Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Australia’s New Marine Parks Plan is a Case of the Emperor's New Clothes

econews.com.au
Jessica Meeuwig, University of Western Australia and David Booth, University of Technology Sydney


The federal government’s new draft marine park plans are based on an unsubstantiated premise: that protection of Australia’s ocean wildlife is consistent with activities such as fishing and oil and gas exploration.

Under the proposed plans, there would be no change to the boundaries of existing marine parks, which cover 36% of Commonwealth waters, or almost 2.4 million square kilometres. But many areas inside these boundaries will be rezoned to allow for a range of activities besides conservation.

The plans propose dividing marine parks into three types of zones:
  • Green: “National Park Zones” with full conservation protection
  • Yellow: “Habitat Protection Zones” where fishing is allowed as long as the seafloor is not harmed
  • Blue: “Special Purpose Zones” that allow for specific commercial activities.
Crucially, under the new draft plans, the amount of green zones will be almost halved, from 36% to 20% of the marine park network, whereas yellow zones will almost double from 24% to 43%, compared with when the marine parks were established in 2012.

The government has said that this approach will “allow sustainable activities like commercial fishing while protecting key conservation features”. But like the courtiers told to admire the Emperor’s non-existent new clothes, we’re being asked to believe something to be true despite strong evidence to the contrary.

The Emperor’s unrobing

The new plans follow on from last year’s release of an independent review, commissioned by the Abbott government after suspending the previous network of marine reserves implemented under Julia Gillard in 2012.

Yet the latest draft plans, which propose to gut the network of green zones, ignore many of the recommendations made in the review, which was itself an erosion of the suspended 2012 plans.
The extent of green zones is crucial, because the science says they are the engine room of conservation. Fully protected marine national parks – with no fishing, no mining, and no oil and gas drilling – deliver far more benefits to biodiversity than other zone types.

The best estimates suggest that 30-40% of the seascape should ideally be fully protected, rather than the 20% proposed under the new plans.

Partially protected areas, such as the yellow zones that allow fishing while protecting the seabed, do not generate conservation benefits equivalent to those of full protection.

While some studies suggest that partial protection is better than nothing, others suggest that these zones offer little to no improvement relative to areas fully open to exploitation.

Environment minister Josh Frydenberg has pointed out that, under the new plans, the total area zoned as either green or yellow will rise from 60% to 63% compared with the 2012 network. But yellow is not the new green. What’s more, yellow zones have similar management costs to green zones, which means that the government is proposing to spend the same amount of money for far inferior protection. And as any decent sex-ed teacher will tell you, partial protection is a risky business.

What do the draft plans mean?

Let’s take a couple of examples, starting with the Coral Sea Marine Park. This is perhaps the most disappointing rollback in the new draft plan. The green zone, which would have been one of the largest fully protected areas on the planet, has been reduced by half to allow for fishing activity in a significantly expanded yellow zone.



Coral Sea Marine Park zoning, as recommended by Independent Review (left) and in the new draft plan (right), showing the proposed expansion of partial protection (yellow) vs full protection (green). From http://www.environment.gov.au/marinereservesreview/reports and https://parksaustralia.gov.au/marine/management/draft-plans/

This yellow zone would allow the use of pelagic longlines to fish for tuna. This is despite government statistics showing that around 30% of the catch in the Eastern Tuna and Billfish fishery consists of species that are either overexploited or uncertain in their sustainability, and the government’s own risk assessment that found these types of fishing lines are incompatible with conservation.

What this means, in effect, is that the plans to establish a world-class marine park in the Coral Sea will be significantly undermined for the sake of saving commercial tuna fishers A$4.1 million per year, or 0.3% of the total revenue from Australia’s wild-catch fisheries.

Contrast this with the A$6.4 billion generated by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in 2015-16, the majority of which comes from non-extractive industries.

This same erosion of protection is also proposed in Western Australia, where the government’s draft plan would reduce green zones by 43% across the largest marine parks in the region.



Zoning for the Gascoyne Marine Park as recommended by the Independent Review (left) and the new draft plan (right). http://www.environment.gov.au/marinereservesreview/reports and https://parksaustralia.gov.au/marine/management/draft-plans/

Again, this is despite clear evidence that the fishing activities occurring in these areas are not compatible with conservation. Such proposals also ignore future pressures such as deep-sea mining.
The overall effect is summarised neatly by Frydenberg’s statement that the government’s plans will:
…increase the total area of the reserves open to fishing from 64% to 80% … (and) make 97% of waters within 100 kilometres of the coast open for recreational fishing.

Building ocean resilience

Science shows that full protection creates resilience by supporting intact ecosystems. Fully protected green zones recover faster from flooding and coral bleaching, have reduced rates of disease, and fend off climate invaders more effectively than areas that are open to fishing.

Green zones also contribute indirectly to the blue economy. They help support fisheries and function as “nurseries” for fish larvae. For commercial fisheries, these sanctuaries are more important than ever in view of the declines in global catches since we hit “peak fish” in 1996.

Of course it is important to balance conservation with sustainable economic use of our oceans. Yet the government’s new draft plan leaves a huge majority of Australia’s waters open to business as usual. It’s a brave Emperor who thinks this will protect our oceans.

The ConversationSo let’s put some real clothes on the Emperor and create a network of marine protection that supports our blue economy and is backed by science.

Jessica Meeuwig, Professor & Director, Marine Futures Lab, University of Western Australia and David Booth, Professor of Marine Ecology, University of Technology Sydney

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

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Brief History of Al Gore's Climate Missions to Australia

au.news.yahoo.com
Marc Hudson, University of Manchester

Al Gore has been visiting Australia this week – partly because he has a new film to promote, but also because he and Australian climate policy have had a surprisingly long entanglement.

Given that this year is likely to be a bloody one as far as climate policy goes, don’t be surprised if he’s back again before 2017 is out.

Gore has a long and honourable record on climate change, although ironically his weakest period on climate coincided with the peak of his political power, as US Vice President.

As he says in his 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, he was first alerted to climate change by Roger Revelle, who can justly be called the (American) father of climate science. On becoming a Congressman, Gore was part of the move by Democrats to sustain momentum on climate policy that had stalled with the arrival of Ronald Reagan as President.

Gore organised Congressional hearings in 1981, and 1982 (NASA climatologist James Hansen’s first congressional testimony).

Even back then, the familiar political narrative around climate change had already formed, as journalism academic David Sachsman recalls:
The CBS Evening News for March 25, 1982, included a two minute and 50 second story by David Culhane on the greenhouse effect. Chemist Melvin Calvin raised the threat of global warming, Representative Al Gore called for further research, and James Kane of the Energy Department said there was no need for haste.
This report from the following year tells a similar tale, noting the political difficulty of solving the climate problem:

A youthful Gore in 1983.

By the time of the seminal Villach conference of October 1985, Gore was a Senator, and helped to organise the first Senate hearings since 1979. Gore’s colleague, Republican Senator David Durenberger remarked that “grappling with this problem [of climate change] is going to be just about as easy as nailing Jello to the wall”.

The following year, as Joshua Howe notes in his excellent book on the politics and science of climate change, Behind the Curve (2014), the then Senator Joe Biden introduced an initiative mandating that the president commission an executive-level task force to devise a strategy for responding to global warming – a strategy the president was meant to deliver to Congress within one year.

Gore scored another political victory on May 8, 1989, when Hansen testified that George H. W. Bush’s administration had ordered him to change the conclusions in written testimony regarding the seriousness of global warming

From Vice President to movie star

However, as Vice President to Bill Clinton, Gore disappointed environmentalists. An energy tax was defeated by industry lobbyists in 1993, and the Clinton administration (perhaps wisely) opted not to try and pass the Kyoto Protocol through a defiant Senate.

After leaving the West Wing he embraced Hollywood, where his budding movie career attracted derision in some quarters, despite the hefty policy achievements earlier in Gore’s career.

Besides an Inconvenient Truth (see here for an account of its impact in Australia), Gore “starred” in another movie, the 1990 philosophy-based talkie Mindwalk, starring Sam Waterston as Senator Jack Edwards, a thinly veiled version of Gore.

Former Australian industry minister Ian Macfarlane certainly considered Gore more entertainer than policymaker when speculating on his reasons for visiting in 2006:
Well, Al Gore’s here to sell tickets to a movie, and no one can begrudge him that. It’s just entertainment, and really that’s all it is.

Gore and Australia

Gore has been on these shores many times. During his May 2003 visit Gore urged the then Prime Minister John Howard to ratify the Kyoto Protocol. He met with the then New South Wales Premier Bob Carr, and also with former Liberal leader and current climate hawk John Hewson. He spoke at an event co-hosted by the Business Council of Australia to advocate sustainable development.

After a controversial visit in 2005, Gore visited twice in 2006. As Joan Staples notes in her PhD, he teamed up with the Australian Conservation Foundation to launch his Climate Project:
Having reached out to the wider NGO sector, to doctors, unions, and the corporate sector, this initiative then moved ACF’s efforts towards influencing individual citizens. Gore’s organisation aimed to harness the power of mass mobilisation by expanding the message of his film An Inconvenient Truth.
Gore returned in 2007 and spoke at a A$1,000-a-plate event on the Sustainability and Cleantech Investment Market, with Carr introducing him while clutching a copy of Gore’s 1992 book Earth in the Balance.

He had his share of Australian critics too. On a frosty morning in July 2009 Gore’s launch speech of the Safe Climate Australia initiative attracted around 30 members of the newly formed Climate Sceptics Party, who handed out leaflets and wore t-shirts bearing their slogan: “Carbon Really Ain’t Pollution – CRAP”.

Gore also offered an opinion on Kevin Rudd’s proposed climate legislation:
It’s not what I would have written, I would have written it as a stronger bill, but I’m realistic about what can be accomplished in the political system as it is.
Gore seems to have (wisely) eschewed direct involvement during the tumultuous Julia Gillard years, but pitched in in October 2013 when the new Prime Minister Tony Abbott refused to link bushfires with climate change.

The Palmer moment

Perhaps the most bizarre, rub-my-eyes-did-that-just-happen moment came in June 2014, when Gore stood alongside Clive Palmer in a deal to save some of Gillard’s carbon policy package from Tony Abbott’s axe.

In July 2015, with the Paris climate conference approaching, Gore visited on a whistlestop tour that included meetings with senior business figures (BHP, National Australia Bank, Qantas, and Victorian state government ministers) to try and build momentum ahead of the crucial summit.

Looking into the crystal ball

Despite his Nobel Prize shared with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, not everyone is a fan, with Canadian journalism academic Chris Russill arguing that Gore’s approach “narrows our understanding of climate change discourse”.

And just because some climate sceptics think he’s a very naughty boy – and can change the weather by his mere presence – that doesn’t mean he’s the messiah.

Ultimately, we all need to find new and better ways of exerting more sustained pressure, not only on policymakers but also other institutions and norm-makers in our society, to change the trajectory we’re currently on.

The ConversationGore will keep banging on about climate change. He will turn up to give speeches, and will be both praised and derided. What matters is not what he does the same, but what we all do differently.

Marc Hudson, PhD Candidate, Sustainable Consumption Institute, University of Manchester

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

Friday, July 14, 2017

How Did Australia Get This Stupid About Clean Energy?

Just when you thought that the public debate around clean energy in Australia could not possibly get any worse, any dumber, or any further divorced from reality, it did.
Conservatives have been railing against renewables and carbon pricing for at least a decade. So ingrained has it become in our national psyche that it is like a State of Origin contest between energy sources and their fans. “Queenslander”, shout the league fans. “Fossil fuels” screech the incumbents.
But it plumbed further depths this week. And it got really stupid and really nasty. Conservatives in the government and the media rebooted their attacks on wind and solar energy, and extended it to battery storage and vehicle emission standards, with the Murdoch media dubbing the latter as a “carbon tax on cars.”
Craig Kelly, the chair of Coalition’s energy policy committee, said renewable energy “would kill people”, a claim happily repeated by columnist Andrew Bolt.
Resources Minister Matt Canavan urged the Queensland government to “forget about climate change”, while the LNP in Queensland will this weekend consider a motion urging Australia to quit the Paris climate deal.
Worse, the conservatives started attacking individuals. The verbal assault on chief scientist Alan Finkel was launched way back in February when it was clear he would not toe the fossil fuel line. And even after delivering what many consider a “soft option”, the conservatives rekindled their attack.
“The Finkel report is a blueprint for destruction — of the Australian economy and destruction of the Liberal Party,” Murdoch columnist Piers Akerman wrote.
Then they added another target – the new head of the Australian Energy Market Operator, Audrey Zibelman. Broadcaster Alan Jones urged that “this woman”, who he accused of being a “global warming advocate and a promoter of wind turbines”, be “run out of town”.
On the same day, writing in Quadrant magazine, Alan Moran, the former head of regulation for the Institute of Public Affairs, described Zibelman as a “refugee from Hillary Clinton’s presidential defeat.” (Actually she worked for New York governor Andrew Cuomo).
“Alan Finkel’s otherworldly prognosis is bad enough. But toss in Malcolm Turnbull’s advocacy of renewables and then add an imported American chief regulator who would have been happier working for Hillary Clinton and where are you? The simple answer: thoroughly stuffed,” Moran wrote.
These attacks on Finkel, and now Zibelman, come in groups. It begs the question, are they co-ordinated? And if so, by whom?
But really, how did Australia get this stupid? And this ugly?
South Australia’s energy minister Tom Koutsantonis thinks it’s because the conservatives, or at least the Coalition, are in the pockets of the fossil fuel lobby.
“The only thing standing in the way of lower prices, improved grid security and meeting our carbon reduction commitments is a divided federal Liberal Party that is completely beholden to the coal lobby,” Koutsantonis said on Thursday.
He may have a point, because ideology alone does not explain the absurdity and ignorance of some of the remarks made this past week.
It seems there is nothing about the clean energy economy that these people like. The conservatives and the Murdoch camp has been relentless against wind farms for years now and this week they turned its target to battery storage and solar panels.
One story focused on fires from solar panels, claiming 40 such fires occurred over the last five years in Victoria.
Context: Victoria has around 3,000 house fires a year, mostly from heaters and clothes dryers and electric blankets. Fridges cause one fire a week in London, including the recent tragedy at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington that claimed 80 lives.
The Murdoch media’s campaign against Elon Musk’s “bulldust boutique batteries” was actually kick-started by energy minister Josh Frydenberg, who made some ridiculous remarks about how a single battery could not power the whole state, or store its entire wind output.
(But it was 20 times bigger than the 5MW battery storage “virtual power plant” he was hailing earlier in the year).
No one is suggesting that this battery storage array can provide all of the state’s power needs: It is designed to help make up any energy shortfall, which occurred last year when the biggest gas plants sat idle, or when they unexpectedly tripped, and to help ride through network faults and generator failures.
And battery storage would have prevented, or at least reduced, all three major outages that occurred in South Australia since November 2015. It would certainly be smarter and quicker than the dumb, slow responding fossil fuel generator that did the wrong thing and extended the blackout on that day last November.
Battery storage is a threat to the incumbents, and their defenders, because it and other storage will make wind and solar dispatchable, will make more expensive gas peaking plant redundant, and eventually – with the addition of pumped hydro and solar thermal – allow the coal fleet to be entirely replaced.
The attack on proposed vehicle emissions standards was extraordinary. Australia has become a dumping ground for inefficient and polluting vehicles because of its absence of any such standards.
That is causing health issues and higher prices (it means more fuel consumption), but the Murdoch media had no hesitation in calling it a “carbon tax” on cars, and epithet that even Fairfax used to lead its coverage.
“Hands off our cars, warmists,” warned Andrew Bolt in the Herald Sun, echoing the extraordinary push back by conservatives against the idea of autonomous driving. “Don’t try and steal my pick-up, I’ve got a gun.”
One wonders: Do any of these people use modern technologies? Or are they still riding a horse and cart, sending telegrams and listening to the wireless, storing their beers in an ice box.
Of course, the clean energy industry doesn’t help itself – either too brow-beaten by the media or scared to offend the government. When I started writing about clean energy a decade ago, I was astonished by the circular nature of the mutual put-downs from the wind, solar, geothermal and biomass industries.
Last week, when the Murdoch media got their “scoop” on an issue well reported in RenewEconomy, the draft standards that may effectively ban lithium-ion batteries from the inside of homes, and bring a halt to the nascent household battery storage industry – a major threat to incumbent utilities.
The response from some of Australia’s leading battery storage developers? The promoters of vanadium and zinc bromine flow batteries hopped on to their soap-box and crowed about how their product was not affected.
No sense of a common purpose there. Sauve qui peux! Every man for themselves. The story of Australia’s energy industry.
Meanwhile, the fossil fuel push continues unrelenting. The Minerals Council producing yet another report claiming that “High efficiency, low emissions” coal plants could meet climate targets. To understand how preposterous that claim is, read this.
“Low emissions” is just another marketing lie. “High emissions, low efficiency” might be a more accurate description of HELE coal plants compared to the alternative smart technologies.
It is an absurd situation we find ourselves in. The public support for these new technologies is overwhelming, as it is in business (apart from those seeking to protect stranded assets), and among most politicians – even many in the Liberal Party, as NSW energy minister Don Harwin revealed late last month.
Yet here we are: Short-term policies; a patchwork of rules on energy efficiency; the worst building stock in the world; the most inefficient and polluting cars; and the world’s most expensive and dirty grid, soaring emissions, and rising temperatures.
And two years after obtaining power, prime minister Malcolm Turnbull is still defending policies he once describes as “bullshit,” too afraid to call out the nonsense spread by those keeping him in power.  

Sunday, July 2, 2017

China Now Top in Renewables

(energydesk.greenpeace.org)
by Guillaume Pitron, Le Monde Diplomatique: https://mondediplo.com/2017/07/11china

Donald Trump’s 1 June announcement of US withdrawal from the 2015 Paris climate agreement coincided with the 19th bilateral EU-China summit in Brussels, giving China’s prime minister, Li Keqiang, an opportunity to reaffirm China’s intention to implement the accord. The success of COP21 (the UN Climate Change Conference) owed much to China’s role in the negotiations.

The main hurdle in Paris was the major divergence between the group of developing countries — the G77— and the developed countries over the funding of energy transition and the division of labour to contain climate change. China’s chief negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, used China’s hybrid status as both a developing nation and an economic power to position himself as the mediator who could win the trust of all participants. He won agreement that the North’s annual contribution of $100bn to the Green Climate Fund for the South would no longer be obligatory from 2020.


But China also won acceptance for the idea of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ from the 195 signatory nations. Under this principle of international environmental law, the efforts demanded of industrialised nations will be scaled according to their economic size and historical responsibility for global warming.


The signing of the Paris agreement was considered a diplomatic success for China: its leaders had been angry that the western media blamed them for the failure of COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009 — a minimal, non-binding agreement considered a retreat from the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. In Paris, China demonstrated what environmental diplomacy might look like, and since then, it has rarely missed a chance to make clear the role it intends to play, highlighting the leadership void left by the US.


China’s stance is all the more necessary since its development model now looks unsustainable; since the 1980s it has been based on an economic policy that used social and environmental dumping to gain competitive advantage over western nations. China is now the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases (28% of global CO2 emissions) and is producing alarming environmental data — 10% of its arable land is contaminated with heavy metals; 80% of underground well water is unfit to drink (1); and fewer than 1% of the 500 largest cities have air quality that meets international standards. Air pollution causes up to a million deaths a year, according to the World Health Organisation.


‘The state has grasped the urgency of the environmental problem and given a sincere undertaking to protect the environment,’ says ChloĆ© Froissart, director of the Franco-Chinese Centre at Beijing’s Tsinghua University. In 2013 President Xi Jinping declared that an ‘ecological civilisation’ — a hazy concept whose ultimate aim is nonetheless clear — was emerging to produce a sustainable development model that reconciles robust growth with a better quality of life. The 13th five-year plan, approved in 2016, projects reducing coal consumption as part of the energy mix from 64% in 2015 to 58% in 2020, and increasing the proportion of non-fossil fuels to 15%. The government wants to reduce reliance on traditional heavy industries, which are major contributors to pollution, and strengthen its economic leadership in renewables.


This policy has already achieved notable successes. Despite China’s image as polluted and polluting, it is now the world leader in green energy production, photovoltaic equipment, hydroelectric power generation and investment in wind power. It is also the largest market for cars that run on clean energy. Though China’s economy grew by 6.7% in 2016, its CO2 emissions fell by almost 1%, to 8.768m tonnes, a better performance than in Europe, where emissions remained the same while the economy grew by just 1.7% (2). China’s ambitious green transition, besides easing tensions over the public’s environmental concerns, is a response to the challenge of modernising its engines of growth and greening its international image.

Guillaume Pitron
Journalist