By slashing environment spending, the government is slashing opportunities



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At a time of growing human impacts, spending on environmental protection is more important than ever.
Author provided

Don Driscoll, Deakin University

Australia’s native plants and animals are integral to the success of our society. We depend on wildlife to pollinate many of our crops. Most of our cities depend on effective water catchments to provide clean water. And medical scientists are making important breakthroughs in managing disease and health issues based on discoveries in nature.

The mental health benefits of a “dose of nature” are becoming more widely recognised, on top of our own experiences of having fun and enjoying the natural wonders of national parks. Our nature inspires us in all kinds of ways, and you can build major industries around that; the Great Barrier Reef is reportedly worth A$56 billion to the Australian economy.

It is therefore surprising, on one hand, to read the Australian Conservation Foundation and WWF Australia budget submission that the Australian government has slashed environmental spending by one third since 2013.

On the other hand, I’m not especially surprised because we ecologists have been living through the ongoing attack on the environment every day. We see how cuts to environmental budgets play out.


Read more: Why a walk in the woods really does help your body and your soul


Our native species and ecosystems are under growing pressure. Australia’s 1.6% annual population growth outstrips many other countries. This is compounded by rises in per-capita consumption and greenhouse emissions.

Escalating consumption translates into growing impacts on biodiversity as more land is released for housing and infrastructure, extractive industries such as mining, recreational and industrial fishing expand and agriculture intensifies.

Climate change further interacts with land clearing associated with producing more for a growing and greedier population. Many species are expected to have to shift their range as the environmental conditions they live in move, and if they can’t move because there is no habitat to move through, extinctions will result.


Read more: Land clearing isn’t just about trees – it’s an animal welfare issue too


State of the Environment reports document the extent of the problem.

For example, between 2011 and 2015, there was a 66% increase in the number of critically endangered animals (from 38 in 2011 to 63 in 2015), and a 28% increase in critically endangered plants (112 in 2011; 143 in 2015). By critically endangered, we mean that extinction is a real possibility in the short term for these species. Immediate action is needed if we are to avoid terminating millions of years of independent evolution, as these biological lineages die out.

Given the extraordinary value of biodiversity and the extreme and growing threats, it would make sense to maximise our spending on biodiversity conservation now, to protect our wildlife through this period of peak human.

Key areas for investment include creating an effective national reserve system, at least meeting the arbitrary international goals of 17% of the land and 10% of the sea area.

Funding is needed to manage the reserve system, containing threats and nurturing already threatened species. Meanwhile, outside of reserves where most of the people live and interact with nature, biodiversity needs to be provided for, and threats need to be managed. Biosecurity is a critical area for funding, particularly to more tightly regulate rogue industries, like horticulture.

Horticulture was recently responsible for introducing myrtle rust, a disease that is devastating many gum-tree relatives, in the family Myrtaceae. Finally, climate change demands a strong response, both in mitigation and adaptation.

Science and environment work needs funding

I’ve never seen so many fantastic, skilled, enthusiastic young ecologists struggling to get a job. At a time when ecologists and conservation scientists are needed more than ever to help solve the problems created by the growth economy, funding for ecology is at a low.


Read more: Vale ‘Gump’, the last known Christmas Island Forest Skink


Of course, beyond the people, we see conservation programs in desperate need of support that just isn’t forthcoming. Christmas Island is a case in point.

The island’s reptiles have been devastated by invasive pests, most likely the wolf snake and perhaps the giant centipede. Two endemic species (species that only lived on Christmas Island) are presumed extinct; the last known forest skink died in 2014.

This Christmas Island Forest Skink was the last known member of her species.
Director of National Parks/Supplied

Two other endemic species are extinct in the wild, but small populations of around 1,000 animals are kept in captivity on the island and at Taronga Zoo.

While ideally a population of at least 5,000 would be maintained to minimise loss of genetic diversity, funding is not available to house that many animals. And it’s rock-bottom budget accommodation; Lister’s geckos are housed in tents because the budget doesn’t stretch to building something permanent.

We’ve also seen important long term research programs defunded. Long-term data provides crucial insights into how our biodiversity responds to decadal changes in weather patterns as well as longer-term changes caused by the greenhouse effect. It is unimaginable that the government have slashed the Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network’s funding so far that well-established long-term data series are now being compromised.

Ultimately, the environmental funding shortfall needs to be fixed. Our livelihoods and well-being depend on it.


The ConversationThe original version of this article incorrectly reported that the budget submission was made by the Australian Conservation Foundation and The Wilderness Foundation. It was in fact made by the Australian Conservation Foundation and WWF Australia.

Don Driscoll, Professor in Terrestrial Ecology, Deakin University

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

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New climate science centre doesn’t make up for CSIRO cuts: experts


James Whitmore, The Conversation

Hobart will be home to a new climate science research centre in plans announced by the CSIRO. The centre, which will focus on climate measurement and modelling, will be staffed by 40 climate scientists and guarantee research for ten years.

In February 2016, CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall announced broad job cuts at the organisation. The latest announcement reduces the total job losses from 350 to 275.

Around 75 positions will still be lost within the CSIRO’s Oceans and Atmosphere division, which is responsible for climate science, from around 420 full-time staff.

The cuts were widely criticised by climate scientists in Australia and overseas.

The new centre will be housed within the Oceans and Atmosphere division. It will be overseen by a new National Climate Science Advisory Committee, including experts from the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology, answering to federal Industry Minister Christopher Pyne. Environment Minister Greg Hunt will help establish the committee.

Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, who has previously urged CSIRO to ensure climate science is maintained, has welcomed the announcement.

CSIRO research fellow John Church said the new centre was “a step forward from where we were a few weeks ago”.

“But it’s only 40 people so it’s significantly less than we had previously. I don’t see how that few people are going to deliver on what Australia’s requirements are,” he said.

Church said the ten-year research guarantee was longer than most CSIRO research cycles.

“I would hope that with such commitment maybe it will be possible to grow the areas over that time frame,” he said.

He also welcomed co-ordination across the CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology and universities under the advisory committee.

However, Matthew England, a researcher at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science at UNSW Australia, said he was “worried about the very small size of the centre”.

“Forty staff is woefully low in number. Equivalent centres overseas house five to ten times this number, even in nations not nearly as vulnerable to climate change as Australia is. [It is] great to set up a centre – now we need it to house real capacity.

“CSIRO management needs to get realistic about what this centre needs and how important it is for the nation,” he said.

Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, also at UNSW Australia, said there were “small positives” but “it seems like they’ve [CSIRO] basically rebranded what they were doing in the first place”.

“They’re just shuffling people around. I fail to see how they can operate a national climate centre with just 40 staff.”

Cuts to other CSIRO divisions, particularly land and water, would also affect climate science, she said.

But she welcomed a commitment to maintain CSIRO support for ACCESS, the model used to develop climate projections and weather forecasts for Australia.

She called for a national government-funded centre separate from the CSIRO, perhaps modelled on the UK Hadley Centre, which works alongside the UK Met Office.

Steven Sherwood, director of the UNSW Climate Research Centre, said the cuts still represent a decrease in research investment. He said the UK Met Office generated at least A$6 of economic benefit for the UK per dollar spent on it.

“So, from a broad perspective, we appear to be downsizing an activity that was probably already underfunded even from a purely economic perspective.”

Comments compiled with the assistance of the Australian Science Media Centre.

The Conversation

James Whitmore, Editor, Environment & Energy, The Conversation

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

CSIRO climate cuts will trash a decade of hard work with the Bureau of Meteorology and universities


Gregory Ayers, Monash University

A dozen years ago, climate science in Australia was academically excellent, but was being done in small groups, none able by itself to answer the large, complex scientific questions that were beginning to confront Australia, such as understanding the adverse trends emerging in temperature and rainfall.

We weren’t alone – all countries were grappling with their own issues, as the scale of the climate challenge was made starkly clear by a succession of reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

So, early in the new century, a handful of people leading the key separate parts of Australia’s system began working together to create a truly strategic, truly national climate science capability.

CSIRO led from the front. Its executives knew that CSIRO alone could not meet the nation’s climate science needs, so they worked with government departments to support the development of a larger national architecture.

Gradually, the project took shape. In 2005, CSIRO merged its atmospheric and marine research divisions, creating a unified division focusing on a single national climate modelling system, rather than two separate ones. Sensible move.

The following year, CSIRO championed integration of all state and national marine observing systems into one federal system, the Integrated Marine Observing System.

CSIRO also turned its attention overseas, joining with the Bureau of Meteorology to adopt the UK Met Office’s state-of-art Unified Atmospheric Model as our national weather forecasting model, for an immediate improvement in forecasting skill.

Since this model could be run in climate mode as well as weather mode, we now had both agencies’ scientists supporting a single, world-leading atmospheric climate model that was also the national weather forecasting model. It was a superbly efficient outcome. The pieces of a truly national climate science program were falling into place.

Universities on board

Meanwhile, in 2007 CSIRO and the Bureau launched a joint venture now called the Collaboration for Australian Weather and Climate Research. The idea was to create a single large government-funded climate science program that, for the first time, would be easy for top university climate scientists to engage with.

CSIRO already had a fruitful collaboration with Antarctic climate researchers at the University of Tasmania, but what was needed was for all universities doing significant climate science to become engaged in the national endeavour.

This was harder than it sounds; government research agencies are typically driven by specific missions related to the agency’s charter, whereas university research often focuses on investigating science questions framed by individual specialisations and academic prowess.

As chief of CSIRO’s Marine and Atmospheric Research Division at the time, I was seconded into the federal Department of Climate Change to draft a blueprint for a national climate research agenda that would include universities along with government scientists. It gave rise to the National Framework for Climate Change Science, which was adopted by the Rudd government in 2009 and still remains current.

With the framework in place, CSIRO, the Bureau and universities signed up to use Australia’s new National Computational Infrastructure for climate research. In 2011, the Australian Research Council funded the creation of the Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, which drew together the best university-based climate research. With everything now in place in 2012 the federal government turned the 2009 climate science framework into an implementation plan to deliver on the research goals.

More than a decade in the making, Australia finally had a truly national, unified collaboration set up to deliver as fruitfully as possible on our nation’s climate science needs.

All of that hard work, planning and organisation is now at risk.

Climate cuts

The implementation plan contains a series of tables listing the priority policy questions to be answered, and who is best placed to deliver the scientific research needed to answer them. CSIRO appears in every one. If you mentally remove the word CSIRO from the document, it’s clear that if CSIRO leaves the climate science stage (and while the precise number of job cuts remains uncertain it is set to be significant) it will leave Australia’s federally endorsed climate science agenda gutted, and totally unachievable.

This brings us to the misconception promulgated by CSIRO chief executive Larry Marshall as a rationale for the CSIRO cuts: that human-induced climate change is now confirmed, so there is now less need for climate science and more need for research into adaptation and mitigation measures.

The implementation plan makes it clear that mitigation and adaptation would also suffer badly from CSIRO’s climate cuts, as they would no longer be built on the national climate science framework set up precisely to enable and support those activities.

CSIRO was the main agency behind Australia’s world-leading climate science framework – a setup that serves this nation’s climate science policy needs superbly, and one of the areas in which Australia punches above its weight internationally.

Why would CSIRO retreat from one of its own (and Australia’s) most effective scientific endeavours? Why stop now, after working tirelessly for more than a decade to create a unified national platform that provides essential advice to local, state and federal governments, as well as industry, commerce and the environmental sector? I don’t know. It makes no sense.

CSIRO’s decision to pull away from climate change science is against the national interest. It should not proceed.

The Conversation

Gregory Ayers, Atmospheric Scientist and Advisory Board Chair, School of Biological Sciences, Monash University

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

CSIRO cuts: climate science really does need to shift its focus towards adaptation


Peter Tangney, Flinders University

Climate scientists have recently been outraged by job losses within CSIRO. Sixty climate jobs are likely to be lost. Chief executive Larry Marshall has said the reaction to the cuts from scientists has been “more like religion that science”.

Well, in certain respects, he has a point. In reaction to the cuts, scientists are making claims about their ability to predict the future, and are failing to consider the politics of climate science.

We know it’s happening, now let’s do something

In Senate estimates on Thursday, Marshall stated that while CSIRO would not withdraw from monitoring and measuring climate change, there would be a reduction in monitoring and measurement in favour of “mitigation”.

It is unclear what he means by mitigation (whether he’s talking about reducing greenhouse gases and adapting to climate change, or just the former) but I believe that in order to justify itself, climate science should be urgently re-branded as “adaptation science”.

When scientists talk about climate science, they often speak as if it’s a homogenous research activity. But, there are different types of climate research.

This matters because some research questions are more important to policymakers than others. For simplicity, let’s distinguish between two types of climate research.

The first type involves the development of increasingly sophisticated projections of future climate change. Scientists do this using global models, which are downscaled to make projections for local and regional areas.

Ideally, this research would allow us to make specific predictions about what will happen when and where. For instance, it might tell us how the climate in 2050 will be affected by El Niño.

The second type of research looks at the vulnerabilities and tries to make communities, ecosystems, infrastructure and economies more resilient to climate extremes and climate change. For instance, we understand that planting trees at strategic locations along a river bank can enhance the resilience of fish populations that are vulnerable to heat stress

In many cases, this research does not require absolutely specific predictions of how the climate will change. What it does need is the expertise of many other environmental scientists, geographers, urban planners, engineers and social scientists.

I propose that by far the most important research agenda at this point in time is this second research question. This is not to say climate modelling is not important. Modelling is part of the picture, but the focus should be on the ultimate goal: adapting to climate change.

The problem of uncertainty

Over ten years ago, climate scientist Stephen Schneider warned that we should be careful about relying on climate models because they cannot fully account for the abrupt changes possible in the Earth’s climate systems.

For much of the 2000s, as a climate change adaptation advisor working in the UK, I listened to climate scientists make encouraging noises about improving climate change forecasts.

Even so, in 2009 when the UK’s Climate Impacts Programme (UKCIP) released its state-of-the-art projections, it loudly and repeatedly warned users that they should not be used to predict future outcomes. (As an aside, these outputs have also been very problematic for many potential users). UKCIP warned these projections should only be used to understand a range of potential future climates.

More recently, a team of mathematicians from the London School of Economics and Oxford University has provided eloquent reasoning for why this is so, no matter how good the models seem, especially at regional and local scales.

In Australia, a simpler and more user-friendly set of projections have been developed by CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology.

Importantly, these are projections of possibilities, not predictions.

The problem of policy

Policy-makers don’t necessarily care about the specifics of how the climate will change at a certain point in the future. They know that no one can predict exactly how the climate will change, not to mind where a bushfire will strike at a specific time in the future.

Investment decisions are based on relatively more certain knowledge of the imminent future (say, five to 20 years, at most). They assume the future will be similar to the present. Depending on their political leanings, only then will they consider climate change.

For instance, the Queensland Reconstruction Authority (QRA), was established by the state government to rebuild infrastructure after the floods in 2011.

Their mantra is “build it back better”. But the precise terms of their federal funding mean that they usually only replace infrastructure on a like-for-like basis. The funding rules require the QRA to make a special request to federal government to build anything that accounts for future climate change. In fact, their strategic plan doesn’t even mention climate change.

Elsewhere, the Thames Estuary 2100 project in the UK delays crucial pre-emptive decisions on flood defences until they absolutely have to be made and in ways that will be resilient to a range of futures.

In this article on The Conversation, Andy Pitman made the case that desalination plants in Perth were constructed following knowledge of a long-term climate shift. This was part of it, but, crucially, the desalination plants provide benefits to the electorate under a range of possible future climates.

The core message should be that vulnerabilities already exist and can be fixed, providing benefits both today and under the increasing risks of climate disaster.

For instance, to build flood defences, policymakers often only want to know how high they can afford to build them to protect the highest number of people possible. Increasingly detailed projections won’t be particularly helpful because policymakers are fundamentally unwilling to build something optimised to one specific climate future.

The key for policymakers is to avoid putting all their eggs in one basket. That way they avoid getting egg on their face by not investing in solutions that may not actually be needed. The key here for scientists, therefore, is how to frame and focus their research accordingly. This means tailoring their science and its communication to policymakers’ priorities.

The climate science community is playing a political game, whether they know it or not. If they want to participate on the same terms as political decision-makers, they need to speak their language.

The Conversation

Peter Tangney, Lecturer | Course Coordinator – Science Policy & Communication, Flinders University

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

25 years ago the Australian government promised deep emissions cuts, and yet here we still are


Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

A divided government firmly on the back foot ahead of a major climate conference, its green credentials shaky, and riven with bubbling tensions between those who want serious climate action and those resistant to it. Sound familiar? But the government I’m describing is not today’s version, but Bob Hawke’s federal government way back in October 1990.

October 11, 2015, marks a quarter-century to the day since the then environment minister, Ros Kelly, brought a proposed carbon emissions target to cabinet. At the time, Jon Bon Jovi was number one in Australia with “Blaze of Glory”, and some of the lyrics are apposite:

You ask about my conscience; And I offer you my soul; You ask if I’ll grow to be a wise man; Well I ask if I’ll grow old.

Of course, Australia is not the only nation to have dragged its feet on climate policy in the decades since the issue became a major concern, but its ups and downs have been perhaps steeper than most.

Climate change emerged on the world’s political agenda in 1988, following a three-year build-up from a scientific meeting in Villach, Austria. Australian politicians had already been bluntly warned about its impacts by CSIRO, at a 1986 briefing of the Australian Environment Council. In 1987 the Commission for the Future and CSIRO launched The Greenhouse Project, which briefed the business community, and held a scientific conference later that year.

In June 1988 Australian scientists were among those who attended an international summit in Toronto on the security implications of global warming. (It was shortly before this conference that NASA’s James Hansen gave his famous testimony to a US Senate hearing.) From it emerged the proposal that developed countries should commit to stabilising their emissions at 1988 levels by 2000, and reduce them by 20% by 2005. This, rightly or wrongly, became a litmus test for politicians’ sincerity on the climate issue.

Back home, Australia was going through one of its periods of favouring green policies. Labor’s “small-g green” approach was widely credited with helping Hawke to squeak home in the 1987 federal election, although the real wake-up call that voters cared about the environment came in May 1989, when the Tasmanian Greens polled 15% in the state election.

Despite this, when Labor’s Graham Richardson tried the following month to get cabinet to accept the Toronto target, his attempt was crushed by the treasurer, Paul Keating. The Liberals ended up fighting the March 1990 election with a stronger climate target than Labor (as hard as that might be to believe today).

Aiming for the target

Big green groups such as the Australian Conservation Foundation and Greenpeace were reluctant to engage with Hawke’s Ecologically Sustainable Development policy program, fearing a stitch-up that would destroy their credibility. They held out for a statement about definitive greenhouse gas targets.

This game of chicken, combined with the impending Second World Climate Conference in Geneva in November 1990 (seen at the time as the starting gun for negotiations for a climate treaty at the 1992 Rio Earth Summit), would have been a significant consideration for Ros Kelly when she became environment minister in April 1990.

Her initial cabinet proposal seems to have been for a commitment without caveats, but this was unacceptable to resources-minded ministers. As treasurer, Keating was reportedly instrumental in modifying the text to demand that:

…the Government will not proceed with measures which have net adverse economic impacts nationally or on Australia’s trade competitiveness in the absence of similar action by major greenhouse-gas-producing countries.

This seemed, in the short term, to satisfy both the green groups and the coal lobby – the ACF, Greenpeace and the Australian Coal Association all endorsed the new policy. Kelly flew to Geneva and was still in charge of her portfolio by the time of the Rio conference. There, the Toronto target was tweaked to call for stabilisation of emissions at 1990 levels (rather than 1988) by 2000.

But business knows better than to rest on its laurels. The Business Council of Australia got together with a raft of resource industry peak bodies, mining firms and consultants to produce a May 1991 report on Australia’s “realistic” energy prospects. This, to no one’s surprise, declared that the target was “totally unachievable”.

Switching to gas for electricity might find half the cuts, but as the Australian Financial Review reported at the time, in an obliging article about the “unrealistic” scope of the proposed cuts, Australia’s energy use would be pushed still higher by its rapid population growth and economic reliance on the resources sector.

Nine months later, during the heated negotiations of the Rio summit, many of the same organisations behind the May 1991 Energy Prospects report funded another report that further outlined what it saw as the unacceptable economic damage that climate action would wreak. This primary and effective tactic hasn’t really changed since.

Will history repeat itself?

This is largely forgotten history (and for a fuller summary, read Maria Taylor’s recent book on the subject). Crucially, the Liberals are not the “bad guys” of the story. Labor was in power until March 1996, and by then emissions and coal exports were climbing inexorably and the coal lobby had consolidated its power. John Howard was merely more honest about it all.

Australia’s vexed history also shows that setting a climate target is only the beginning of the effort required. Targets are clearly needed – how else will we know if we are “on target”? But they can also allow politicians to say, “Look, we are aware of the problem, we’ve set challenging goals. Yes, progress isn’t quite as quick as we’d like, but we all need to be patient…”

Then, a few years later, once everyone has forgotten, a new target is set. And the wheel goes around again, while the carbon dioxide accumulates in our atmosphere.

Despite recent government attempts to deride and smear environmental activists, more and more people are realising that our leaders, of whatever political hue, have failed to show leadership on this issue. In the run-up to this year’s Paris climate summit and beyond, citizens of Australia have to decide how to create sustained political and social pressure so that history doesn’t repeat itself yet again, whether as tragedy or farce.


Marc will be on hand for an Author Q&A between 4 and 5pm AEDT on Friday, October 9, 2015. Post your questions in the comments section below.

The Conversation

Marc Hudson, PhD candidate at Sustainable Consumption Institute , University of Manchester

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

China: Coal Pollution Cuts Life Expectancy


The link below is to an article that reports on the cut in life expectancy in China due to coal pollution.

For more visit:
http://www.treehugger.com/fossil-fuels/coal-pollution-china-lowers-life-expectancy-5-years.html