There’s a lot of bad news in the UN Global Environment Outlook, but a sustainable future is still possible



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It’s not all doom and gloom – pathways to restore the health of our planet do exist.
wonderisland/Shutterstock

Pedro Fidelman, The University of Queensland

The Sixth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6), the most comprehensive environmental assessment produced by the UN in five years, brought us both good and bad news.

The environment has continued to deteriorate since the first GEO-6 report in 1997, with potentially irreversible impacts if not effectively addressed. But pathways to significant change do exist, and a sustainable future is still possible.

Launched in March at the fourth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly in Nairobi, the 700-page report involved nearly 200 global experts who collaborated over 18 months.




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It covers, in detail, a range of topics, including air, biodiversity, oceans and coasts, land and freshwater, climate change, human health and energy.

And it assessed the state of the global environment, the effectiveness of policy responses, and possible pathways to achieve the environmental goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The good news

There is a fair bit of negative information in the GEO-6, which unfortunately reflects the overall state of environmental affairs globally. But it is not all doom and gloom, the GEO-6 has many positive, solution-oriented messages too.

The GEO-6 advises that pathways and approaches to systemic change exist, which must be scaled up quickly to steer the planet towards more sustainable futures.




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The considerable connections between environmental, social and economic policies can inform multiple goals. So policies addressing entire systems – such as food, energy and waste – are more likely to have beneficial impact.

For instance, reducing our use of fossil fuels leads to health benefits by decreasing outdoor air pollution responsible for premature deaths. And efforts to eliminate hunger (such as changes in agriculture production) can help address climate change, biodiversity loss, land degradation and chemical pollution.

With the window for action closing quickly, given the unprecedented rate of global environmental change, the GEO-6 is calling for more ambitious and innovative policy.

We need significant change leading us to decarbonisation, a circular economy, sustainable agriculture and food systems, and better adapting socio-economic systems to climate change.

The bad news

The GEO-6 warns the overall condition of the global environment continues to deteriorate, driven mainly by population growth, urbanisation, economic development, technological change and climate change.

Here’s what we’re dealing with:

  • air pollution currently causes an estimated 6 to 7 million premature deaths annually
  • we might be witnessing the sixth mass species extinction in the planet’s history
  • 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean every year as a result of mismanagement of domestic waste in coastal areas
  • warming ocean waters are leading to mass mortality of coral reefs across the world’s tropics
  • 29% of all lands are degradation hotspots
  • pathogen-polluted drinking water and inadequate sanitation cause approximately 1.4 million human deaths annually, with many millions more becoming ill.

These and other issues reported in the GEO-6 will lead to ongoing and potentially irreversible impacts if they are not addressed effectively, and immediately.

Typically, environmental policy efforts are based on individual issues, like air pollution, or industry sectors. But this approach doesn’t address the complexity of contemporary environmental problems that require system-oriented efforts at large scales.

Under current policy scenarios, the environmental dimension of the Sustainable Development Goals, as well as other goals like the Paris Agreement, are unlikely to be achieved.

The GEO-6 calls for urgent, inclusive and sustained action by governments, business and society proportionate to the scale and pace of global environmental change.

What it means for Australia

In Australia, positive action is taking place at state and local levels of government, where support for more ambitious emissions targets is generally stronger than at the Australian government level.

And many sectors of society and business are shifting towards more sustainable practices. The booming uptake of rooftop solar and the development of large-scale renewable projects illustrates such a shift.

But when it comes to sustainable development policies at the national level, Australia lags behind most of the developed world, particularly in relation to energy and climate change policy.




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We don’t yet have long-term certainty for support of the uptake of electric cars, the transition to renewables, the adoption of fuel efficiency standards, and limiting emissions from the manufacturing and resources industry.

Effective strategies to curb land clearing remains to be seen, and only recently Australia has incorporated principles of circular economy into the National Waste Policy.

These do not help Australia meet its agreed commitments under the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and associated Sustainable Development Goals.

With long-term environmental, socio-economic and political stability at stake, it is time for commitment, leadership and robust policies that can last beyond the three-year electoral cycle.The Conversation

Pedro Fidelman, Senior research fellow, The University of Queensland

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

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Australia’s 2018 environmental scorecard: a dreadful year that demands action


Albert Van Dijk, Australian National University

Environmental news is rarely good. But even by those low standards, 2018 was especially bad. That is the main conclusion from Australia’s Environment in 2018, the latest in an annual series of environmental condition reports, released today.

Every year, we analyse vast amounts of measurements from satellites and on-ground stations using algorithms and prediction models on a supercomputer. These volumes of data are turned into regional summary accounts that can be explored on our Australian Environment Explorer website. We interpret these data, along with other information from national and international reports, to assess how our environment is tracking.

A bad year

Whereas 2017 was already quite bad, 2018 saw many indicators dip even further into the red.




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Temperatures went up again, rainfall declined further, and the destruction of vegetation and ecosystems by drought, fire and land clearing continued. Soil moisture, rivers and wetlands all declined, and vegetation growth was poor.

In short, our environment took a beating in 2018, and that was even before the oppressive heatwaves, bushfires and Darling River fish kills of January 2019.

Indicators of Australia’s environment in 2018 compared with the previous year. Similar to national economic indicators, they provide a summary but also hide regional variations, complex interactions and long-term context.
source: http://www.ausenv.online/2018

The combined pressures from habitat destruction, climate change, and invasive pests and diseases are taking their toll on our unique plants and animals. Another 54 species were added to the official list of threatened species, which now stands at 1,775. That is 47% more than 18 years ago and puts Australia among the world’s worst performers in biodiversity protection. On the upside, the number of predator-proof islands or fenced-off reserves in Australia reached 188 in 2018, covering close to 2,500 square kilometres. They offer good prospects of saving at least 13 mammal species from extinction.

Globally, the increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere accelerated again after slowing down in 2017. Global air and ocean temperatures remained high, sea levels increased further, and even the ozone hole grew again, after shrinking during the previous two years.

Sea surface temperatures around Australia did not increase in 2018, but they nevertheless were well above long-term averages. Surveys of the Great Barrier Reef showed further declining health across the entire reef. An exceptional heatwave in late 2018 in Far North Queensland raised fears for yet another bout of coral bleaching, but this was averted when sudden massive downpours cooled surface waters.

The hot conditions did cause much damage to wildlife and vegetation, however, with spectacled flying foxes dropping dead from trees and fire ravaging what was once a tropical rainforest.

While previous environmental scorecards showed a mixed bag of regional impacts, 2018 was a poor year in all states and territories. Particularly badly hit was New South Wales, where after a second year of very poor rainfall, ecosystems and communities reached crisis point. Least affected was southern Western Australia, which enjoyed relatively cool and wet conditions.

Environmental Condition Score in 2018 by state and territory, based on a combination of seven indicators. The large number is the score for 2017, the smaller number the change from the previous year.
source: http://www.ausenv.online/2018

It was a poor year for nature and farmers alike, with growing conditions in grazing, irrigated agriculture and dryland cropping each declining by 17-20% at a national scale. The only upside was improved cropping conditions in WA, which mitigated the 34% decline elsewhere.

A bad start to 2019

Although it is too early for a full picture, the first months of 2019 continued as badly as 2018 ended. The 2018-19 summer broke heat records across the country by large margins, bushfires raged through Tasmania’s forests, and a sudden turn in the hot weather killed scores of fish in the Darling River. The monsoon in northern Australia did not come until late January, the latest in decades, but then dumped a huge amount of rain on northern Queensland, flooding vast swathes of land.




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It would be comforting to believe that our environment merely waxes and wanes with rainfall, and is resilient to yearly variations. To some extent, this is true. The current year may still turn wet and improve conditions, although a developing El Niño makes this less likely.

However, while we are good at acknowledging rapid changes, we are terrible at recognising slow, long-term ones. Underlying the yearly variations in weather is an unmistakable pattern of environmental decline that threatens our future.

What can we do about it?

Global warming is already with us, and strong action is required to avoid an even more dire future of rolling heatwaves and year-round bushfires. But while global climate change requires global action, there is a lot we can and have to do ourselves.




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Australia is one of the world’s most wasteful societies, and there are many opportunities to clean up our act. Achieving progress is not hard, and despite shrill protests from vested interests and the ideologically blind, taking action will not take away our prosperity. Home solar systems and more efficient transport can in fact save money. Our country has huge opportunities for renewable energy, which can potentially create thousands of jobs. Together, we can indeed reduce emissions “in a canter” – all it takes is some clear national leadership.

The ongoing destruction of natural vegetation is as damaging as it is unnecessary, and stopping it will bring a raft of benefits. Our rivers and wetlands are more than just a source of cheap irrigation for big businesses. With more effort, we can save many species from extinction. Our farmers play a vital role in caring for our country, and we need to support them better in doing so.




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Our environment is our life support. It provides us our place to live, our food, health, livelihoods, culture and identity. To protect it is to protect ourselves.


This article was coauthored by Shoshana Rapley, an ANU honours student and research assistant in the Fenner School of Environment and Society.The Conversation

Albert Van Dijk, Professor, Water and Landscape Dynamics, Fenner School of Environment & Society, Australian National University

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

Don’t trust the environmental hype about electric vehicles? The economic benefits might convince you



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There are plenty of economic reasons to change our gas-guzzling habits.
Shutterstock

Gail Broadbent, UNSW and Graciela Metternicht, UNSW

With electric cars back in the headlines, it’s time to remember why we should bother making the transition away from oil.

In our recent research looking at attitudes towards electric vehicle uptake, we pointed to some of the factors making the case for change. We need to remind ourselves that burning oil, a finite resource, to energise motor vehicles will not only cost the environment, but also the economy.

A critical factor is carbon emissions. The transport sector is the fastest growing contributor of greenhouse gases.

The transport sector contributes some 18% of Australia’s total greenhouse gas pollution and Australia is ranked second worst in an international scorecard for transport energy efficiency.




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But even if you don’t believe this is an urgent issue, there are plenty of economic reasons to change our gas-guzzling habits.

A matter of money

In just one year (2017-18), Australia’s imports of refined petroleum cost A$21.7 billion.

Crude petroleum cost us a further A$11.7 billion – that’s more than A$33 billion going to overseas companies who may pay limited tax to Australia.

The argument that electric vehicle motorists, who do pay GST on their electricity, may not pay any fuel tax is really a distraction asking taxpayers to look somewhere else instead of the big companies.

What’s more, the A$18 billion fuel tax goes to general revenue and isn’t pledged to road building.

Unsteady fuel reserves

Policies minimising Australia’s reliance on oil imports could bring significant benefits to businesses and families, and even to public sector agencies with fleet operations.

Around 90% of the oil Australia consumes is imported and road transport is almost entirely dependent on it. The bulk of our automotive gasoline comes from Singapore and South Korea, and in the event of geopolitical imbalance, the supply of our fuel could potentially be jeopardised.

And our fuel stockpiles are very low. Australia has only about 21 days’ supply in stock, rather than the recommended 90 days.




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Health risks

Potential geopolitical imbalances affecting the national supply are important, but the health costs associated with fossil fuels are in the scale of billions of dollars in Australia.

This includes premature death, hospital and medical costs, and loss of productivity that arise from toxic air pollution from internal combustion engine vehicles.

It has also been found pollution from burning fossil fuels can cause respiratory illnesses like asthma and neurodevelopmental disorders in children It’s a high price to pay to continue burning fossil fuels.

And noise pollution from traffic can cause health problems, for instance, by elevating blood pressure, or creating cognitive development problems for children, who have noise-related sleep disturbance.

Conventional cars are inefficient

Electric vehicles convert about 60% of their energy to propulsion. Conventional cars, on the other hand, are very inefficient.

For every litre of fuel burned, only about 17 to 21% of the energy is converted to forward motion, the rest is lost as heat and noise. The waste heat collectively warms up urban areas, causing more use of air conditioning in buildings in summer.

And buildings located near heavily trafficked roads may be exposed to high air and noise pollution, so windows may not generally be used for ventilation. This also places demand on air conditioning and electricity.

Renewable energy is cheaper and faster

An important point in the ongoing debate about electric vehicles is that they’re only as clean as the electricity they use. A widespread adoption of electric vehicles means the electricity supply will need to be increased.

And Australia’s current energy supply is notoriously one of the dirtiest in the world.

But the demand for new electricity to supply future electric vehicle uptake will be met by installing renewables because they’re cheaper and faster than installing new coal fired power stations.




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The bottom line on this ongoing debate is really about changing our mindset about transport – let’s not get stuck in the past, let’s join the modern world and charge ahead.The Conversation

Gail Broadbent, PhD candidate Faculty of Science UNSW, UNSW and Graciela Metternicht, Professor of Environmental Geography, School of Biological Earth and Environmental Sciences, UNSW

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

The Fashion Industry and the Environment


The link below is to an article that takes a look at the impact of the fashion industry on the environment.

For more visit:
https://inhabitat.com/the-environmental-secrets-the-fashion-industry-does-not-want-you-to-know/

How (and why) to stay optimistic when it feels like the environment is falling apart



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Providing optimism in the face of environmental reality can help people stay aware and hopeful for a positive outcome.
Photo: A. Sergeev

Dominic McAfee, University of Adelaide; Sean Connell, University of Adelaide, and Zoe Doubleday, University of South Australia

Humans love optimism. It’s a no-brainer – optimism makes us feel good and wanting more. This attraction has deep neurological roots that affect both our brain functions and how we process new information.

For this reason, optimism is powerful. Optimistic individuals or groups frequently perform better in sports, are better negotiators in business, and recover faster from illness. Feeling optimistic may well be a self-fulfilling prophecy.




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But for scientists trying to communicate dark and difficult messages about conservation, extinction risks or climate change, pessimism can also be a useful tool (and a logical outcome). Shock headlines grab attention – and may more accurately reflect reality. But too much leads to fatigue and disengagement.

Published today in BioScience, our research outlines steps to usefully combine optimism with pessimism when talking about environmental conservation. We took a deep dive into the literature from psychology, business, politics and communications disciplines, to understand how positive and negative thinking influence human performance.

Know your target audience

To make your environmental message stick, first you need to know who your target audience is. What are their daily fears and future worries? Do they care about nature for nature’s sake, or only when it impacts themselves? How do they perceive scientists? Knowing their fundamental values helps tailor your message.

Let’s say we want to restore an endangered forest, whose existence has been largely forgotten. The benefits of restoring a forgotten habitat are many: the mental health benefits of walking among wise, old trees, the busy routine of forest creatures that churn the soil, increasing forest productivity and cleaning the rivers that flow beyond, and the abundant fruit that falls from the canopy. Not to mention the beauty and wonder of nature, which inspires and enlightens.

Clearly, the benefits of conserving the forest can be framed in many ways for many audiences, whether their primary concerns are environmental, social, economic or personal. Knowing the values and fears of your target audience helps identify what information will resonate.

Build awareness of the threat

Shock grabs attention, so clearly explaining a dire environmental issue is a good strategy for generating initial awareness. An impeding or recent loss (for example, the River Franklin in Tasmania, or fish within the Murray Darling Basin) has a greater attention-grabbing property than positive news, particularly when framed to address the audience’s key concerns. This is where pessimism is necessary – and in fact may simply be realism.




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In our endangered forest, the valuable wood has been logged to near extinction. Without the tree’s shade the soil has turned toxic and hard under the baking sun, rendering the land unsafe for human use. The inaccessibility of the last remnant patches means few people can experience their wonders and they will soon be lost from common memory.

Forest accessibility is important for hikers.
Shutterstock

This is where the first step, understanding your audiences’ values, helps. For keen hikers the accessibility of forests may be most important. For those focused on the cost of living, you might highlight that without the forest filtering and cleaning drinking water they will need to pay for water treatment plants.

If the trees become extinct so will a sustainable logging industry, which reduces employment. (It also speaks to intergenerational equity, where earlier generations benefited at the expense of later generations.)

Build optimism with success stories

While negative news grabs attention, in the absence of hope it can quickly lead to despair and disengagement. By introducing optimism in the face of environmental crises, people can remain both aware and hopeful for a positive outcome.

Indeed, expectation of a positive outcome is a key motivator for people to commit to a cause. But where can optimism be found when all is seemingly lost?




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Optimism can be built on back of environmental success stories. In our example, the endangered trees produce more seeds than needed to replace old trees. Using these seeds, a local community has reforested toxic land where an old forest once stood, producing early signs of a healthy restored ecosystem. Such a success story provides optimism for other communities to envisage success in their own backyard.

Provide a path forward

Neither hope nor fear alone will change people’s behaviour. To allow change, people must believe their actions can make a difference. Therefore, our next step is to infuse optimism with efficacy, by offering the audience a pathway to engage with the issue.

The initial success of the restored forest breathed optimism into other revival efforts. But without public pressure, local governments can see investment in restoration as unnecessary (especially when the town’s water treatment facilities need updating anyway).

However when councils are convinced and communities engaged we can sow the seeds of recovery and create the community stewardship needed for long-term care.

Create community spirit

Our final step is to build a sense of community. Believing in the collective ability of a unified group gives us motivation and commitment. Belonging to a group can empower the individual, helping them confront an issue they would not tackle alone.

Positive community spirit is hard to overlook.
Mike Lemmon/flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Encouraging the target audience to form community groups can see a trickle of public pressure increase to a flood. Local administrators may overlook the demands of one or two forest-loving individuals, but it’s hard to ignore a group of voters seeking action.




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The power of positive thinking has long been recognised. But environmental optimism is no panacea. It needs to be balanced with the reality of environmental pessimism. Both have their motivating virtues and finding a balance between them attracts attention and inspires action over the long-term.

Our forest example was derived from our experience with restoring Australia’s lost oyster reefs. South Australia’s 20 hectare oyster reef restoration was enabled by the local enthusiasm of a rural community, which was empowered by the expertise of an NGO and solution-seekers within several government departments; all underpinned by the credibility of university research.The Conversation

Dominic McAfee, Postdoctoral researcher, marine ecology, University of Adelaide; Sean Connell, Professor, Ecology, University of Adelaide, and Zoe Doubleday, Research Fellow, University of South Australia

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

Coles Plastic Environmental Vandalism


The link below is to an article reporting on the latest episode of plastic trash being handed out by Coles.

For more visit:
https://www.theguardian.com/business/2019/feb/13/a-legacy-of-plastic-waste-coles-launches-new-collectables-series