Climate policy is a fiendish problem for governments – time for an independent authority with real powers

Peter C. Doherty, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

From global epidemics to global economic markets to the global climate, understanding complex systems calls for solid data and sophisticated maths. My advice to young scientists contemplating a career in research is: “If you’re good at maths, keep it up!”

I’m no mathematician – my research career has focused largely on the complexities of infection and immunity. But as recently retired Board Chair of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science, I’ve been greatly informed by close contact with mathematically trained meteorologists, oceanographers and other researchers, who analyse the massive and growing avalanche of climate data arriving from weather stations, satellites, and remote submersibles such as Argo floats.

Read more:
Why Australians need a national environment protection agency to safeguard their health

My perception, based on a long experience of science and scientists, is that these are outstanding researchers of impeccable integrity.

Among both the climate research community and the medically oriented environmental groups such as the Climate and Health Alliance and Doctors for the Environment Australia with which I have been involved, there is increasing concern, and even fear, about the consequences of ever-climbing greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.

The growing climate problem

Following the thinking of the late Tony McMichael, a Canberra-based medical epidemiologist who began studying lead poisoning and then went on to become a primary author on the health section of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s five-yearly Assessment Reports, I have come to regard human-induced global warming as similar in nature to the problem of toxic lead poisoning.

Just like heavy metal toxicity, the problems caused by atmospheric greenhouse gases are cumulative, progressive, and ultimately irreversible, at least on a meaningful human timescale.

Regrettably, this consciousness has not yet seeped through to enough members of
the Australian political class. The same lack of engagement characterises current
national politics in Russia and the United States – although some US states, particularly California are moving aggressively to develop alternative energy sources.

The latter is true for much of Western Europe, while China and South Korea are committed both to phasing out coal and to leading the world in wind and solar power technology. In collaboration with the US giant General Electric, South Korean and Japanese companies are working to develop prefabricated (and hopefully foolproof) small nuclear reactors called SMRs.

At this stage, China (currently the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter) is humanity’s best hope – if it indeed holds to its stated resolve.

Political paralysis

Politically, with a substantial economic position in fossil fuel extraction and
export, Australia’s federal government seems paralysed when it comes to taking meaningful climate action. We signed on to the Paris Agreement but, even if we meet the agreed reductions in emissions, precious little consideration is given to the fossil fuels that we export for others to burn. And while much of the financial sector now accepts that any new investments in coalmines will ultimately become “stranded assets”, some politicians nevertheless continue to pledge tax dollars to fund such projects.

What can be done? Clearly, because meaningful action is likely to impact both
on jobs and export income, this is an impossible equation for Australia’s elected
representatives. Might it help to give them a “backbone” in the form of a fully
independent, scientifically and economically informed statutory authority, endowed with real powers? Would such an initiative even be possible under Australian law?

Realising that reasoned scientific and moral arguments for meaningful action
on climate change are going nowhere fast, some 41 Australian environmental organisations sought the help of the Australian Panel of Experts on Environmental Law (APEEL) to develop the case for a powerful, independent Commonwealth Environmental Commission (CEC) linked to a National Environmental Protection Agency (NEPA).

This week in Canberra, at the culmination of a two-year process, the environmental groups will present their conclusions, preceded by a more mechanistic analysis from the lawyers.

In very broad terms, the new agencies would do for environmental policy what the Reserve Bank currently does for economic decisions. That is, they would have the power to make calls on crucial issues (whether they be interest rates or air pollution limits) that cannot be vetoed by the government.

Of course, that would require a government that is willing to imbue them with such power in the first place.

Read more:
Australia needs stricter rules to curb air pollution, but there’s a lot we could all do now

While it’s a good bet that developing such a major national initiative will, at best, be a long, slow and arduous process, it is true that (to quote Laozi): “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”.

The ConversationWhat is also clear is that “business as usual” is not a viable option for the future economy, defence and health of Australia.

Peter C. Doherty, Laureate Professor, The Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity

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


Oh deer: a tricky conservation problem for Tasmania

Ted Lefroy, University of Tasmania; Christopher Johnson, University of Tasmania, and David Bowman, University of Tasmania

Deer were introduced into Australia in the 19th century for hunting. There are now six species roaming wild, and their numbers are increasing dramatically as their population expands and through human action. As they spread, they raise uncomfortable issues for conservation.

Fallow deer (Dama dama) were introduced to Tasmania for hunting by the newly arrived colonists in the 1830s. Now after 180 years, there is growing concern amongst land holders and conservationists that this species is on the move.

From a current population estimated at 25,000, modelling suggests deer could increase by 40% in the next decade. That would mean up to a million animals by mid century without additional management.

This has all the elements of a wicked problem, a stand-off with no right answer due to the uncertainty about the current population size, its rate of growth and the impact deer are having on farms and wilderness areas.

The result is a confusing and unproductive public debate between landholders, conservationist, hunters and government officials tasked with managing the deer population.

At the heart of this dilemma is the fact that fallow deer are protected under Tasmania’s Nature Conservation Act (2002), and can only be taken during a limited season through permits issued to landholders.

The wicked problem

Since the 1970s, Tasmania’s population of fallow deer has more than tripled to at least 20,000 and the area they occupy has increased five-fold to some 2 million hectares.

Fallow deer are a recognised invasive pest and a biosecurity risk, but in Tasmania the species is protected for recreational hunting.

Modelling using a conservative estimate of growth rate suggests that the population could increase by 40% in 10 years (2014–2023) and exceed one million by mid-century.

Livestock production is likely to suffer from competition for grazing and exposure to diseases such as Johnes which deer are known to carry on the mainland.

As deer spread, the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area is likely to experience more damage from overgrazing, browsing, trampling, ring-barking, antler-rubbing, weed dispersal, creation of trails and damage to wetlands and streams.

Meanwhile landholders are reporting larger and larger herds congregating on their properties, damaging crops and fences, and increased levels of unregulated hunting. The Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association is calling for commercialisation of deer harvesting in the face of increased numbers. Tasmania imports a tonne of wild shot venison from the mainland for the restaurant trade every week.

Bushwalkers are returning from the South West Wilderness World Heritage Area on the Central Plateau with photos of browse lines showing up in remote areas of high conservation value, well outside the deer’s tradition range in the agricultural areas of the east and north.

Why not allow more hunting?

Two reasons suggest this is not the solution. Hunters are concerned that uncontrolled harvesting will destroy the population and take away their hunting resource. And officials in the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment responsible for administering the game management regulations report that they are not getting full uptake of the 13,500 permits they are already issuing each year for hunting and crop protection.

One of the major limiting factors is the current management regime. Hunting and crop protection permits are allocated to landholders, requiring hunters to establish a relationship with a landholder to gain access to the deer.

The current permitting system does not allow landholders to respond efficiently to the problems posed by deer. An alternative would be a permit-free management regime in at least some land tenures or some parts of the State.

Two possible options are that landholders manage wild deer as they see fit on their own land (reducing them as much as possible, maintaining them as a resource, or tolerating them), or they could adhere to management targets agreed with government regulators. Targets might have goals such as not eradicating deer but holding populations at levels that do not cause significant conflict with other objectives of land management.

We just don’t know how many deer there are

The major factor limiting clarity in this debate at present is lack of information. There has never been a systematic survey of Tasmania’s fallow deer population.

Published estimates of the current population range from 20,000 to 30,000, but are probably too low. The population growth rate in Tasmania is unknown.

Elsewhere, populations of fallow deer are capable of growing at rates of around 55% per year. Without precise knowledge of the potential growth rate of the Tasmanian population we can’t be sure how long it could be before we have a million or so deer to contend with.

However, our modelling suggested that even if we assume a population growth rate at the low end of the range of estimates made elsewhere, the current rate of removal of deer by hunters will not prevent further growth. The annual increase in the population is likely to accelerate unless management keeps pace, something that is made difficult by the current system.

Growth of the deer population could be especially fast if more good deer habitat became available through processes such as increased wild fires opening up forests, without any change in the current permit system.

Agriculture and tourism are two of the biggest export earners on the island. An exploding deer population has the potential to damage both industries.

Investing in better knowledge would represent a small expense given these risks. Better data will not change everyone’s attitudes to deer or their place in Tasmania, but it would go a long way to shedding light on what is currently an unresolvable debate.

The Conversation

Ted Lefroy, Director, Centre for Environment, University of Tasmania; Christopher Johnson, Professor of Wildlife Conservation and ARC Australian Professorial Fellow, University of Tasmania, and David Bowman, Professor, Environmental Change Biology, University of Tasmania

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

Aviation has an emissions problem, and COP 21 won’t solve it

David Hodgkinson, University of Western Australia

The aviation emissions problem is a significant one. Aviation is a growing source of emissions, and those emissions are largely unregulated. Emissions from aviation are increasing against a background of decreasing emissions (or, at least, emissions regulation) from many other industry sectors.

If global aviation was a country, its emissions would be ranked about seventh in the world, between Germany and South Korea on CO₂ emissions alone. Put another way, aviation’s contribution to worldwide annual emissions could be as high as 8%.

And the International Civil Aviation Organization forecasts significant further emissions growth: against a 2006 baseline a 63-83% increase by 2020 is expected, and a 290-667% increase by 2050 (without accounting for more use of biofuels). UN action on aviation emissions so far: no COP involvement.

Under the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), developed-state parties to the Protocol (including Australia) ‘shall pursue limitation or reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases … from aviation … working through the International Civil Aviation Organization’ (ICAO).

In other words, aviation is excluded from (to date) the world’s primary climate change instruments. It leaves the aviation emissions problem up to ICAO, a UN agency.

At ICAO’s triennial assembly in 2013, an agreement was reached to proceed with a roadmap towards a decision to be taken in 2016 for implementation in 2020.

ICAO resolved to make a recommendation on a global scheme, including a means to take into account the ‘special circumstances and respective capabilities’ of different nations, and the mechanisms for the implementation of such a scheme from 2020 as part of a basket of measures. These include operational improvements and development of sustainable alternative fuels.

It is an agreement to agree. If everything goes to plan, from 2020 we might see a global market-based mechanism – presumably an emissions trading scheme, although a (non-fuel) tax can’t be ruled out – covering global aviation.

But that outcome is far from guaranteed. In effect, states have agreed to agree, and to keep talking at their next major meeting next year – and nothing more.

COP 21 – aviation won’t get off the ground

Given that ICAO is tasked with addressing the aviation emissions problem, aviation is most interesting in terms of references to it in successive draft versions of the COP 21 negotiating text and related documents.

The negotiating text for the agreement to be finalised in Paris in December stood at 90 pages after the UNFCCC Bonn meeting in August and September. It was essentially a compilation of state parties’ proposals – it wasn’t really negotiated. This text was subsequently reduced to just 20 pages in a ‘non-paper’ note dated 5 October 2015 but has now expanded to 51 pages as a result of the 19-23 October Bonn UNFCCC meeting.

In that 5 October draft note aviation was excluded. In the latest draft negotiating text (from the Bonn working group dated 23 October) – Article 3, ‘Mitigation,’ clause 19 – aviation is definitely included. Unsurprisingly, the clause – as expected – refers to ICAO as the appropriate UN agency to deal with the aviation emissions problem.

The only real uncertainty for aviation emissions at COP 21 is whether the words “shall” or “should” (which currently appear in square brackets in the negotiating text) or some other word will be used in relation to reduction of aviation emissions.

The Conversation

David Hodgkinson, Associate Professor, University of Western Australia

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

Australia: NSW – Fire Ants in Sydney

The link below is to an article warning of a Fire Ant invasion of Sydney – this is a very important problem and warning for Sydney.

For more visit:

Rats: Disaster for Islands

The link below is to an article that reports on the problem of rats for many islands around the world and the environmental disasters they bring to islands.

For more visit: