Human progress is no excuse to destroy nature. A push to make ‘ecocide’ a global crime must recognise this fundamental truth


WWF Australia

Anthony Burke, UNSW and Danielle Celermajer, University of SydneyScientists recently confirmed the Amazon rainforest is now emitting more carbon dioxide than it absorbs, due to uncontrolled burning and deforestation. It brings the crucial ecosystem closer to a tipping point that would see it replaced by savanna and trigger accelerated global heating.

This is not an isolated example of nature being damaged at a mass scale. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change this month confirmed global heating is now affecting every continent, region and ocean on Earth. That includes Australia, which is a global deforestation hotspot and where the Great Barrier Reef is headed for virtual extinction.

In the face of such horrors, a new international campaign is calling for “ecocide” – the killing of ecology – to be deemed an international “super crime” in the order of genocide. The campaign has attracted high-profile supporters including French President Emmanuel Macron, Pope Francis and Swedish activist Greta Thunberg.

Making ecocide an international crime is an appropriate response to the gravity of this harm and could help prevent mass environmental destruction. But whether it does so will depend on how the crime is defined.

bare earth with small patch of trees
Destruction of the Amazon has fuelled the push for a new international crime of ‘ecocide’.
Greenpeace

Defining ecocide

The global campaign is being led by the Stop Ecocide Foundation. Last month an independent legal panel advising the campaign released a proposed amendment to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. It would make ecocide a crime, defining it as:

unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.

Defining a new international crime is a tricky balance. It must:

  • capture the gravity, nature and extent of the harm
  • set appropriate, but not impossible, standards of proof
  • set moral standards that other international laws should follow.

The draft definition marks an important step in getting ecocide on the international agenda. And it does a good job of defining and balancing the core elements of ecocide – “severe” and either “widespread” or “long-term” damage to “any element of the environment”.

Laudably, these core elements show a concern for ecosystem integrity, human rights to a healthy environment, and the way grave damage to ecosystems can have devastating local and planetary consequences well into the future. This is a significant achievement.

Despite these strengths, lawyers and scholars, including ourselves, have identified problems with the definition.




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person in mask holds sign which says 'ecocode'
The proposed definition of ecocide is flawed.
ITSUO INOUYE/AP

Towards an ecological approach

A key concern is that the proposed definition considers only “unlawful” or “wanton” acts to be ecocide.

Most environmental destruction is not illegal. We need look no further than Australia’s land clearing laws or, indeed, federal environment law which has comprehensively failed to protect nature.

Under the proposed definition, lawful acts are only ecocidal if they are “wanton” – defined as “reckless disregard for damage which would be clearly excessive in relation to the social and economic and benefits anticipated”.

This condition assumes some ecocidal damage is acceptable in the name of human progress. According to the panel, such “socially beneficial acts” might include building housing developments and transport links.

This assumption furthers the human-centred privilege and “get-out-of-jail” clauses that have so weakened international environmental law to date.

We are not saying that housing, transport links or farms should not be built. But, in a period some scientists are calling the sixth mass extinction, they cannot come at the expense of crucial species and ecosystems. Sustainable development must respect this boundary.

The assumption also fails to recognise the gravity of ecocide. Such trade-offs – formally known as “derogations” – are rejected by international conventions governing slavery, torture, sexual violence, and fundamental human rights.

For example, the Convention Against Torture states:

no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.

An international crime of ecocide must meet a similar standard. It should recognise that all forms of life, and the ecological systems that support them, have value for their own sake.

This perspective is known as multispecies justice. It holds that human well-being is bound to flourishing ecosystems, which have an intrinsic value outside the human use for them.

Earth from space
Human well-being is bound to Earth’s flourishing ecosystems.
Shutterstock

Genocide – the annihilation of human groups – is recognised as a crime against humanity. As political philosopher Hannah Arendt argued, genocide is an attack on human diversity that erodes the “very nature of mankind” and poses a grave threat to global order.

In the same way, the definition of ecocide should recognise that acts which destroy biological diversity, and lead to species extinction, threaten the very nature and survival of Earth’s multi-species community.

In Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe, the Balkans and more recently Myanmar, millions were killed and dispersed under a crime against humanity known as “ethnic cleansing”. Yet this killing and dispersal is happening to non-human communities as we write. The vast habitat destroyed by deforestation is as important to displaced animals as our homes are to us.

And this is a shared calamity. Mass environmental destruction is an attack on the foundations of all life that makes up the biosphere, of which humanity is only a part.




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Man with pile of elephant tusks
The loss of one part of nature damages all life on Earth, including humanity.
Ben Curtis/AP

What should be done?

The Stop Ecocide Foundation says the proposed definition will now be “made available for states to consider”.

As they do so, we ought to work towards a definition of ecocide that puts non-human lives at its centre. The crime of ecocide must be defined in a way that honours its victims – the myriad beings of the Earth.

In the meantime, political efforts to rein in biodiversity destruction must become an urgent global priority. And citizens can press their governments to criminalise the ecocidal acts that have become business as usual.




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The Conversation


Anthony Burke, Professor of Environmental Politics & International Relations, UNSW and Danielle Celermajer, Professor of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Sydney

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

More livestock, more carbon dioxide, less ice: the world’s climate change progress since 2019 is (mostly) bad news


Thomas Newsome, University of Sydney; Christopher Wolf, Oregon State University, and William Ripple, Oregon State UniversityBack in 2019, more than 11,000 scientists declared a global climate emergency. They established a comprehensive set of vital signs that impact or reflect the planet’s health, such as forest loss, fossil fuel subsidies, glacier thickness, ocean acidity and surface temperature.

In a new paper published today, we show how these vital signs have changed since the original publication, including through the COVID-19 pandemic. In general, while we’ve seen lots of positive talk and commitments from some governments, our vital signs are mostly not trending in the right direction.

So, let’s look at how things have progressed since 2019, from the growing number of livestock to the meagre influence of the pandemic.

Is it all bad news?

No, thankfully. Fossil fuel divestment and fossil fuel subsidies have improved in record-setting ways, potentially signalling an economic shift to a renewable energy future.

The graph on the left shows an increase in fossil fuel divestment by 1,117 organisations based on data from 350.org, and the graph on the right shows a decrease in subsidies for fossil fuels based on the International Energy Agency subsidies database. The red lines show changes since our original publication in 2019.

However, most of the other vital signs reflect the consequences of the so far unrelenting “business as usual” approach to climate change policy worldwide.

Especially troubling is the unprecedented surge in climate-related disasters since 2019. This includes devastating flash floods in the South Kalimantan province of Indonesia, record heatwaves in the southwestern United States, extraordinary storms in India and, of course, the 2019-2020 megafires in Australia.

In addition, three main greenhouse gases — carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide — set records for atmospheric concentrations in 2020 and again in 2021. In April this year, carbon dioxide concentration reached 416 parts per million, the highest monthly global average concentration ever recorded.

Time series of three climate-related responses. The red lines show changes since our original publication in 2019.

Last year was also the second hottest year in recorded history, with the five hottest years on record all occurring since 2015.

Ruminant livestock — cattle, buffalo, sheep, and goats — now number more than 4 billion, and their total mass is more than that of all humans and wild mammals combined. This is a problem because these animals are responsible for impacting biodiversity, releasing huge amounts of methane emissions, and land continues to be cleared to make room for them.

There are now more than 4 billion livestock on Earth.
Flickr

In better news, recent per capita meat production declined by about 5.7% (2.9 kilograms per person) between 2018 and 2020. But this is likely because of an outbreak of African swine fever in China that reduced the pork supply, and possibly also as one of the impacts of the pandemic.

Tragically, Brazilian Amazon annual forest loss rates increased in both 2019 and 2020. It reached a 12-year high of 1.11 million hectares deforested in 2020.

Ocean acidification is also near an all-time record. Together with heat stress from warming waters, acidification threatens the coral reefs that more than half a billion people depend on for food, tourism dollars and storm surge protection.

Map of land-ocean temperature index anomaly in June, relative to the 1951-1980 baseline.
Oregon State/NASA

What about the pandemic?

With its myriad economic interruptions, the COVID-19 pandemic had the side effect of providing some climate relief, but only of the ephemeral variety.

For example, fossil-fuel consumption has gone down since 2019 as did airline travel levels.

But all of these are expected to significantly rise as the economy reopens. While global gross domestic product dropped by 3.6% in 2020, it is projected to rebound to an all-time high.

So, a major lesson of the pandemic is that even when fossil-fuel consumption and transportation sharply decrease, it’s still insufficient to tackle climate change.

There is growing evidence we’re getting close to or have already gone beyond tipping points associated with important parts of the Earth system, including warm-water coral reefs, the Amazon rainforest and the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.

Warming waters are threatening West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets.
Flickr

OK, so what do we do about it?

In our 2019 paper, we urged six critical and interrelated steps governments — and the rest of humanity — can take to lessen the worst effects of climate change:

  1. prioritise energy efficiency, and replace fossil fuels with low-carbon renewable energy
  2. reduce emissions of short-lived pollutants such as methane and soot
  3. curb land clearing to protect and restore the Earth’s ecosystems
  4. reduce our meat consumption
  5. move away from unsustainable ideas of ever-increasing economic and resource consumption
  6. stabilise and, ideally, gradually reduce human populations while improving human well-being especially by educating girls and women globally.

These solutions still apply. But in our updated 2021 paper, we go further, highlighting the potential for a three-pronged approach for near-term policy:

  1. a globally implemented carbon price
  2. a phase-out and eventual ban of fossil fuels
  3. strategic environmental reserves to safeguard and restore natural carbon sinks and biodiversity.

A global price for carbon needs to be high enough to induce decarbonisation across industry.

And our suggestion to create strategic environmental reserves, such as forests and wetlands, reflects the need to stop treating the climate emergency as a stand-alone issue.

By stopping the unsustainable exploitation of natural habitats through, for example, creeping urbanisation, and land degradation for mining, agriculture and forestry, we can reduce animal-borne disease risks, protect carbon stocks and conserve biodiversity — all at the same time.

A kangaroo in burnt bushland
There has been a worrying number of disasters since 2019, including Australia’s megafires.
Shutterstock

Is this actually possible?

Yes, and many opportunities still exist to shift pandemic-related financial support measures into climate friendly activities. Currently, only 17% of such funds had been allocated that way worldwide, as of early March 2021. This percentage could be lifted with serious coordinated, global commitment.

Greening the economy could also address the longer term need for major transformative change to reduce emissions and, more broadly, the over-exploitation of the planet.

Our planetary vital signs make it clear we need urgent action to address climate change. With new commitments getting made by governments all over the world, we hope to see the curves in our graphs changing in the right directions soon.




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The Conversation


Thomas Newsome, Academic Fellow, University of Sydney; Christopher Wolf, Postdoctoral Scholar, Oregon State University, and William Ripple, Distinguished Professor and Director, Trophic Cascades Program, Oregon State University

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

We’ve made progress to curb global emissions. But it’s a fraction of what’s needed


Pep Canadell, CSIRO; Corinne Le Quéré, University of East Anglia; Glen Peters, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo; Matthew William Jones, University of East Anglia; Pierre Friedlingstein, University of Exeter; Robbie Andrew, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo; Rob Jackson, Stanford University, and Steve Davis, University of California, Irvine

The global pandemic has seen an unprecedented drop in global emissions, with carbon dioxide down about 7% (or 2.6 billion tonnes) in 2020 overall compared to 2019.

But our research, published today in Nature Climate Change, found this may soon be undone, as unchecked economic recovery would see global emissions bounce back to pre-pandemic levels.

It comes as data released this week from the International Energy Agency shows global carbon emissions in December 2020 were 2% higher than the year prior.

Our research found between 2016 (right after the Paris Agreement was signed) and 2019, emissions from 64 countries were declining while emissions from 150 other countries were increasing. This meant global emissions were still growing, albeit a bit slower.

In fact, these pre-pandemic emission declines were just one-tenth of what they needed to be to keep global warming well below 2℃. This is why it’s vital to ratchet up climate mitigation commitments to meet global targets and avoid further environmental damage.

Emissions from wealthy countries

Our research looked at fossil fuel-sourced carbon dioxide emissions in more than 200 countries before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, and examined what might come next.

Between 2016 and 2019, the combined emissions from 64 countries declined by 160 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, per year, compared to the period 2011-2015. For perspective, that’s roughly one-third of what Australia emits each year.

Growth rates of global fossil fuel emissions in gigatonnes (billion tonnes) of carbon dioxide.

Most reductions were due to structural changes towards a low carbon economy after Paris commitments were made, such as switching from coal power to renewable sources. Other reductions occurred for reasons beyond climate or energy policies, such as fuel price fluctuations or economic downturns.

The biggest emission declines came from high-income economies: the UK (declined by 3.6% per year compared to the previous five years), Denmark (-2.8%), Japan (-2%) and the US (-0.7%).




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For these countries, emissions dropped for both territorial emissions (associated with the use of fossil fuels) and consumption-based emissions (the consumption of goods and services, such as manufacturing, imported from other countries).

But a few high-income economies increased their fossil fuel-sourced carbon dioxide emissions in the same period. This includes Australia (+1.0%), Russian Federation (+0.2%), Canada (+0.1%) and New Zealand (+0.1%). For these nations, increased emissions can largely be attributed to the continued growth in oil and natural gas use.

Middle and lower income countries

There are 99 countries considered upper-middle-income economies. Thirty of which also showed reductions in carbon dioxide emissions during the five-years before the pandemic, including Mexico, Singapore, Israel, Hong Kong and Montenegro. This is a good sign, as it suggests actions to reduce emissions now extend beyond the most advanced economies.

However, the remaining 69 upper-middle-income countries continued to increase their emissions. For example, emissions from Indonesia grew by 4.7%, Chile by 1.2%, and China by 0.4% each year on average. Depending on the country, the increase was due to the continuous growth in the combustion of coal, oil and natural gas.

Finally, emissions from lower-middle-income and low-income economies showed mostly strong emissions growth. However, most started from very low levels of fossil fuel use — this group of 78 countries account for only 14% of the global fossil fuel carbon dioxide emissions.

Change in fossil carbon dioxide emissions (per cent per year) in the 5 years since the Paris Climate Agreement. Changes are shown for individual countries (dots) separated in three economic groups.
Le Quere et al. 2021. Nature Climate Change, Author provided

Click here to view the above graph as an interactive, where you can explore country emissions since 1990, and compare up to five countries at a time.

What happens if we return to pre-pandemic levels?

Increasing global action on climate change and the major shake up of emissions by the global pandemic has placed the world in a different place — at least for now.

Many countries have a unique opportunity for large infrastructure expenditure as part of economic recovery plans after the pandemic. If spending is focused on, for instance, clean energy, then economic recovery could accelerate the pace of decarbonisation.




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A number of countries — including South Korea and in Western Europe — have taken this route, favouring green investment as part of their recovery plans.

And a recent UN report shows 48 countries intend to reduce emissions beyond their previous commitments. Some countries, such as China and the UK, went beyond their legal obligations and pledged to reach net zero emissions by 2050 or soon after.

These current commitments, however, do not add up to what’s required, globally.

If these new commitments are achieved, global emissions by 2030 would be 0.2% below the 2010 level according to UN numbers released last week.

However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change indicates emissions need to be reduced by 25% to 50% below 2010 levels to keep global heating between 1.5℃ and 2℃.



Current stimulus packages in place are still likely to cause emissions to rebound to pre-pandemic levels within a few years.

Indeed, the new data from the International Energy Agency suggests global emissions already started to rise again over the second half of 2020, potentially offsetting the drops during lockdowns. Although, it’s still too early to infer the size of the rebound for 2021.

Whatever strategies we put in place, one thing is for sure. Globally, we need to do a lot more: to deliver at least ten times more emissions cuts than our pre-pandemic efforts, while supporting economic recovery, human development, improved health, equity and well-being.




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The Conversation


Pep Canadell, Chief research scientist, Climate Science Centre, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere; and Executive Director, Global Carbon Project, CSIRO; Corinne Le Quéré, Royal Society Research Professor, University of East Anglia; Glen Peters, Research Director, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo; Matthew William Jones, Senior Research Associate, University of East Anglia; Pierre Friedlingstein, Chair, Mathematical Modelling of Climate, University of Exeter; Robbie Andrew, Senior Researcher, Center for International Climate and Environment Research – Oslo; Rob Jackson, Professor, Department of Earth System Science, and Chair of the Global Carbon Project, Stanford University, and Steve Davis, Professor of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine

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

Australia’s UN report card: making progress, could do better on inequality and climate


John Thwaites, Monash University

Visiting drought-affected farmland in NSW last week, new PM Scott Morrison said he was not interested in considering the role of climate change on the drought because he was “practically interested in the policies that will address what is going on here, right now.”

A narrow focus on the short term is common in politics, but it won’t make the long-term problems go away. Drought and other issues like inequality, housing affordability, obesity and the loss of Australia’s rich natural heritage will only get worse.

The UN Sustainable Development Goals adopted by Australia and all nations in 2015 are a way to help countries focus on these longer-term challenges. They are a set of goals and targets for economic prosperity, social justice and environmental sustainability to be met by 2030.

In addition to governments, more and more businesses are now reporting on their progress towards these global goals, too.

How is Australia going?

This week, the National Sustainable Development Council with the Monash Sustainable Development Institute published the Transforming Australia: SDG Progress Report. It examines trends between 2000 and 2015 to assess whether Australia is on track to meet the 2030 targets.

The report highlights strong progress in health and education, but poor performance in addressing inequality, climate change and housing affordability. Of 144 indicators assessed across the 17 goals, 35% were on track, 41% needed improvement and 24% were off-track or deteriorating.




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Despite some progress, the report found almost every goal has at least one target where an important indicator is off-track or will require a breakthrough to be achieved.

For example, income poverty in Australia has decreased since 2000. But a person on Newstart, who would have been near the poverty line in 2000, is now 25% below the poverty line due to the lower indexation rate for Newstart payments.

Life expectancy in Australia is among the highest in the world and has increased from 79.3 to 82.5 years between 2000 and 2015. Smoking rates and road traffic deaths have fallen dramatically, as well. However, Australia still has a high prevalence of lifestyle-related risks, such as obesity, and deaths due to road accidents in remote areas remain five times higher than in cities.

On the positive side, Australia is an increasingly educated society. The proportion of the working age (25-64) population holding tertiary qualifications increased markedly from 27.5% to 43.7% between 2000 and 2015, one of the highest percentage of tertiary qualifications in the world.

While Australian student performance on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) benchmark has been declining across science, maths and reading, Australian students perform very well as collaborative problem solvers – an increasingly important indicator for the jobs of the future. On the downside, investment in early childhood education and care remains low.

The report also highlights key challenges in achieving Australia’s economic goals, with relatively low investment in research and innovation, increasing underemployment and high levels of household debt.

While Australia has enjoyed a record period of economic growth and disposable incomes per capita grew strongly from 2000-2012, wage growth has stalled since then and cost of living pressures are now putting a strain on families.

Not there yet

Two persistent challenges identified in the report are continuing inequality and Australia’s poor performance on climate action and the environment.

Despite strong economic growth since 2000, Australia’s income inequality did not improve and wealth inequality got worse.

The glass ceiling remains firmly in place and structural inequalities continue to prevent women from reaching their potential. In 2017, just 11 women led ASX200 companies, while only 30% of Australian parliamentarians are female .




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Meanwhile, the gender pay gap has barely narrowed in 20 years and women’s superannuation balances at retirement remain 42% below those of men. And the Closing the Gap report illustrates the vast inequality gulf between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

Of all the UN Sustainable Development Goals goals, taking urgent action to combat climate change is the area where Australia is most off track.

Greenhouse gas emissions, the highest per capita in the OECD, are roughly the same now as in 2000 and are projected to be even higher in 2030. We are nowhere near meeting even Australia’s modest Paris target of a 26% emissions reduction by 2030.

Are we ready for the future?

It is clear that Australia has a considerable way to go to achieve most of the UN Sustainable Development Goals and it will require a major change from business as usual.

Despite our history of strong economic growth, our children and grandchildren face the prospect of being worse off than we are unless we address inequality, climate change and cost of living pressures.

In an increasingly polarised political and media landscape, we should be looking to strengthen collaboration between government, business, social enterprise and society. To achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, we need to overcome the short-term focus that currently dominates our political landscape and work collectively if we are to achieve a “fair go” for the next generation.


This article is the first in a series looking at Australia’s progress toward meeting the UN Sustainable Development Goals, based on a report published by the Monash University Sustainable Development Institute.The Conversation

John Thwaites, Chair, Monash Sustainable Development Institute & ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University

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

Australia falls further in rankings on progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goals


John Thwaites, Monash University and Tahl Kestin, Monash University

Australia is performing worse than most other advanced countries in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), according to the global SDG Index, which compares different nations’ performance on the goals.

According to the SDG Index, released yesterday in New York, Australia is ranked 37th in the world – down from 26th last year, and behind most other wealthy countries including New Zealand, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom.

The best-performing countries are the northern European nations of Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Germany, all of which have a history of balancing economic, social and environmental issues.

The SDG Index measures progress against the 17 SDGs agreed by all countries at the United Nations in 2015. The goals encompass a set of 169 targets to be met by 2030 to achieve economic prosperity, social inclusion and environmental sustainability.

Yet despite the progress made by some countries, all nations still have a way to go to achieve all of the goals.




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Australia: the world’s worst on climate action

The latest SDG Index shows that Australia is performing relatively well in areas such health and wellbeing, and providing good-quality education. But its results for the environmental goals and climate change are among the worst in the OECD group of advanced nations.

The new index ranks Australia as the worst-performing country in the world on climate action (SDG 13). The measure takes into account greenhouse gas emissions within Australia; emissions embodied in the goods we consume; climate change vulnerability; and exported emissions from fossil fuel shipments to other countries.

One of the reasons why Australia has slumped so far in the rankings is that the SDG Index is now taking into account the so-called “spillover” effects that countries have on other nations’ ability to meet the SDGs. These effects may be positive, such as providing development aid; or negative, such as importing or exporting products that create pollution.

The report shows that G20 nations account for the largest negative economic, environmental, and security spillover effects. Despite being among the richest nations in the world, the US, the UK and Australia are rated worst in the G20 for negative spillovers.

The UK, for instance, rates particularly badly on the tax haven score, which makes it harder for other countries to raise the tax revenue needed to provide health, education and other services to their citizens.

This year’s SDG Index also includes a key environmental spillover indicator: carbon dioxide emissions embodied in fossil fuel exports, calculated using a three-year average of coal, gas and oil exports.

Australia’s annual exported CO₂ emissions are a colossal 44 tonnes per person. This outstrips even Saudi Arabia (35.5 tonnes per person), and is orders of magnitude larger than the figure for the US (710kg per person).

G20 leading the way?

With all countries still falling short of achieving the SDGs, the SDG Index also assesses what actions G20 governments are taking to help close this gap. Most G20 countries have begun to implement the goals but there are large variations among G20 countries in how the SDGs are being embraced by political leaders and translated into action.

Composite score of national coordination and implementation mechanisms for the SDGs in G20 countries.
SDSN and Bertelsmann Stiftung, 2018 SDG Index and Dashboards Report

Brazil, Mexico and Italy have taken the most significant steps among G20 countries to achieve the goals, illustrated for instance by the existence of SDG strategies, coordination units in governments, or online platforms. India and Germany have at least partially already undertaken an assessment of investment needs.

According to this assessment, Australia has taken some initial steps to support SDG implementation. Supportive actions taken by the government include setting up a cross-departmental committee, co-chaired by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, to coordinate Government SDG activities. The Senate has established an inquiry to examine the opportunities to implement the goals.

Significantly, the federal government has also prepared a Voluntary National Review report on progress in implementing the goals, which it will present to the UN’s High Level Political Forum next week. The report addresses how Australia is performing against each of the goals and includes many case studies of implementation from business, civil society, academia, youth and all levels of government. It is accompanied by a new Australian SDG case study hub. Many of these activities occurred after the cut-off period for the SDG Index, so Australia’s overall performance on SDG implementation is actually higher than the SDG Index gives it credit.

However, Australia is not taking more deliberative action to address the SDGs, such as developing a national implementation plan or setting aside funding for SDG implementation. Nor are individual departments identifying the gaps in Australia’s SDG performance and identifying what they plan to do differently to address them.

The ConversationGiven Australia’s poor performance on some of the SDGs there is clearly a need for targeted action if we are to achieve the goals by the 2030 deadline.

John Thwaites, Chair, Monash Sustainable Development Institute & ClimateWorks Australia, Monash University and Tahl Kestin, Sustainable Development Solutions Network Manager, Monash Sustainable Development Institute, Monash University

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

Queensland land clearing is undermining Australia’s environmental progress


Martine Maron, The University of Queensland; Bill Laurance, James Cook University; Bob Pressey, James Cook University; Carla P. Catterall, Griffith University; Clive McAlpine, The University of Queensland; Hugh Possingham, The University of Queensland; James Watson, The University of Queensland; Jonathan Rhodes, The University of Queensland; Kerrie Wilson, The University of Queensland, and Marc Hockings, The University of Queensland

Land clearing has returned to Queensland in a big way. After we expressed concern that policy changes since 2012 would lead to a resurgence in clearing of native vegetation, this outcome was confirmed by government figures released late last year.

It is now clear that land clearing is accelerating in Queensland. The new data confirm that 296,000 hectares of bushland was cleared in 2013-14 – three times as much as in 2008-09 – mainly for conversion to pastures. These losses do not include the well-publicised clearing permitted by the government of nearly 900 square kilometres at two properties, Olive Vale and Strathmore, which commenced in 2015.

Map showing the amount of habitat for threatened species cleared between 2012 and 2014.
WWF

Alarmingly, the data show that clearing in catchments that drain onto the Great Barrier Reef increased dramatically, and constituted 35% of total clearing across Queensland in 2013-14. The loss of native vegetation cover in such regions is one of the major drivers of the deteriorating water quality in the reef’s lagoon, which threatens seagrass, coral reefs, and other marine ecosystems.

The increases in land clearing are across the board. They include losses of over 100,000 hectares of old-growth habitats, as well as the destruction of “high-value regrowth” – the advanced regeneration of endangered ecosystems.

These ecosystems have already been reduced to less than 10% of their original extent, and their recovery relies on allowing this regrowth to mature.

Alarmingly, our analysis of where the recent clearing has occurred reveals that even “of concern” and “endangered” remnant ecosystems are being lost at much higher rates now than before.

While this level of vegetation loss and damage continues apace, Australia’s environmental programs will fall well short of achieving their aims.

Nutrient and sediment runoff, exacerbated by land clearing, is one of the major ongoing threats to the Great Barrier Reef.
Great Barrier Reef image from http://www.shutterstock.com

Neutralising our environmental programs

Land clearing affects all Australians, not just Queenslanders. Australia spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year trying to redress past environmental damage from land clearing. Tens of thousands of volunteers dedicate their time, money and land to the effort.

But despite undeniable local benefits of such programs, their contribution to national environmental goals is undone, sometimes many times over, by the damage being done in Queensland.

Take the federal government’s 20 million trees program. At a cost of A$50 million, it aims to replace 20 million trees by 2020 to redress some of the damage from past land clearing.

Yet just one year of increased land clearing in Queensland has already removed many more trees than will be painstakingly planted during the entire program.

The Australian government’s Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) is paying billions of dollars to reduce carbon emissions from industry. But the carbon released from Queensland’s land clearing in 2012-2014 alone is estimated at 63 million tonnes, far more than was purchased under the first round of the ERF (at a cost to taxpayers of A$660 million).

Species cannot recover if their habitat is being destroyed faster than it is being restored. But under Caring for our Country and Biodiversity Fund grants, the extent of tree planting to restore habitat across Australia reported since 2013 is just over 42,000 hectares – an order of magnitude less than what was cleared in Queensland alone in just two years.

And it will be many decades before these new plantings will provide anything like the environmental benefits of mature native vegetation.

Glossy black-cockatoos are one of the species threatened by Queensland land clearing.
David Cook/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Land clearing between 2012 and 2014 in Queensland is estimated to have wiped out more than 40,000 hectares of koala habitat, as well as habitat for over 200 other threatened species. Clearing, along with drought (which is also made worse by clearing), is the major cause of an 50% decline in koalas of south-west and central Queensland since 1996.

The loss of remnant habitat, especially from forests along waterways, means more habitat fragmentation. This is a further threat to many species of wildlife, and it hampers our ability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate.

The federal government has committed hundreds of millions of dollars to improve reef water quality. Yet ongoing land clearing in reef-draining catchments will reverse many of the gains these programs aim to achieve. Last year, Queensland’s Auditor-General reported that stronger legislation would be essential to reducing harmful catchment runoff to the Great Barrier Reef.

Prevention is better than cure

We live in an era of tightening carbon budgets, declining land-production capacity and rapidly deteriorating biodiversity, including in iconic places such as Great Barrier Reef. The evidence is clear that we cannot continue to degrade our environment without severe consequences.

It is far more efficient to prevent environmental damage than to try to reverse it later.

Koalas have declined 50% in Queensland over the past 15-20 years.
Mike Locke/Flickr, CC BY-ND

For example, the cost of stabilising river-banks following deforestation can range from A$16,000 to A$5 million per kilometre. Natural ecosystems contribute enormously to the economy in ways that are often unrecognised.

We are running up a large environmental debt that will eventually have to be paid by all Australians, one way or another.

And some damage, like the loss of a species, is irreversible.

Previous native vegetation laws had successfully reduced land clearing, but were reversed in 2013 by the former Newman government.

The current Palaszczuk government in Queensland has repeated its election promise to re-strengthen native vegetation protections. The amendment bill is due to be introduced to parliament within weeks.

But the minority government relies on the votes of cross-benchers to pass its legislation–so for now, the future of some of Australia’s most precious environmental assets remains uncertain.

The Conversation

Martine Maron, Associate Professor of Environmental Management, The University of Queensland; Bill Laurance, Distinguished Research Professor and Australian Laureate, James Cook University; Bob Pressey, Professor and Program Leader, Conservation Planning, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University; Carla P. Catterall, Professor in ecology and environment, Griffith University; Clive McAlpine, Senior Research Fellow in Ecology, The University of Queensland; Hugh Possingham, Director ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions, The University of Queensland; James Watson, Associate professor, The University of Queensland; Jonathan Rhodes, Associate Professor, The University of Queensland; Kerrie Wilson, Associate Professor and ARC Future Fellow, The University of Queensland, and Marc Hockings, Professor of Environmental Management, The University of Queensland

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

Australia: Queensland – Pollution a Major Threat to our Reefs


Progress has been made in helping to preserve Queensland’s reefs from pollution, but more still needs to be done. The Reef Protection Package Impact Statement 2012, shows that improvements have been achieved.

For more visit:
http://www.wwf.org.au/?3760/Pollution-still-threatens-700-reefs-despite-progress

The ‘Waterfall Tour 2010’


The ‘Waterfall Tour 2010’ is the name of the latest holiday/trip that I’m currently on. It’s not as well organised as my previous holiday around the state which came with a Google Map, Blog updates and photos, etc. However, this one will end up being fairly well represented. Already I have some content on the web and more will follow tonight – more photos and videos. I doubt that I will get everything ‘up to the minute’ as I did last time, as I expect most to be done in the aftermath of the actual trip.

I only decided this morning that I would go on this trip and then left half an hour later – forming the route of the trip as I went along. It is now fairly well formed in my head – I think.

When I finally get everything together, there should be content on Flickr (photos), YouTube (videos), Google Maps (map of the route), Blog posts on Kevin’s Walk on the Wild Side (my wilderness and travel Blog) and Kevin’s Daily (a Blog on which I post either a photo, video, link or quote each day), as well as content on my website at kevinswilderness.com . For Facebook and Twitter followers, you would already be getting updates from both Flickr and YouTube I think, as these sites are getting the photos and videos fairly quickly after they are ready. However, video preparation may take me a little longer now as well – I have a bit to edit and piece together.

Anyhow, as it comes together and is ready to share you can catch it all here on the Wild Side Blog and/or updates on progress in both Facebook and Twitter.

To keep you interested (perhaps), tomorrow I am probably going to see something like 4 or 5 waterfalls, if not more. I saw two today and 1 yesterday.

 

New Site Development Going Well


My new website is coming along well – feel free to have a look at the progress at:

http://kevinswilderness.wordpress.com/

There is now a chat page available – with many more improvements to come.

Holiday Planning: NSW Road Trip 2010


The planning for my holiday is now well and truly underway, with the holiday now being referred to as my ‘NSW Road Trip 2010.’ There is also a website address for viewing my itinerary and for following my progress. It has been a rushed process in the end, organising this road trip, so there will yet be some changes to the itinerary.

I am expecting changes in far western NSW due to road conditions, especially given recent weather conditions out that way, including the widespread rain and flooding that has taken place. Given I have only got a small rental for this trip, I am not really prepared to take the car onto certain roads (which I believe will be part of the rental agreement anyway).

At this stage I am expecting to miss Ivanhoe and head for Mildura instead. I also expect to miss Tibooburra in the far northwest corner of the state, as the Silver City Highway is largely dirt. With these probable changes to the itinerary, I will also miss driving through the Menindee Lakes area, which really was something I was hoping to see – another time perhaps.

On another ‘track,’ I found our that the hottest February temperature experienced in Ivanhoe was around 48 degrees Celsius. No, not the reason I am thinking of bypassing Ivanhoe – most centres out west have similar temperatures in February anyway.

The website:

http://www.kevinswilderness.com/NSW/nswRoadTrip2010.html