, says: “While the COVID-19 pandemic appeared to temper concerns about climate change in 2020, the issue has risen to prominence again in 2021. The majority of Australians (60%) say ‘global warming is a serious and pressing problem…we should begin taking steps now, even if this involves significant costs’. This represents a reversal of the dip in 2020 during the early days of the pandemic, but remains eight points below the high watermark of concern in 2006.”

The climate poll was taken in mid and late April with a sample of 3,286.The Conversation


Lowy Institute

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

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

Queensland coal mines will push threatened finch closer to extinction


Eric Vanderduys, CSIRO and April Reside, James Cook University

Australia has a bad record for losing species, and more are likely to follow: more than 1,700 species of animals and plants are listed by the Australian government as being seriously threatened.

The extinction of a species usually comes about from several interacting threats, and the extinction process usually starts with losing a few populations, or a particular subspecies, until eventually there are only a few individuals remaining.

The southern black-throated finch, Poephila cincta cincta, is a bird that has become endangered mostly through land modified by agriculture, resulting in the loss of around 80% of its former range.

Our research, published in PLoS ONE, shows that more than half of the remaining finch habitat is potentially subject to mining development.

Pushed out of home

Map showing distribution of recent records of southern black-throated finches and records pre-2000.
Vanderduys et al PLoS ONE

The other subspecies, the northern black-throated finch Poephila cincta atropygialis, is believed to be secure, as it occupies habitat on the less-developed Cape York Peninsula.

The southern black-throated finch is almost entirely restricted to an area from Rockhampton north to Townsville, and has been declared extinct in New South Wales. The northernmost part of its range is threatened by urban and peri-urban development around the northern Queensland city of Townsville.

The largest remaining stronghold for black-throated finches is within the Galilee Basin, a 500 km-long coal measure running from around Alpha to Hughenden.

Within this area are the proposed Adani (Carmichael), Alpha, Kevin’s Corner, China First, China Stone and South Galilee coal mines. Collectively, these cover nearly 1,700 square km. Much of this area is proposed to be open cut. The Carmichael mine in particular covers the best “hotspot” known for black-throated finches. Were these mines to go ahead, the finches are likely to suffer steep declines.

In our paper we modelled likely black-throated finch distribution, based on what we know about their habitat and climate preferences. Given their historic decline throughout much of their range, we know they are quite sensitive to land modification, so it is unlikely that areas where mining and associated activities occur will be finch-friendly.

Around 60% of the finch’s remaining habitat is potentially threatened by mining activities. Our research also shows that of the very high-quality habitat known in the Galilee Basin, 50% is under threat from mines that have undergone advanced planning.

Map showing area modelled as prime southern black-throated finch habitat and overlaid with all exploratory and extractive (mining) tenures. The approximate boundary of the Galilee Basin is also shown.
Vanderduys et al PLOS One

Offset the damage?

So what does the government do when faced with a threatened species or subspecies in the face of large development proposals? The answer is to offset.

Offsets mainly involve conserving a species’ preferred habitat to account for what has been lost to development, but they could be also be in the form of research funding.

Offsets have been proposed to help reduce the impact on the black-throated finch, but these measures do not stand up to scrutiny.

First, offsets are supposed to result in “no net loss” of that species. In the case of black-throated finches, this means offsets should maintain the population at roughly the same trajectory as they would be on without the mining.

Second, areas proposed as offsets for one mine are potentially subject to development approval for other mines.

However, for a species that has lost 80% of its range (and is therefore demonstrably sensitive), losing any more of its key habitat guarantees an increased loss of finches.

The existing, mine-free finch populations in the Galilee Basin are currently doing well. To truly offset losing this habitat to mining, new high-quality habitat for black-throated finches would have to be created.

This has never been done. Not to mention the difficulty in achieving accurate population estimates in areas of “lost” or “gained” habitat.

Black-throated finches eat grass and herb seeds after they’ve fallen to the ground, so they need particular seeds to be available throughout the year, with just enough bare ground so they can find them. We are still in the process of trying to understand all the factors that make high-quality habitat for black-throated finches, and we’re a long way from having the expertise to recreate it.

Offsets are widely regarded in the scientific literature as failing. They are locking in species declines; far from guaranteeing survival of threatened species, they are guaranteeing their loss.

For the southern black-throated finch, which has already lost 80% of its range, losing 50% of what is known to be prime habitat within the Galilee Basin is likely to lock in its continuing decline.

The most reliable way of avoiding this decline would be to protect and enhance the little suitable habitat that still remains.

The Conversation

Eric Vanderduys, Research Projects Officer, CSIRO and April Reside, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Spatial Ecology, James Cook University

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