The government’s idea of ‘national environment standards’ would entrench Australia’s global pariah status


Martine Maron, The University of Queensland; Brendan Wintle, The University of Melbourne, and Craig Moritz, Australian National UniversityA growing global push to halt biodiversity decline, most recently agreed at the G7 on Sunday, leaves Australia out in the cold as the federal government walks away from critical reforms needed to protect threatened species.

The centrepiece recommendation in a landmark independent review of Australia’s national environment law was to establish effective National Environment Standards. These standards would have drawn clear lines beyond which no further environmental damage is acceptable, and established an independent Environment Assurance Commissioner to ensure compliance.

But the federal government has instead pushed ahead to propose its own, far weaker set of standards and establish a commissioner with very limited powers. The bill that paves the way for these standards is currently before parliament.

If passed, the changes would entrench, or even weaken, already inadequate protections for threatened species. They would also create more uncertainty for businesses affected by the laws.

Australia’s ineffective environment law

Australia is one of only a handful of megadiverse countries. Most of our species occur nowhere else — 87% of our mammals, 93% of our reptiles, and 94% of our frogs are found only here in Australia.

Yet, Australia risks global pariah status on biodiversity. Last week, threatened species experts recommended the koala be listed as endangered, despite a decade of protection under national environmental law. And this week, a UNESCO World Heritage committee recommended the Great Barrier Reef be listed as “in danger”.

Indeed, Australia has one of the worst track records in the world for biodiversity loss and species extinctions.

Bleached coral
This week the World Heritage committee recommended the Great Barrier Reef be put on the in-danger list.
Shutterstock

Australia’s national environment law — the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act — was introduced 20 years ago, and has not slowed extinction rates. In fact, threatened species populations are declining even faster.

This isn’t surprising, given the lack of mandated funding for threatened species and ecosystems recovery, poor enforcement of the law, and the lack of outcome-based environmental standards. It has allowed for hit after hit on important habitats to be approved.

The independent review of the EPBC Act, led by former competition watchdog chair Professor Graeme Samuel, set out how Australia can turn this around.

Samuel concluded the EPBC Act is no longer fit for purpose, and set out a comprehensive list of recommended reforms, founded upon establishing new, strong national environmental standards.

And he included an explicit warning: do not cherrypick from these recommendations.

Double standards

So how do the government’s proposed standards, released in March, compare to the Samuel review’s recommended version?

The Samuel review’s standards specified what environmental outcomes must be achieved by decisions made under the EPBC Act, such as whether a particular development can go ahead. For example, the standards would have required that any actions must cause no net reduction in the population of endangered and critically endangered species.




Read more:
To fix Australia’s environment laws, wildlife experts call for these 4 changes — all are crucial


Samuel developed these standards by consulting multiple sectors, and attracted general support. The government’s proposed standards bear no resemblance to these.

Instead, the government’s proposed standards repeat sections of the existing EPBC Act, adding zero clarity or specificity about the outcomes that should be achieved.

Standards like these risk significant and irreversible environmental harm being codified. They are the antithesis of the global push for outcomes-based, nature-positive standards.

The bill underpinning the standards would let actions be approved even if they caused substantial environmental harm, as long as the decision maker — currently the federal environment minister — believed other activities would render the overall outcome acceptable.

To help illustrate this, let’s say a mining operation would lead to significant destruction of koala habitat. The decision maker could consider this acceptable if they thought an unrelated tree-planting program would offset the risk to the koala — even if they had no say over whether the tree planting ever actually went ahead.

A koala with a joey on its back on a branch
Last week experts recommended the koala be listed as endangered.
Shutterstock

What about the responsibilities of the Environment Assurance Commissioner? Samuel recommended this commissioner would oversee the implementation of the standards, and ensure transparency.

But the government’s proposed Environment Assurance Commissioner would be prevented from scrutinising individual decisions made under the EPBC Act.

So, hypothetically, if a risky decision was being made — such as approving new dam that could send a turtle species extinct — checking if the decision complied with required standards would be beyond the commissioner’s remit. Instead, the commissioner would focus on checking processes and systems, not ensuring environmental outcomes are achieved.




Read more:
A major report excoriated Australia’s environment laws. Sussan Ley’s response is confused and risky


The deficiencies in the proposed standards have caught the attention of Queensland environment minister Meaghan Scanlon. Last year, the federal government introduced a different bill that would allow it to hand its responsibility for approving actions under the EPBC Act to the states. But Scanlon says the state won’t partake in this re-alignment of responsibility, unless the federal government introduces stronger national environment standards.

They’ve also caught the attention of the key cross-bench senators, whose support will ultimately determine whether the government’s standards prevail.

Getting left behind

With such a rich diversity of wildlife, Australia has a disproportionate responsibility to protect the Earth’s natural heritage. And we owe future generations the opportunity to experience the amazing nature we’ve grown up with.

If we are to turn around Australia’s appalling track record on biodiversity, the government’s proposed standards are not a good place to start.

In October, nations worldwide will agree to a new global strategy for protecting biodiversity, under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. The strategy looks set to include a roadmap to halt and reverse biodiversity decline by as early as 2030. Australia risks being left behind in this global push.

And last week, the G7 nations endorsed a plan to reverse the loss of biodiversity, and to conserve or protect at least 30% of land and oceans, by 2030.

These commitments are crucial – not only for wildlife, but for humans that depend on ecosystems that are now collapsing. When nature loses, we all suffer.




Read more:
‘Existential threat to our survival’: see the 19 Australian ecosystems already collapsing


The Conversation


Martine Maron, ARC Future Fellow and Professor of Environmental Management, The University of Queensland; Brendan Wintle, Professor in Conservation Ecology, School of BioSciences, The University of Melbourne, and Craig Moritz, Professor, Research School of Biology, Australian National University

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

Climate change is a security threat the government keeps ignoring. We’ll show up empty handed to yet another global summit


Cheryl Durrant, UNSWClimate change is a hot topic in Australian security circles, as it poses an emerging threat to our national resilience and way of life. As a new report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) last week warned, the federal government is unprepared to meet these challenges.

The report, authored by Dr Robert Glasser, said the government has largely overlooked the security threat posed by rising seas, climate-induced famine, extreme weather events, mass migrations and other climate change damage in Southeast Asia. Australia is sitting on the frontline of this vulnerable region.

Glasser’s report focuses on Southeast Asia, but in the bigger picture, climate security is an existential global risk which the Australian government is yet to fully grasp. It is this global aspect of climate and security which will be on the agenda in two weeks time at the Biden Leaders Summit in the US.

Why should we be worried?

The global risk is broader than traditional security threats, such as the rise of China, terrorism and separatist movements. As the ASPI report emphasises, there is a relationship between climate security and other sectors such as food, health and environmental security.

Unlike traditional national security threats, climate threats have no respect for national or sector borders and cannot be solved with missiles.

The threat is urgent. With the end of the Donald Trump presidency, climate change is back on regional and international security action agendas. The penny has dropped on how little time is left to take action to prepare for the worst of consequences.

This is especially the case when there are long lead times to implement action, such as infrastructure development and military capability development.




Read more:
Climate change poses a ‘direct threat’ to Australia’s national security. It must be a political priority


ASPI’s key recommendations to the government include:

  • improving understanding of climate change risks through a broad whole-of-government process
  • building capacity in government agencies to assess ongoing risks
  • identifying opportunities for regional aid and investments.

These make sense, as the first step of preparedness is understanding the risk.

Security risks go beyond natural disasters

The ASPI report notes Southeast Asia “has the world’s highest sea-level rise per kilometre of coastline and the largest coastal population affected by it”. The region is a hot spot for cyclones, with some nations vulnerable to catastrophic heat or fires.

The ASPI report notes:

Those hazards will not only exacerbate the traditional regional security threats […] but also lead to new threats and the prospect of multiple, simultaneous crises, including food insecurity, population displacement and humanitarian disasters that will greatly test our national capacities, commitments and resilience.

The report focuses on Southeast Asia and natural disasters, but the risks and the affected regions are bigger than that.

The Indo-Pacific region may see the displacement of millions of people due to climate change-related extreme weather events, heatwaves, droughts, rising seas and floods. We’re already seeing this occur in Bangladesh and small island developing states.

We could also see conflict arise as climate change affects global food or water resources. A particular concern is the potential geopolitical tensions between India and China over dwindling Tibetan water resources.

Australia is getting left behind

Urgency and risk are central to an executive order from President Joe Biden in January. The order requires a US national security estimate on the economic and national security impacts of climate change by June. The US Department of Defence must also complete an analysis of the security implications of climate change in the same timeframe.




Read more:
Biden says the US will rejoin the Paris climate agreement in 77 days. Then Australia will really feel the heat


Most tellingly, the US is taking an integrated approach to climate security. Foreign policy, defence and economic risk analysis are being conducted in a joined-up, systemic way.

In contrast, the Australian Defence Strategic Update 2020 was conducted in isolation from foreign policy and economic reviews. Taking a narrow military perspective, it does mention climate change, but only once, as a subset of human security threats.

Australia risks being left behind as other countries follow the US lead. Across the Tasman, our Kiwi friends are already well advanced in turning risk awareness into action. The New Zealand government completed its first national climate risk assessment last year, with a national adaptation plan to be completed by August 2022.

What are the consequences?

Being left behind has consequences for Australia’s international standing, national resilience and economic position.

From a diplomatic perspective, Australia’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region is diminished, relative to other actors, especially in states where climate change risk is a top priority, such as Vanuatu or Kiribati.

Risks offer opportunities as well. For example, Australia has an abundance of critical minerals and rare earths needed for modern communications, space technologies, and renewable energy generation and transmission. These are key for business, as well as critical for defence forces.




Read more:
Critical minerals are vital for renewable energy. We must learn to mine them responsibly


However, processing and manufacturing is largely conducted offshore — in countries vulnerable to climate risks such as Malaysia — before returning to Australia as finished products.

This puts Australian defence and space and energy sectors at risk of disruption, and Australian businesses at risks of economic loss.

What needs to happen next?

ASPI’s report echoes the earlier recommendation from a 2018 Senate inquiry into the implications of climate change for Australia’s national security. The inquiry also called for a coordinated whole-of-government response to climate change risks.

Three years later, the federal government has yet to act on its recommendations.

The Australian government now needs to have a greater sense of urgency to act on the growing national and international calls to act on climate risk. But first, our leaders need a changed mindset. They must accept that climate change is an immediate threat to Australia.




Read more:
Senate report: climate change is a clear and present danger to Australia’s security


The Conversation


Cheryl Durrant, Adjunct Associate Professor, UNSW

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

Climate change is a security threat the government keeps ignoring. We’ll show up empty handed to yet another global summit


Cheryl Durrant, UNSWClimate change is a hot topic in Australian security circles, as it poses an emerging threat to our national resilience and way of life. As a new report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI) last week warned, the federal government is unprepared to meet these challenges.

The report, authored by Dr Robert Glasser, said the government has largely overlooked the security threat posed by rising seas, climate-induced famine, extreme weather events, mass migrations and other climate change damage in Southeast Asia. Australia is sitting on the frontline of this vulnerable region.

Glasser’s report focuses on Southeast Asia, but in the bigger picture, climate security is an existential global risk which the Australian government is yet to fully grasp. It is this global aspect of climate and security which will be on the agenda in two weeks time at the Biden Leaders Summit in the US.

Why should we be worried?

The global risk is broader than traditional security threats, such as the rise of China, terrorism and separatist movements. As the ASPI report emphasises, there is a relationship between climate security and other sectors such as food, health and environmental security.

Unlike traditional national security threats, climate threats have no respect for national or sector borders and cannot be solved with missiles.

The threat is urgent. With the end of the Donald Trump presidency, climate change is back on regional and international security action agendas. The penny has dropped on how little time is left to take action to prepare for the worst of consequences.

This is especially the case when there are long lead times to implement action, such as infrastructure development and military capability development.




Read more:
Climate change poses a ‘direct threat’ to Australia’s national security. It must be a political priority


ASPI’s key recommendations to the government include:

  • improving understanding of climate change risks through a broad whole-of-government process
  • building capacity in government agencies to assess ongoing risks
  • identifying opportunities for regional aid and investments.

These make sense, as the first step of preparedness is understanding the risk.

Security risks go beyond natural disasters

The ASPI report notes Southeast Asia “has the world’s highest sea-level rise per kilometre of coastline and the largest coastal population affected by it”. The region is a hot spot for cyclones, with some nations vulnerable to catastrophic heat or fires.

The ASPI report notes:

Those hazards will not only exacerbate the traditional regional security threats […] but also lead to new threats and the prospect of multiple, simultaneous crises, including food insecurity, population displacement and humanitarian disasters that will greatly test our national capacities, commitments and resilience.

The report focuses on Southeast Asia and natural disasters, but the risks and the affected regions are bigger than that.

The Indo-Pacific region may see the displacement of millions of people due to climate change-related extreme weather events, heatwaves, droughts, rising seas and floods. We’re already seeing this occur in Bangladesh and small island developing states.

We could also see conflict arise as climate change affects global food or water resources. A particular concern is the potential geopolitical tensions between India and China over dwindling Tibetan water resources.

Australia is getting left behind

Urgency and risk are central to an executive order from President Joe Biden in January. The order requires a US national security estimate on the economic and national security impacts of climate change by June. The US Department of Defence must also complete an analysis of the security implications of climate change in the same timeframe.




Read more:
Biden says the US will rejoin the Paris climate agreement in 77 days. Then Australia will really feel the heat


Most tellingly, the US is taking an integrated approach to climate security. Foreign policy, defence and economic risk analysis are being conducted in a joined-up, systemic way.

In contrast, the Australian Defence Strategic Update 2020 was conducted in isolation from foreign policy and economic reviews. Taking a narrow military perspective, it does mention climate change, but only once, as a subset of human security threats.

Australia risks being left behind as other countries follow the US lead. Across the Tasman, our Kiwi friends are already well advanced in turning risk awareness into action. The New Zealand government completed its first national climate risk assessment last year, with a national adaptation plan to be completed by August 2022.

What are the consequences?

Being left behind has consequences for Australia’s international standing, national resilience and economic position.

From a diplomatic perspective, Australia’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region is diminished, relative to other actors, especially in states where climate change risk is a top priority, such as Vanuatu or Kiribati.

Risks offer opportunities as well. For example, Australia has an abundance of critical minerals and rare earths needed for modern communications, space technologies, and renewable energy generation and transmission. These are key for business, as well as critical for defence forces.




Read more:
Critical minerals are vital for renewable energy. We must learn to mine them responsibly


However, processing and manufacturing is largely conducted offshore — in countries vulnerable to climate risks such as Malaysia — before returning to Australia as finished products.

This puts Australian defence and space and energy sectors at risk of disruption, and Australian businesses at risks of economic loss.

What needs to happen next?

ASPI’s report echoes the earlier recommendation from a 2018 Senate inquiry into the implications of climate change for Australia’s national security. The inquiry also called for a coordinated whole-of-government response to climate change risks.

Three years later, the federal government has yet to act on its recommendations.

The Australian government now needs to have a greater sense of urgency to act on the growing national and international calls to act on climate risk. But first, our leaders need a changed mindset. They must accept that climate change is an immediate threat to Australia.




Read more:
Senate report: climate change is a clear and present danger to Australia’s security


The Conversation


Cheryl Durrant, Adjunct Associate Professor, UNSW

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

Vital Signs: a global carbon price could soon be a reality – Australia should prepare



John Nacion/AP

Richard Holden, UNSW

As well as restoring dignity to the Oval Office, another thing that will definitely change under a Biden presidency is US policy on the environment.

Biden’s plan for “a clean energy revolution and environmental justice” includes rejoining the Paris Agreement on climate change, investing US$1.7 trillion over the next decade in “green energy” and achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

The European Union, Japan and South Korea have already committed to net-zero emissions by 2050. China’s net-zero target is 2060.

With the US joining the fold, the implications for Australia could be huge.

A carbon border tax coming our way

The European Union has already announced it is considering a carbon border tax. This would involve a tariff on imports from nations without a price on carbon similar to the EU. The tax would be proportional to the amount of carbon in the imports, and the relative difference in carbon price between Europe and the exporting country.

This type of “border-adjustment tax” is a smart way to protect domestic industries from being undercut by imports from other countries without a price on carbon.

It would make eminent sense for the US to follow suit.

If so, things get really interesting. It would make it even harder to challenge such taxes as trade restriction before the World Trade Organisation. It would trigger similar moves by other countries serious about tackling climate change.

Joe Biden speaks about climate change and the fires affecting western US states on September 14 2020.
Patrick Semansky/AP

In fact, a border-adjustment tax is part of the US Climate Leadership Council’s proposal for a carbon tax and “carbon dividend” – returning all net proceeds from the tax to the American people on an equal basis.

The carbon dividend idea is supported by 28 Nobel laureate economists, 15 former chairs of the US Council of Economic Advisers and four former chairs of the US Federal Reserve.




Read more:
Carbon pricing works: the largest-ever study puts it beyond doubt


If most of our trading partners have a carbon border tax, then Australia will have a price on carbon – but only for exporters.

This will leave the Australian economy in a bad position.

With no price on carbon internally, no serious commitment to reduce emissions and a vain hope of meeting our Paris Agreement obligations through dodgy accounting tricks and future technological innovation, the rest of the world is unlikely to be sympathetic.

A carbon dividend plan

There is a better way: enact our own carbon dividend plan.

In 2018 law professor Rosalind Dixon and I proposed a plan for Australia similar to the Climate Leadership Council’s.

Cover of A Climate Dividend for Australians, UNSW, 2018.

University of NSW

Our Australian Carbon Dividend Plan involves a price on carbon, with the proceeds being distributed as a dividend, equally, to every voting-age citizen.

It also allows for a border-adjustment rebate so exporters aren’t penalised if exporting to countries without a similar price on carbon.

This would see a significant majority of Australians better off financially, and help protect exporters while we transition to cleaner energy.

It would also give the Australian government’s Technology Investment Roadmap (to accelerate the use of low-emissions technology) a chance of working. It makes no sense to bet on technology without using market price mechanisms to give suppliers and buyers the right incentives to develop and adopt the most effective technologies.




Read more:
Fresh thinking: the carbon tax that would leave households better off


The world is acting

The US just voted out a climate denier and is now going to take serious action on the environment. Europe is already acting. Our major trading partners are committing to net-zero targets.

We’re getting left behind. This ought to provide the impetus to put Australia’s climate wars to rest. Even if our elected politicians don’t want to do something serious about climate change for moral reasons, they now have little choice but to do so for practical reasons.

And that involves a price on carbon. Otherwise our exporters are going to be seriously disadvantaged. Using the proceeds from that price on carbon to pay it back as a dividend to Australians would be the best way forward.The Conversation

Richard Holden, Professor of Economics, UNSW

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

The world endured 2 extra heatwave days per decade since 1950 – but the worst is yet to come



Shutterstock

Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, UNSW

The term “heatwave” is no stranger to Australians. Defined as when conditions are excessively hot for at least three days in a row, these extreme temperature events have always punctuated our climate.

With many of us in the thick of winter dreaming of warmer days, it’s important to remember how damaging heatwaves can be.

In 2009, the heatwave that preceded Black Saturday killed 374 people. The economic impact on Australia’s workforce from heatwaves is US$6.2 billion a year (almost AU$9 billion). And just last summer, extreme temperature records tumbled, contributing to Australia’s unprecedented bushfire season.

What are heatwaves?

Our new study – the first worldwide assessment of heatwaves at the regional scale – found heatwaves have become longer and more frequent since 1950. And worryingly, we found this trend has accelerated.

We also examined a new metric: “cumulative heat”. This measures how much extra heat a heatwave can contribute, and the new perspective is eye-opening.

What is ‘extra heat’?

In southeast Australia’s worst heatwave season in 2009, we endured an extra heat of 80℃. Let’s explore what that means.

For a day to qualify as being part of a heatwave, a recorded temperature should exceed an officially declared “heatwave threshold”.

And cumulative heat is generally when the temperature above that threshold across all heatwave days are added up.

Let’s say, for example, a particular location had a heatwave threshold of around 30℃. The “extra heat” on a day where temperatures reach 35℃ would be 5℃. If the heatwave lasted for three days, and all days reached 35℃, then the cumulative heat for that event would be 15℃.

Another decade, another heatwave day

We found almost every global region has experienced a significant increase in heatwave frequency since 1950. For example, southern Australia has experienced, on average, one extra heatwave day per decade since 1950.




Read more:
Anatomy of a heatwave: how Antarctica recorded a 20.75°C day last month


However, other regions have experienced much more rapid increases. The Mediterranean has seen approximately 2.5 more heatwave days per decade, while the Amazon rainforest has seen an extra 5.5 more heatwave days per decade since 1950.

The global average sits at approximately two extra heatwave days per decade.

The last 20 years saw the worst heatwave seasons

Since the 1950s, almost all regions experienced significant increases in the extra heat generated by heatwaves.

Over northern and southern Australia, the excess heat from heatwaves has increased by 2-3℃ per decade. This is similar to other regions, such as western North America, the Amazon and the global average.

Alaska, Brazil and West Asia, however, have cumulative heat trends of a massive 4-5℃ per decade. And, for the vast majority of the world, the worst seasons occurred in the last 20 years.

In the heatwave before Black Saturday, 374 people died.
Shutterstock

We also examined whether heatwaves were changing at a constant rate, or were speeding up or slowing down. With the exception of average intensity, we found heatwave trends have not only increased, but have accelerated since the 1950s.

Don’t be fooled by the maths

Interestingly, average heatwave intensity showed little – if any – changes since 1950. But before we all breathe a sigh of relief, this is not because climate change has stopped, or because heatwaves aren’t getting any warmer. It’s the result of a mathematical quirk.




Read more:
Climate change: 40°C summer temperatures could be common in UK by 2100


Since we’re seeing more heatwaves – which we found are also generally getting longer – there are more days to underpin the average intensity. While all heatwave days must exceed a relative extreme threshold, some days will exceed this threshold to a lesser extent than others. This brings the overall average down.

When we look at changes in cumulative heat, however, there’s just no denying it. Extra heat – not the average – experienced in almost all regions, is what can have adverse impacts on our health, infrastructure and ecosystems.

The Amazon has endured 5.5 more heatwave days per decade since 1950.
Shutterstock

Like nothing we’ve experienced before

While the devastating impacts of heatwaves are clear, it has been difficult to consistently measure changes in heatwaves across the globe. Previous studies have assessed regional heatwave trends, but data constraints and the spectrum of different heatwave metrics available have made it hard to compare regional changes in heatwaves.

Our study has closed this gap, and clearly shows heatwaves are on the rise. We are seeing more of them and they are generating more heat at an increasing pace.




Read more:
We’ve learned a lot about heatwaves, but we’re still just warming up


While Australia may be no stranger to heatwaves in the past, those we see in the future under these accelerating trends will certainly be foreign.

For example, a 2014 study found that depending on where you are in Australia, anywhere between 15 and 50 extra heatwave days will occur by 2100 compared to the second half of the 20th century.

We can still abate those trends if we work collectively, effectively and urgently to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.The Conversation

Sarah Perkins-Kirkpatrick, ARC Future Fellow, UNSW

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

Global bank urges cities to invest in new infrastructure to adapt to climate change



Our cities need to adapt to cope with more extreme weather events and other impacts from climate change.
Flickr/Shaun Johnston, CC BY-NC-ND

Elisa Palazzo, UNSW

The impacts of climate change on weather, sea levels, food and water supplies should be seen as an investment opportunity for our cities, says global investment banking firm Goldman Sachs.

In a report out last month the bank says cities need to adapt to become more resilient to climate change and this could “drive one of the largest infrastructure build-outs in history”.

The bank says cities will be on the frontline of any need to adapt because they are home to more than half the world’s population and generate roughly 80% of global GDP.




Read more:
A landmark report confirms Australia is girt by hotter, higher seas. But there’s still time to act


The state of the debate

The report comes at a time when scepticism and wait-and-see approaches are still permeating the debate on climate action globally. The discussion on reducing emissions is dogged by disagreement on targets and actions to be undertaken.

Report cover.
Goldman Sachs

On the contrary, less emphasis has been placed on adapting to global warming, the consequences of which will play out for decades to come even if we meet the goals of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Goldman Sachs has already said it acknowledges the scientific consensus that climate change is a reality and human activities are responsible for increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere.

Much global attention has focused so far on the need for climate change mitigation and the reduction of CO₂ emissions. But the bank’s latest report addresses the urban adaptation strategies that are urgently required:

Greater resilience will likely require extensive urban planning, with investments in coastal protections, climate-resilient construction, more robust infrastructure, upgraded water and waste-management systems, energy resilience and stronger communications and transportation systems.

It acknowledges mitigation measures are essential to reduce global temperature in the medium and long term. But it argues we need to act immediately to minimise the current and future effects of climate change in urban areas.

The question is, why would a bank endorse such a vision?

Banking on climate change

The bank’s report is a collection of data and analysis on climate change from well-known sources, such as the IPCC, and a detailed list of expected impacts on cities.

For example, higher temperatures, more frequent and intense storms, and rising sea levels could affect economic activity, damage infrastructure and harm vulnerable residents.

Does the report represent a last call to brace for impact? Or is a more nuanced and somehow optimistic view of the process emerging?

In reality, it’s not surprising this call is coming from an international financial institution such as Golden Sachs. This report needs be read in parallel with the environmental policy framework of the bank which is its “commitment to addressing critical environmental issues”.

The latest report identifies urban adaptation responses and initiatives as market solutions and financial opportunities. It clearly points out where investments should be addressed.

The directions outlined range over infrastructural initiatives to measures that require financial investment. Our cities need better coastal protection, more resilient buildings and open spaces, sustainable water and waste management, and upgraded transport systems.

A call for action

There is a positive takeaway emerging from the bank’s viewpoint which is a pragmatic call for action.

This could reinstate a more optimistic view of climate change. It could overcome the wait-and-see approach by moving the discussions beyond mitigation only.

And the report has the merit to outline some major challenges emerging from the need of financing a comprehensive urban adaptation.




Read more:
Design for flooding: how cities can make room for water


First, the need for innovative sources of financing and new ways to support climatic transition.

Secondly, the need to look at equity issues emerging from an adaptation process. For example, should a city strengthen flood defences in the CBD or should it upgrade public housing in flood-prone areas? Given the scale of the aims we need to evaluate carefully where best to invest the limited resources available.

But in this respect, no solutions are proposed.

This report is one of the many financial reports on climate change we have seen recently, about the risks and opportunities for the banking and insurance system. It’s probably the first to acknowledge clearly the need for comprehensive adaptation investments to make our cities more resilient.

But in concentrating on the infrastructure needs for cities, the report seems to miss the big picture.

There is still a need to understand how more integrated actions will include the social and environmental dimensions of adapting to climate change to create more sustainable and equitable cities.The Conversation

Elisa Palazzo, Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Built Environment, UNSW

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

Australia is the runaway global leader in building new renewable energy


Matthew Stocks, Australian National University; Andrew Blakers, Australian National University, and Ken Baldwin, Australian National University

In Australia, renewable energy is growing at a per capita rate ten times faster than the world average. Between 2018 and 2020, Australia will install more than 16 gigawatts of wind and solar, an average rate of 220 watts per person per year.

This is nearly three times faster than the next fastest country, Germany. Australia is demonstrating to the world how rapidly an industrialised country with a fossil-fuel-dominated electricity system can transition towards low-carbon, renewable power generation.

Renewable energy capacity installations per capita.
International capacity data for 2018 from the International Renewable Energy Agency. Australian data from the Clean Energy Regulator., Author provided

When the Clean Energy Regulator accredited Tasmania’s 148.5 megawatt (MW) Cattle Hill Wind Farm in August, Australia met its Renewable Energy Target well ahead of schedule.




Read more:
Australia has met its renewable energy target. But don’t pop the champagne


We have analysed data from the regulator which tracks large- and small-scale renewable energy generation (including credible future projects), and found the record-high installation rates of 2018 will continue through 2019 and 2020.

Record renewable energy installation rates

While other analyses have pointed out that investment dollars in renewable energy fell in 2019, actual generation capacity has risen. Reductions in building costs may be contributing, as less investment will buy you more capacity.

Last year was a record year for renewable energy installations, with 5.1 gigawatts (GW) accredited in 2018, far exceeding the previous record of 2.2GW in 2017.

The increase was driven by the dramatic rise of large-scale solar farms, which comprised half of the new-build capacity accredited in 2018. There was a tenfold increase in solar farm construction from 2017.

We have projected the remaining builds for 2019 and those for 2020, based on data from the Clean Energy Regulator for public firm announcements for projects.

A project is considered firm if it has a power purchase agreement (PPA, a contract to sell the energy generated), has reached financial close, or is under construction. We assume six months for financial close and start of construction after a long-term supply contract is signed, and 12 or 18 months for solar farm or wind farm construction, respectively.

This year is on track to be another record year, with 6.5GW projected to be complete by the end of 2019.

The increase is largely attributable to a significant increase in the number of wind farms approaching completion. Rooftop solar has also increased, with current installation rates putting Australia on track for 1.9GW in 2019, also a new record.

This is attributed to the continued cost reductions in rooftop solar, with less than A$1,000 per kilowatt now considered routine and payback periods of the order of two to seven years.

Current (solid) and forecast (hashed) installations of renewable electricity capacity in Australia.
Author provided

Looking ahead to 2020, almost 6GW of large-scale projects are expected to be completed, comprising 2.5GW of solar farms and 3.5GW of wind. Around the end of 2020, this additional generation would deliver the old Renewable Energy Target of 41,000 gigawatt hours (GWh) per annum. That target was legislated in 2009 by the Rudd Labor government but reduced to 33,000GWh by the Abbott Coalition government in 2015.

Maintaining the pipeline

There are strong prospects for continued high installation rates of renewables. Currently available renewable energy contracts are routinely offering less than A$50 per MWh. Long-term contracts for future energy supply have an average price of more than A$58 per MWh. This is a very reasonable profit margin, suggesting a strong economic case for continued installations. Wind and solar prices are likely to decline further throughout the 2020s.

State governments programs are also supporting renewable electricity growth. The ACT has completed contracts for 100% renewable electricity. Victoria and Queensland both have renewable energy targets of 50% renewable electricity by 2030. South Australia is expecting to reach 100% by 2025.

The main impediment to continued renewables growth is transmission. Transmission constraints have resulted in bottlenecks in moving electricity from some wind and solar farms to cities.

Tasmania’s strong wind resource requires a new connection to the mainland to unlock more projects. The limitations of current planning frameworks for this transition were recognised in Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s review of the National Electricity Market, with strong recommendations to overcome these problems and, in particular, to strengthen the role of the Australian Energy Market Operator.




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Now we need state and federal governments to unlock or directly support transmission expansion. For example, the Queensland government has committed to supporting new transmission to unlock solar and wind projects in the far north, including the Genex/Kidston 250MW pumped hydro storage system. The New South Wales government will expedite planning approval for an interconnector between that state and South Australia, defining it as “critical infrastructure”.

These investments are key to Australia maintaining its renewable energy leadership into the next decade.The Conversation

Matthew Stocks, Research Fellow, ANU College of Engineering and Computer Science, Australian National University; Andrew Blakers, Professor of Engineering, Australian National University, and Ken Baldwin, Director, Energy Change Institute, Australian National University

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

‘Revolutionary change’ needed to stop unprecedented global extinction crisis


The exploitation of the land and sea is the number one reason for biodiversity extinction, according to a new report.
Shutterstock

Michelle Lim, University of Adelaide

We are witnessing the loss of biodiversity at rates never before seen in human history. Nearly a million species face extinction if we do not fundamentally change our relationship with the natural world, according to the world’s largest assessment of biodiversity.

Last week, in the culmination of a process involving 500 biodiversity experts from over 50 countries, 134 governments negotiated the final form of the Global Assessment of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES).




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IPBES aims to arm policy-makers with the tools to address the relationships between biodiversity and human well-being. It synthesises evidence on the state of biodiversity, ecosystems and natures’ contributions to people on a global scale.

The IPBES Global Assessment provides unequivocal evidence that we need biodiversity for human survival and well-being. To stem unprecedented species decline the assessment sets out the actions governments, the private sector and individuals can take.

Importantly, a whole chapter of the Global Assessment (about one-sixth of the assessment) is dedicated to examining whether existing biodiversity law and policy is adequate. This chapter also outlines ways to address the vortex of biodiversity decline.

If we are to halt the continued loss of nature, then the world’s legal, institutional and economic systems must be reformed entirely. And this change needs to happen immediately.

All four species of quoll have declined dramatically in numbers because of habitat loss or change across Australia, and introduced predators such as foxes and cats.
Shutterstock

What makes IPBES Assessments special?

IPBES is the biodiversity equivalent to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Assessments are a fundamental part of IPBES’s work.

IPBES Assessments review thousands of biodiversity studies to identify broad trends and draw authoritative conclusions. In the case of the Global Assessment, IPBES authors reviewed more than 15,000 publications from scientific and governments sources.




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Governments and stakeholders give feedback on the draft text, and experts respond meticulously to the thousands of comments before revising and clarifying the draft. A final summary of key findings is then negotiated with member states at plenary meetings – these meetings concluded on Saturday.

What did the Global Assessment find?

Human activity severely threatens biodiversity and ecosystem functions worldwide. About 1 million species are facing extinction. If nothing changes many of these could be gone within just decades.

But nature is vital to all aspects of human health. We rely on natural systems, not only for food, energy, medicine and genetic resources, but also for inspiration, learning and culture.

The report also reveals the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem function is much less pronounced on lands managed by Indigenous peoples and local communities. It also recognises the significant role of Indigenous knowledge, governance systems and culturally-specific worldviews which adopt a stewardship approach to managing natural systems.

The report identified agriculture, forestry and urbanisation as the number one reason for biodiversity loss in land-based ecosystems and rivers. In the sea, fishing has had the greatest impact on biodiversity and is exacerbated by changes in the use of the sea and coastal lands.

This is followed closely by:

  • the direct use of species (primarily through harvesting, logging, hunting and fishing)

  • climate change

  • pollution

  • the invasion of non-native species.

These factors are aggravated by underlying social values, such as unsustainable consumption and production, concentrated human populations, trade, technological advances, and governance at multiple scales.

The Global Assessment concludes that current biodiversity laws and policies have been insufficient to address the threats to the natural world.




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What’s more, if nothing changes, neither the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi Targets nor the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals are likely to be met.

And yet, the Global Assessment has an optimistic outlook. It emphasises that if the world’s legal, institutional and economic systems are transformed then it is possible to achieve a better future for biodiversity and human well-being in the next 30 years.

But this is only possible if reform happens immediately, as incremental change will be insufficient.

What must be done?

Pollution is one of the main reasons biodiversity is in rapid decline.
Shutterstock

The Global Assessment puts forward these next, urgent steps:

  • we need to redefine human well-being beyond its narrow basis on economic growth

  • engage multiple public and private actors

  • link sustainability efforts across all governance scales

  • elevate Indigenous and local knowledge and communities.

The report also recommends strengthening environmental laws and taking serious precautionary measures in public and private endeavours. Governments must recognise indivisibility of society and nature, and govern to strengthen rather than weaken the natural world.

What can I do?

Produce and consume sustainably

Individuals can make meaningful change through what we produce and what we buy. Our food is an important starting point. You could, for instance, choose local or sustainably produced meals and reduce your food waste.

Champion the inclusion of Indigenous peoples and local communities

Indigenous and local communities need to be included and supported more than ever before. The Global Assessment provides clear evidence that lands managed by Indigenous and local communities are performing better in terms of biodiversity. Still, these lands face serious threats, and Indigenous communities continue to be marginalised around the world.

Provoke governments to do better

Current biodiversity laws and policies don’t adequately address the threats to the natural world. The report recommends the world include biodiversity considerations across all sectors and jurisdictions to prevent further degradation of natural systems. We have an important role in rallying our governments to ensure this occurs.




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We are losing biodiversity at record-breaking rates. The majesty of the natural world is disappearing and with it that which makes life worth living. We are also undermining the capacity of the Earth to sustain thriving human societies. We have the power to change this – but we need to act now.The Conversation

Michelle Lim, Lecturer, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide

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

Why stop at plastic bags and straws? The case for a global treaty banning most single-use plastics



File 20190206 174867 1gwu8a.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Joyce Njeri, 8, walks amidst garbage and plastic bags in the Dandora slum of Nairobi, Kenya.
AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File

Anastasia Telesetsky, University of Idaho

Single-use plastics are a blessing and a curse. They have fueled a revolution in commercial and consumer convenience and improved hygiene standards, but also have saturated the world’s coastlines and clogged landfills. By one estimate 79 percent of all plastic ever produced is now in a dump, a landfill or the environment, and only 9 percent has been recycled.

This growing legacy poses real risks. Plastic packaging is clogging city sewer systems, leading to flooding. Abandoned plastic goods create breeding grounds for mosquitoes, and can leach toxic additives such as styrene and benzene as they decompose. Single-use plastics are killing birds and harming marine life.

I study international environmental law with a focus on marine ecosystems. In my view, land-based pollution from single-use plastics is a slow-onset disaster that demands a global response.

One attractive strategy is pursuing a legally binding phase-out of most single-use plastics at the global level. I believe this approach makes sense because it would build on current national and municipal efforts to eliminate single-use packaging, and would create opportunities for new small and medium-sized businesses to develop more benign substitutes.

Plastic bag litter along the Jukskei River, Johannesburg, South Africa.
NJR ZA/Wikimedia, CC BY-SA

Single-use plastic bans

About 112 countries, states and cities around the world have already imposed bans on various single-use plastic goods. Of these measures, 57 are national and 25 are in Africa. And the list of these restrictions continues to grow.

Most of these bans target thin single-use plastic carrier bags or imports of non-biodegradable bags. Some, such as the one in Antigua-Barbuda, include other single-use or problematic items, such as foam coolers and plastic utensils. A few measures – notably, Kenya’s plastic bag law – impose stiff punishments on violators, including jail time and fines of up to US$38,000.

Groups of states are starting to enact regional policies. The East African Legislative Assembly has passed a bill to ban the manufacture, sale, import and use of certain plastic bags across its six member states, with a combined population of approximately 186 million people. And in October 2018 the European Union Parliament approved a ban on a number of single-use plastic items by 2021, along with a requirement to reduce plastic in food packaging by 25 percent by 2025 and cut plastic content in cigarette filters 80 percent by 2030.

Most of these bans are quite new or still being implemented, so there is limited research on how well they work. However, researchers at the United Nations who have reviewed 60 “national bans and levies” estimate that 30 percent of these measures have reduced consumption of plastics.

Plastics manufacturers contend that better recycling is the most effective way to reduce the environmental impact of their products. But many factors make it hard to recycle plastic, from its physical characteristics to insufficient market demand for many types of recycled plastics. In many instances, single-use plastics can only be recycled, optimistically, 10 times before their fibers become too short to be reprocessed.

Estimated number of new regulations on single-use plastics entering into force at the national level worldwide.
UNEP, CC BY

Lessons from other global bans

Several global bans and product phase-outs offer lessons for a treaty banning single-use plastic goods. The most successful case is the 1987 Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer. This treaty phased out production and use of chlorofluorocarbons in a variety of products, including refrigerators and spray cans, after they were shown to harm Earth’s protective ozone layer.

Today scientists predict that stratospheric ozone concentrations will rebound to 1980 levels by the middle of this century. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Montreal Protocol has prevented millions of cases of skin cancer and cataracts from exposure to ultraviolet radiation. In 2016 nations adopted the Kigali Amendment, which will phase out production and use of hydrofluorocarbons, another class of ozone-depleting chemicals.

Why has the Montreal Protocol worked so well? One key factor is that every nation in the world has joined it. They did so because alternative materials were available to substitute for chlorofluorocarbons. The treaty also provided financial support to countries that needed help transitioning away from the banned substances.

Sir David Attenborough narrates the extraordinary history of the Montreal Protocol.

Where countries trying to reduce use of these chemicals fell short of their goals, the Protocol provided institutional support rather than punishing them. But it also included the option to impose trade sanctions on nations that refused to cooperate.

Another pact, the 2001 Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, banned or severely limited production and use of certain chemicals that threatened human and environmental health, including specific insecticides and industrial chemicals. Today 182 nations have signed the treaty. Concentrations of several dangerous POPs in the Arctic, where global air and water currents tend to concentrate them, have declined.

Nations have added new chemicals to the list and created “elimination networks” to help members phase out use of dangerous materials such as PCBs. And producers of goods such as semiconductors and carpets that use listed chemicals are working to develop new, safer processes.

Even though the United States has not signed the Stockholm Convention, U.S. companies have largely eliminated production of the chemicals that the treaty regulates. This shows that setting a global standard may encourage nations to conform in order to maintain access to global markets.

Other international bans have been less successful. In 1989, seeking to reduce the slaughter of elephants for their tusks, parties to the Convention in Trade of Endangered Species banned ivory sales by ending trade in African elephant parts. Initially demand for ivory fell, but in 1999 and 2008 treaty states allowed African nations to sell ivory stockpiles to Japan and China, ostensibly to fund conservation. These two sales reignited global demand for ivory and created unregulated domestic markets that stimulated high levels of poaching.

Malaysian customs officials display smuggled tusks seized at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in 2017. Demand for ivory continues to fuel poaching and illegal trade despite an international ban on sales of elephant parts.
AP Photo/Vincent Thian

An opportunity to lead

What lessons do these treaties offer for curbing plastic pollution? The Montreal Protocol shows that bans can work where substitute products are available, but require reliable monitoring and the threat of sanctions to deter cheating. The Stockholm Convention suggests that industries will innovate to meet global production challenges. And struggles to curb the ivory trade offer a cautionary message about allowing exceptions to global bans.

I believe the rapid spread of single-use plastic bans shows that enough political support exists to launch negotiations toward a global treaty. Emerging economies such as Kenya that are aggressively tackling the problem are especially well placed to take a lead at the U.N. General Assembly in calling for talks on stemming the tide of plastic pollution.The Conversation

Anastasia Telesetsky, Professor of International Environmental Law , University of Idaho

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

We finally have the rulebook for the Paris Agreement, but global climate action is still inadequate


Kate Dooley, University of Melbourne

Three years after the Paris Agreement was struck, we now finally know the rules – or most of them, at least – for its implementation.

The Paris Rulebook, agreed at the UN climate summit in Katowice, Poland, gives countries a common framework for reporting and reviewing progress towards their climate targets.

Yet the new rules fall short in one crucial area. While the world will now be able to see how much we are lagging behind on the necessary climate action, the rulebook offers little to compel countries to up their game to the level required.




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The national pledges adopted in Paris are still woefully inadequate to meet the 1.5℃ or 2℃ global warming goals of the Paris Agreement. In the run-up to the Katowice talks, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a special report detailing the urgent need to accelerate climate policy. Yet the summit ran into trouble in its efforts to formally welcome the report, with delegates eventually agreeing to welcome its “timely completion”.

Rather than directly asking for national climate targets to be increased, the Katowice text simply reiterates the existing request in the Paris Agreement for countries to communicate and update their contributions by 2020.

Much now hinges on the UN General Assembly summit in September 2019, to bring the much-needed political momentum towards a new raft of pledges in 2020 that are actually in line with the scientific reality.

Ratcheting up ambition

A key element of the Paris Agreement is the Global Stocktake – a five-yearly assessment of whether countries are collectively on track to meet the Paris Agreement’s goals to limit global warming.

The new rulebook affirms that this process will consider “equity and best available science”. But it does not elaborate specifically on how these inputs will be used, and how the outcomes of the stocktake will increase ambition.

This raises concerns that the rulebook will ensure we know if we are falling behind on climate action, but will offer no prescription for fixing things. This risks failing to address one of the biggest issues with the Paris Agreement so far: that countries are under no obligation to ensure their climate pledges are in line with the overall goals. A successful, ambitious and prescriptive five-yearly review process will be essential to get the world on track.

Transparency and accounting

One of the aims of the Katowice talks was to develop a common set of formats and schedules for countries to report their climate policy progress.

The new rules allow a degree of flexibility for the most vulnerable countries, who are not compelled to submit quantified climate pledges or regular transparency reports. All other countries will be bound to report on their climate action every two years, starting in 2024.

However, given the “bottom-up” nature of the Paris Agreement, countries are largely able to determine their own accounting rules, with guidelines agreed on what information they should provide. But a future international carbon trading market will obviously require a standardised set of rules. The newly agreed rulebook carries a substantial risk of double-counting where countries could potentially count overseas emissions reductions towards their own target, even if another country has also claimed this reduction for itself.

This issue became a major stumbling block in the negotiations, with Brazil and others refusing to agree to rules that would close this loophole, and so discussions will continue next year. In the meantime, the UN has no official agreement on how to implement international carbon trading.

Accounting rules for action in the land sector have also been difficult to agree. Countries such as Brazil and some African nations sought to avoid an agreement on this issue, while others, such as Australia, New Zealand and the European Union, prefer to continue existing rules that have delivered windfall credits to these countries.

Finance

The new rulebook defines what will constitute “climate finance”, and how it will be reported and reviewed.

Developed countries are now obliged to report every two years on what climate finance they plan to provide, while other countries in a position to provide climate finance are encouraged to follow the same schedule.

But with a plethora of eligible financial instruments – concessional and non-concessional loans, guarantees, equity, and investments from public and private sources – the situation is very complex. In some cases, vulnerable countries could be left worse off, such as if loans have to be repaid with interest, or if financial risk instruments fail.

Countries can voluntarily choose to report the grant equivalent value of these financial instruments. Such reporting will be crucial for understanding the scale of climate finance mobilised.




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The Paris Agreement delivered the blueprint for a global response to climate change. Now, the Paris Rulebook lays out a structure for reporting and understanding the climate action of all countries.

But the world is far from on track to achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. The latest report from the UN Environment Programme suggests existing climate targets would need to be increased “around fivefold” for a chance of limiting warming to 1.5℃. The newly agreed rules don’t offer a way to put us on this trajectory.

Multilateral climate policy has perhaps taken us as far as it can – it is now time for action at the national level. Australia, as a country with very high per-capita emissions, needs to step up to a leadership position and take on our fair share of the global response. This means making a 60% emissions cut by 2030, as outlined by the Climate Change Authority in 2015.

Such an ambitious pledge from Australia and other leading nations would galvanise the international climate talks in 2020. What the world urgently needs is a race to the top, rather than the current jockeying for position.The Conversation

Kate Dooley, Researcher, Australian German Climate and Energy College, University of Melbourne

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