Labor pledges $14m funding boost to Environmental Defenders Offices – what do these services do?


Amelia Thorpe, UNSW

The federal Labor Party announced this week that, if elected, it will restore funding to Environmental Defenders Offices (EDOs) across Australia, in a package worth $14 million over four years.

Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek explained:

These organisations ensure that ordinary Australians have proper access to the law. We know that big corporations have deep pockets and they’re able to employ expensive legal teams but ordinary Australians – farmers, indigenous communities, ordinary citizens – should have just the same access to the law as anybody with the most expensive lawyers in the country.

What are EDOs?

The first EDO was established in New South Wales in 1985, following the passage of a suite of environmental laws in the late 1970s covering heritage protection, environmental planning approvals, and establishing the Land and Environment Court.

With growing public interest in planning and development, including the celebrated Green Bans movement, those laws introduced new requirements for environmental impact assessment, heritage protection and public participation. They also gave everyone the right to take legal action by bringing environmental matters to court.

Even the best legislation is of little value, however, if people don’t have the means to make use of it. That is where the EDO comes in.

In 1981, shortly after the opening of the new Land and Environment Court, a group of lawyers began working to establish an organisation to empower the community to make use of these new laws to protect the environment. After four years of planning and fundraising, the NSW EDO opened with a staff of one: solicitor Judith Preston.

The idea spread. EDOs were set up in Victoria and Queensland in the early 1990s, and eventually established in all eight states and territories, with an additional office in North Queensland. The various EDOs have always remained separate, each managed by an independent board, although since 1996 they have shared advice and support through a national network.

Punching above their weight

Despite their shoestring budgets, EDO lawyers have proved effective, developing impressive programs of litigation and legal education. With grants from groups such as the Myer Foundation and, later, recurrent funding from state and federal governments, EDOs were a well established part of the Australian legal landscape by the early 2000s.

NSW, Queensland and Victoria were particularly effective in securing funding, each boasting dozens of staff at their peak in the mid-2000s. Thanks to large grants from the NSW Public Purpose Fund and the MacArthur Foundation, the NSW EDO’s staff included not just lawyers but also environmental scientists, an Indigenous solicitor working specifically on Indigenous matters, and a team working from a new regional office in Lismore.

Despite salaries well below market rates, EDO lawyers have consistently punched above their weight. Landmark wins have included defending the WA tourist town of Margaret River against coal mining, and helping the Goolarabooloo community challenge approvals for a liquefied natural gas hub at James Price Point, north of Broome. In 2015 the NSW EDO successfully overturned the approval of Adani’s Carmichael coal mine in central Queensland, although the federal government later reapproved it.




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Carmichael mine jumps another legal hurdle, but litigants are making headway


With success, particularly against Adani, came criticism. After almost 20 years of bipartisan support, the Abbott government abruptly cut funding to EDOs in 2013 amid allegations of activist “lawfare”. Coalition governments in several states followed suit, prompting staff cuts, restructures, and an increase in fundraising efforts among the EDO network. EDO Victoria became Environmental Justice Australia, the Lismore office closed, and EDOs generally reduced the scale and scope of their work.

While EDOs are best known for their litigation – running high-profile cases on issues such as climate change, conservation and alleged water theft in the Murray-Darling Basin – their work is much broader than this. All EDOs provide free legal education and advice, both via telephone and through community workshops and seminars, many in rural and remote areas. They publish plain-language explanations of a complex range of state and federal environmental laws, a vital resource used by government departments and universities as well as members of the public. EDOs also undertake law reform work, making submissions to parliamentary inquiries and giving expert evidence.




Read more:
Around the world, environmental laws are under attack in all sorts of ways


This work remains vital. As in the 1980s, laws are only as effective as the people who enforce them. As the Productivity Commission explained in its inquiry into access to justice (see page 711 here), “The rationales for government support for environmental matters are well recognised.”

Legal education, outreach, advice and, occasionally, public interest litigation, are essential for environmental justice and should be funded accordingly.The Conversation

Amelia Thorpe, Associate Professor, UNSW

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

$500 million for the Great Barrier Reef is welcome, but we need a sea change in tactics too



File 20180502 153891 v767up.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The new funding is focused on measures that are already in the foreground.
Robert Linsdell/Flickr, CC BY

Jon Brodie, James Cook University

The federal government’s announcement of more than A$500 million in funding for the Great Barrier Reef is good news. It appears to show a significant commitment to the reef’s preservation – something that has been lacking in recent years.

The new A$444 million package, which comes in the wake of the A$60 million previously announced in January, includes:

  • A$201 million to improve water quality by cutting fertiliser use and adopting new technologies and practices

  • A$100 million for research on coral resilience and adaptation

  • A$58 million to continue fighting crown-of-thorns starfish

  • A$45 million for community engagement, particularly among Traditional Owners

  • A$40 million to enhance monitoring and management on the GBR.

A spokesperson for federal environment minister Josh Frydenberg said the funding would be available immediately to the Great Barrier Reef Foundation, and that there was no predetermined time frame for the spending.

But one concern with the package is that it seems to give greatest weight to the strategies that are already being tried – and which have so far fallen a long way short of success.

Water quality

The government has not yet announced the timelines for rollout of the program. But if we assume that the A$201 million is funding for the next two years, this matches the current rate of water quality management funding – A$100 million a year, which has been in place since 2008.

Yet it is already clear that this existing funding is not reducing pollution loads on the GBR by the required extent. The federal and Queensland governments’ own annual report cards for 2015 and 2016 reveal limited success in improving water quality. It is also known from joint Australian and Queensland government analyses that the required funding to meet water quality targets is of the order of A$1 billion per year over the next 10 years.

In the region’s main industries, such as sugarcane cultivation and beef grazing, most land is still managed using methods that are well below best practice for water quality, such as fertiliser rates of application in sugarcane cultivation. According to the 2017 Scientific Consensus Statement on the GBR’s water quality, very limited progress has been made so far.

Progress towards targets and assigned scores in the 2015 Great Barrier Reef Report Card.
2017 Scientific Consensus Statement, Author provided

The respective load reduction targets set for 2018 and 2025 are highly unlikely to be met at current funding levels. For example, shown below are the current projections for levels of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN).

Progress on reducing total GBR wide dissolved inorganic nitrogen loads and trajectories towards targets.
CREDIT, Author provided

This likely failure to meet any of the targets was noted by UNESCO in 2015 and again in 2017 as a major concern, amid deliberations on whether to put the GBR on the World Heritage in Danger list. The UNESCO report criticised Australia’s lack of progress towards achieving its 2050 water quality targets and failure to pass land clearing legislation.

As the 2017 Scientific Consensus Statement also pointed out, improvements to land management oversight are “urgently needed”. Continued government spending on the same programs, at the same levels, and with no federal legislation to mandate improvements, is unlikely to bring water pollution to acceptable levels or offer significant protection to the GBR.

In contrast to the federal government, the Queensland government is taking what are likely to be more effective measures to manage water quality. These include regulations such as the revised Vegetation Management Act, which is likely to be passed by the parliament in the next few weeks; and the updated Reef Protection Act, currently out for review. Queensland is also directing funds towards pollution hotspots under the Major Integrated Projects framework.




Read more:
Cloudy issue: we need to fix the Barrier Reef’s murky waters


Crown-of-thorns starfish

The government’s new package has pledged A$58 million for further culling of this coral-eating animal. Yet the current culling program has faced serious criticism over its effectiveness.

Udo Engelhardt, director of consultancy Reefcare International, and a pioneer in the control of crown-of-thorns starfish, has claimed that his analysis of the culling carried out in 2013-15 in reef areas off Cairns and to the south of Cairns, reveals a “widespread and consistent failure” to protect coral cover.

Nor does there seem to have been a major independent review of the program since these findings came to light. Without one, it seems a shaky bet to assume that we will expect any more success simply by continuing to fund it.

Overcoming crown-of-thorns starfish might take some more creative thinking.
Paul Asman/Jill Lenoble/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY

Reef restoration

Similar question marks hover over the A$100 million being provided to harness the best science to help restore and protect the reef, and to study the most resilient corals. Like other aspects of the package, the government has not yet promised a timeline on which to roll out the funds.

While reef restoration may be significant for the long-term (decades to centuries) status of the GBR, it is hard to believe that these studies will help within the coming few decades. And even long-term success will hinge either on our ability to stabilise the climate, or on science’s ability to keep pace with the rate of future change.

In the meantime, reef restoration seems at best to be a band-aid that could preserve select tourism sites, but is inconceivable on the scale of the entire GBR.




Read more:
Not out of hot water yet: what the world thinks about the Great Barrier Reef


Herein lies the most significant criticism of the new funding package. It avoids any mention of reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, or of working closely with the international community to help deliver significant global reductions. Yet climate change is routinely described as the biggest threat to the reef.

The ConversationThe new announcement dodges that issue, while providing a moderate amount of funding for the continuation of largely unsuccessful programs. Given that the new funding is to be managed by the Great Barrier Reef Foundation – which is a charity rather than a statutory management body – we can only hope that the foundation finds new and innovative ways to improve greatly on the current efforts.

Jon Brodie, Professorial Fellow, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

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

Australian Renewable Energy Agency saved but with reduced funding – experts react


Michael Hopkin, The Conversation

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) has been granted a funding lifeline of A$800 million over the next five years, after the federal government and opposition came to an agreement that will save the agency.

ARENA had faced being wound down as a result of the government’s earlier proposal to strip A$1.3 billion from the agency. This was part of a wider package of measures designed to save the federal budget more than A$6 billion.

Renewable energy researchers had reacted with dismay to that proposal. An open letter to the government in defence of the agency attracted 190 signatures.

Below, our experts react to the news.

Nicky Ison, Senior Research Consultant, Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney

Today the Coalition government and the Labor Party struck a deal to:

  • slash half-a-billion dollars from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency; and

  • save the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA).

These statements seem like a contradiction, but both are true. However, it is also true that the need to save ARENA exists because of the Coalition government’s efforts over the past three years to dismantle Australia’s renewable energy policy.

If the benchmark is that we keep our existing renewable energy institutions, today was a win. However, if the benchmark is that we have institutions and policies that have sufficient funding and scope to tackle the policy challenges of climate change, our changing energy system and driving innovation, then today was a loss.

Andrew Blakers, Professor of Engineering, Australian National University

The Australian research community is pleased that the government’s proposal to debilitate ARENA by removing A$1.3 billion and ending its granting function will not go ahead. At the same time, we are disappointed that yet again ARENA is subject to huge funding cuts.

The fastest and surest way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to accelerate the introduction of renewable energy into the electricity system. ARENA has focused heavily in this area (among others), covering the full gamut from support for early-stage research, through grants to young renewable energy companies, to acceleration of deployment of large-scale solar photovoltaic systems.

ARENA will need to heavily prune its activities to cope with a A$500 million budget cut. We look forward to restoration of ARENA funding, and to a concerted effort at the national level to move rapidly to 50-100% renewable electricity.

Tony Wood, Energy Program Director, Grattan Institute

The silver lining amid the cloud of the political compromise on ARENA funding represents a welcome return to the art of the possible. Of course it is a pity that ARENA has been cut again, given that among Kevin Rudd’s climate change children this one had bipartisan support, at least until the 2014 budget.

Grant funding to drive down the costs of renewable technologies with real potential has been ARENA’s model and the funds now secured will allow this to continue. The next challenge is to create an integrated model that connects grant funding with the recently announced Clean Energy Innovation Fund, which will provide debt and equity funding to emerging renewable technologies, and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation’s role of developing innovative financial models to
commercialise clean energy.

Living for another day is never a bad outcome.

The Conversation

Michael Hopkin, Environment + Energy Editor, The Conversation

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

The good, the bad and the ugly: research funding flows to big and beautiful mammals in Australia


Susan Lawler, La Trobe University

You might think that scientists are rational, logical creatures, but it turns out we are biased and lazy. A recent publication by Trish Fleming and Phil Bateman in Mammal Review has analysed how research on Australian mammals is distributed, and the results are not pretty.

What is being reported in the media is that ugly animals are at greater risk of extinction because research funding is more often directed towards species that are considered cute and cuddly. Having read their publication, I will argue this is not entirely true, but the researchers did find that Australian mammals fell into three broad categories that they called the good, the bad and the ugly.

The researchers used a tool called a species h-index: basically they compared research on various species by assessing how often they are mentioned in publications and how often those papers were cited by other scientists.

The Good: Monotremes and marsupials

Australia is well known for its unusual and unique mammalian fauna, and of course the stars of the show either lay eggs or have pouches. Echidnas and platypus are of great interest biologically because they are the only extant monotremes: they lay eggs and feed their babies with milk. There is nothing like them anywhere else on the planet, so it makes sense that even though they are only 0.6% of the mammal species in Australia, they are in 4% of publications.

Our native marsupials are also well researched. Kangaroos, koalas, Tasmanian devils, possums and their relatives constitute 49% of Australian mammals. They are also well researched, as they are in 73% of the publications assessed.

The Bad: Introduced eutherians

Eutherians are the placental mammals like ourselves. No pouches, no eggs, and relatively common outside of Australia. Most of our feral pests fall into this category and they attract a lot of research interest and funding because of their disproportionate economic impacts. Rabbits, house mice, foxes, cats and deer fall into the category of “bad” mammals. They represent 6% of mammal species in Australia and are mentioned in 12% of the publications.

Controversially, the authors decided to categorise the dingo as an introduced mammal, even though many of us consider it to be an important component of a healthy ecosystem. Other research shows that when dingo numbers are healthy, foxes and cats have less of an impact on small native mammals.

The Ugly: Native eutherians

Many people do not realise that we have a large number of native mammals that are not marsupials. These species found their way to our continent millions of years ago and have adapted to conditions here. Unfortunately, these are the rodents and bats, which have a bad reputation even though in most cases they are not interested in infesting your home or your hair.

The native eutherians represent no less than 45% of Australian mammals, but they are only in 11% of publications, which is less than the introduced ferals. The researchers put them in the “ugly” category despite the fact that many of these are quite cute.

For example, we keep Mitchell’s hopping mice as pets and I can assure you that they are adorable. Everyone who is lucky enough to visit after dark (they are nocturnal so only come out at night) has agreed. They jump, they play, they have personalities. So nobody is going to convince me that they belong in the ugly category.

What they are is small and cryptic. Given the difficulty of finding them in their cage during the day, I can only imagine how difficult it would be to observe them in the wild. Bats are even more difficult as their sleeping quarters are high up in trees or deep in rocky crevices.

Most research on big animals with large ranges

Unsurprisingly, given the challenges, the animals that attract the most research attention are large and are distributed over a large geographic range. This may be in part because these are the species that are of more interest to the public and therefore attract more funding, but it also makes scientists look lazy.

It is far easier to survey koalas than it is to survey microbats, but when we consider that the microbats are eating insects for us, while koalas are more likely to kill trees, there may be good reason to shift our focus. (By the way, you can build a microbat roosting box to attract them to your house, see here).

Where should the funding go?

Of most concern is that there was no correlation between a species’ IUCN status (endangered, threatened, etc.) and the amount of research interest. Given the large number of species that are data deficient, this means that vulnerable species are not getting enough attention.

Australia has suffered the greatest loss of native mammals globally and many of us want that to change. Unfortunately, good intentions are not enough. We need research funding, and this is not evenly distributed. Australia belongs to the 40 most underfunded countries for conservation. One researcher has suggested the shortfall is over $350 million AUD, and yet we do not receive international biodiversity funding aid.

Here’s hoping the ugly mammals of Australia are not made to suffer the ultimate fate of extinction, just because we are unable to take a step back and set priorities based on evidence rather than emotion.

Perhaps we need to start an Ugly Animal Preservation Society, like they have in the UK.

The Conversation

Susan Lawler, Senior Lecturer, Department of Ecology, Environment and Evolution, La Trobe University

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