NCWQ Environment Report June 2018

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser

Plastic Waste –Problem:  In 2015 global plastic production reached 322 million tonnes (Mt), a dramatic increase compared to the 279 Mt produced in 2011.  The plastics demand in the European Union was 58 Mt, of which 29.7% was recycled, 39.5% was recovered in the form of energy (mainly incineration) and 30.8% was sent to landfill  Kalargaris, Ioannis Guohong Tian, Sai Gu The utilisation of oils produced from plastic waste at different pyrolysis temperatures in a DI diesel engine Energy 131 (2017) 179e185; Association of Plastic Manufacturers Europe, Plastics e the Facts 2016. An analysis of the European plastics production, demand and waste data. European Association of Plastics Recycling and Recovery Organisations; 2016 p. 1e38.  Geyer et al estimated that 8300 Mt of virgin plastics had been produced between 1950 and 2015, of which 30% was still in use.  They estimated that in 2015, 407 Mt of primary plastics (plastics manufactured from virgin materials) entered the use phase, whereas 302 Mt left it.  Thus, in 2015, 105 Mt were added to the in-use stock.  The cumulative waste generation of primary and secondary (recycled) plastic waste amounted to 6300 Mt of which around 9% had been recycled, 12% incinerated, and 79% accumulated in landfills or the natural environment i.e. about 60% of all plastic ever produced is in landfill or litter.  Four to 12 Mt of plastic waste generated on land was estimated to enter the marine environment of all major ocean basins in 2010.  Geyer et al also noted plastics’ largest market was packaging most of which leaves use the same year they are produced

Geyer, Jambeck, Law Sci. Adv. 2017;3: e1700782; (DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700782)

 

The fate of plastic packaging material is illustrated below.  With 78 Mt of plastic packaging used in 2013, only 14% was collected for recycling, 14% incinerated and the remaining 72% ended up in landfill or as litter in the environment

GLOBAL FLOWS OF PLASTIC PACKAGING MATERIALS IN 2013

World Economic Forum, Ellen MacArthur Foundation and McKinsey & Company, The New Plastics Economy — Rethinking the future of plastics(2016, http://www.ellenmacarthurfoundation.org/publications).. https://theconversation.com/the-new-100-recyclable-packaging-target-is-no-use-if-our-waste-isnt-actually-recycled-95857 

 

Health and Environmental Issues:  Toxins in or attached to microplastics can embed themselves in the marine food chain.  The smallest plastic particle, nanoplastics, can carry larger amounts of environmental toxicants due to their high surface/volume ratio and can enter organs and body fluids of marine or land organisms and could be a risk to humans if digested. Supporting information for submissions on micro and nano plastics from NCWA & NCWQ Environment Adviser,  Plastics, such as ethylene and propylene, derived from fossil hydrocarbons, are not biodegradable and as a result, they accumulate, rather than decompose, in landfills or the natural environment. Geyer et al  ibid  Over the very long term landfill would result in production of greenhouse gases through slow decomposition of plastic in a putrescible landfill. Final-report-Panel_Hume-Waste to-Fuel-Facility.pdf

 

Strategies to combat this waste problem include avoiding products becoming waste (reduce and reuse); finding an alternative use for waste (recycle and recover); and as a last resort, disposing safely. Unfortunately landfill can be the default for the latter..

 

Reduce and Reuse:  There can be no argument about reducing plastic waste, like using alternative material to plastic e.g. hemp bags instead of plastic bags for shopping.  However, there is a proviso on continual reuse of plastic containers.  For example to make the plastic flexible, phthalates might be used in the manufacturing of plastic bottle.  Phthalates are endocrine disruptors, a major environmental concern, and which can mimic the actions of hormones in the human body.  https://www.thoughtco.com/safest-type-of-water-bottle-1203973

 

Recycle and Recover:  The Plastics Identification Code (PIC) identifies the type of plastic resin a product is made from, its properties and possible use when recycled.

 Code  

Resin

Examples of plastic products Characteristics Examples of recycled plastic products
PET/PETE – Polyethylene Terephthalate Soft drink bottles, sleeping bag filling Clear, rigid, often used as a fibre Soft drink bottles, clear film for packaging
HDPE – High density Polyethylene Milk bottles, crinkly shopping bags Hard to semi flexible, usually opaque Wheelie bins, detergent bottles, agricultural pipes
PVC – Polyvinyl Chloride Cordial and juice bottles

Shoe soles, garden

hose

Flexible, clear and semi-elastic Pipes, tiles

Hose cores, industrial flooring

LDPE Low-density Polyethylene Ice cream lids, garbage bags Soft and flexible, waxy surface Freezer bags, plastic packaging
PP – Polypropylene Ice cream containers, crisp packets Flexible but strong Compost bins, worm farms
PS – Polystyrene

EPS Expanded Polystyrene

Yogurt pots, plastic cutlery, hot drink cups, take-away containers Rigid and brittle, clear or glassy looking, lightweight  and foam-like Clothes pegs, coat hangers
All other Plastic All other plastics Includes acrylic and nylon Varies Imitation timber and concrete products

Cleanaway Fact Sheet

However, these numbers do not mean that the items are automatically recyclable.  The PIC tells recyclers what type of plastic a product is made from.  Not all plastics are recyclable e.g. hard thermoset plastics commonly used in electronics.  Even those plastics that are recyclable often need mechanical or hand sorting into separate plastic polymer classes before they can be processed.  Currently only three of the seven categories are economically viable to recycle: PET (soft drink bottles); HDPE (milk bottles); and PVC (shampoo bottles).  The other four – LDPE (garbage bags); PP (microwaveable cookware); PS (foam hot drink cups); and other plastics are less economically viable and so are recycled at much lower rates.  https://theconversation.com/the-new-100-recyclable-packaging-target-is-no-use-if-our-waste-isnt-actually-recycled-95857  Incentives like supplying labelled bins in convenient locations could encourage the public to sort their own plastic waste. Contamination can be a problem.

Effect on human health and the environment:  Recycled plastics aren’t able to continually serve the same purpose after recycling.  The process of melting down and recycling plastic produces volatile organic compounds that can harm plant and animal life including humans near the industrial site if not carefully controlled.  Plastic is manufactured from petroleum and this substance can leech into foods stored in recycled plastic containers.  Plastic manufacturers only use a small portion of recycled plastic, if any, when producing food containers and packaging.  Because of the potential health threats recycled plastic poses, much plastic recycling is actually downcycling e.g. a plastic water bottle may be downcycled to become artificial turf or plastic furniture.https://sciencing.com/disadvantages-recycled-plastics-7254476.html

Market for recycled plastic:  Lack of market for recycled plastic can be a disincentive.  One recycling business which turns soft plastics such as milk cartons and squeezable shampoo bottles into sturdy plastic play equipment, termite-proof boardwalk decking and bollards, processes about a third of what it has the capacity to.  This firm with at least one other only accepts plastic waste from organisations willing to buy back the recycled products. https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/may/22/recycling-in-australia-is-dead-in-the-water-three-companies-tackling-our-plastic-addiction.

The Federal Government is to be commended for negotiating with the State and Territory Governments  for  a target of 100% of Australian packaging to be recyclable, compostable or reusable by 2025.  The Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation, working with its 950 member companies are to deliver this target. However, the definitions of different waste categories vary by state and territory, so there is no commonly accepted working definition of what constitutes “recyclable, compostable or reusable”.  Because some products that are technically recyclable are not accepted in most councils, kerbside recycling collection the target is unlikely to be met without policies and market incentives. e.g. Almost 80% of glass and plastic bottles are recycled in SA which has container deposit legislation compared to 65% in WA where similar legislation is only at the discussion stage. Atiq Zaman, Curtin University, advocates

  1. legislation, regulations or incentives for manufacturers to develop new packaging types;
  2. an increase in public participation rates in recycling; and
  3. the development of a strong domestic market for recyclable materials.

https://theconversation.com/the-new-100-recyclable-packaging-target-is-no-use-if-our-waste-isnt-actually-recycled-95857

Conversion of plastic waste to fuel:  Geyer et al note the vast majority of monomers used to make plastics, such as ethylene and propylene, are derived from fossil hydrocarbons.  None of the commonly used plastics are biodegradable so they accumulate, rather than decompose, in landfills or the natural environment. The only way to permanently eliminate plastic waste is by destructive thermal treatment, such as combustion or pyrolysis. Geyer et al, ibid

 

The pyrolysis process to convert plastic waste to oil, the suitability of various plastics for this process and some of the commercial machines available to do this have been reported previously.  Some types of plastics e.g. pure hydrocarbons, such as polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) are more suitable than others for using this technology NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Reports, February 2018  Many Australian jurisdictions specify that the waste sourced as input for waste to energy plants must target genuine residual waste that cannot feasibly be reused or recycled. Final-report-Panel_Hume-Waste to-Fuel-Facility.pdf  A commercial scale facility capable of converting waste plastics to fuel at a rate of 50 feedstock tonnes per day was commissioned in NSW by Integrated Green Energy (IGE) with Foyson Resources using a catalytic restructuring process. http://plasticpyrolysisplants.com/50-tpd-plastics-to-diesel-plant-produces-first-batch-in-australia/  However, in a Report to the ACT Minister for Planning and Land Management on the Proposed FOY Group plastic to fuel facility in Hume industrial zone, an independent panel noted the IGE proposal was not supported by NSW EPA as the “proof of performance” requirement in the NSW Energy from Waste Policy was met. Final-report-Panel_Hume-Waste to-Fuel-Facility.pdf  The company also planned a plastics-to-fuel plant that would convert 73 tonnes of plastic into 77.5 million litres of fuel a year to be built at Hume in the ACT.  The company claimed their technology removed ash, dealt with hydrocarbon contaminants, and used waste gas for heating to burn off gas at a high enough temperature to destroy noxious compounds. https://www.canberratimes.com.au/national/act/foy-group-walks-away-from-plasticstofuel-plant-in-hume-20180114-h0i0qw.html  The independent panel reported the company’s environmental impact statement failed to sufficiently address key risks, including the risk of explosions, the potential damage to surrounding land, and the effects on air quality.  They also recommended ACT should have a “proof of performance” requirement.  Hence the plan was shelved. https://the-riotact.com/foys-planned-oil-refinery-has-hit-a-major-obstacle/202920  Recently, Integrated Green Energy Solutions (IGES), announced a joint venture agreement with the Chinese Crown World Holdings to construct a waste plastic-to-fuel facility in Weifang in Shandon Province of China.  The facility will have an initial production capacity of 200 tonnes per day, producing 70 million litres of road-ready fuels per annum.  IGES’s patented plastic-to-fuel process is claimed by the company to reduce the environmental impacts of waste plastic, that would otherwise be used in landfills or discarded into the environment. .http://www.manmonthly.com.au/news/australian-company-convert-chinas-waste-plastics-fuel/  The Hume-Waste to-Fuel-Facility Panel also noted that most proposed energy from waste facilities in Australia have not progressed to a commercial operation due to unanticipated complexities dealing with contamination in the mixed waste stream, resulting in mechanical handling problems, plant damage or failure to reliably comply with contemporary air emission standards.  An additional complication can be the challenge of maintaining a sustainable product in a marketplace where this competes with conventional products, and is influenced by world oil prices. Final-report-Panel_Hume-Waste to-Fuel-Facility.pdf   Maybe, given the waste disposal problem exasperated by China’s ban on imported solid waste, the need  for sustainable continuous energy supply and that Australia only has 48 days aggregated fuel reserves, the limitation on resin type to be used in waste to energy plants should be reconsidered.

Another method of producing fuel from plastic waste is Gasification which involves heating the waste plastic with air or steam, to produce a valuable industrial gas mixtures called “synthesis gas”, or syngas. This can then be used to produce diesel and petrol, or burned directly in boilers to generate electricity http://theconversation.com/if-we-cant-recycle-it-why-not-turn-our-waste-plastic-into-fuel-96128

However pyrolysis is reported to have better advantages towards environmental pollution and reduction of carbon footprint of plastic products. Pyrolysis minimizes the emissions of carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide compared to combustion and gasification. A review on thermal and catalytic pyrolysis of plastic solid waste https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301479717302992

 

NCWQ Environment Report: February 2018

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environment Adviser

(photo credit: https://news.sky.com/story/british-islands-beaches-littered-with-37-million-pieces-of-plastic-10879336)

UPDATE ON CARMICHAEL COAL MINE IN THE GALILEE BASIN:

The Productivity Commission raised the possibility that Adani’s Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) loan bid may fail the loan criteria. However the Queensland Government has vetoed the loan to fulfil an election promise. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-05/adani-loan-bid-likely-to-fail-before-palaszczuk-intervention/9305040 Aurizon, the nation’s largest rail freight operator, has requested a NAIF loan to build a freight link, opening the region up to coal projects, and ultimately helping facilitate the Carmichael mine. It is unclear if the Queensland Government’s veto covers this bid. https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/jan/18/queensland-accused-of-breaking-no-public-funds-for-adani-promise However, Aurizon has withdrawn its NAIF application as it is unlikely to secure enough customer contracts to go ahead in the near future. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-02-09/aurizon-pulls-pin-on-naif-loan-application-galilee-basin-rail/9414074

MARINE DEBRIS:

Jambeck et al calculated that 275 million metric tonnes of plastic waste was generated in 192 countries bordering the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and the Mediterranean and Black Seas in 2010, with 4.8 to 12.7 million metric tonnes entering the ocean. Jambeck J. R., Geyer R., Wilcox C., Siegler T. R., Perryman M., Andrady A., Narayan R. and K. L. Law 2015, Plastic waste inputs from land into the ocean. Science 347, 768–771. doi:10.1126/science.1260352pmid:25678662 https://theconversation.com/eight-million-tonnes-of-plastic-are-going-into-the-ocean-each-year-37521 . Plastic debris and microplastics is transported by ocean currents across borders and can have serious environmental, social and economic consequences, harming wildlife, safety of sea transport, fisheries, tourism, recreation and threatening marine ecosystems. UNEP (2016). Marine plastic debris and microplastics – Global lessons and research to inspire action and guide policy change. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi.

Henderson Island in middle of South Pacific Gyre –
At least 690 species have encountered marine debris and at least 17% of those listed on the IUCN Red List as near threatened or above. Of the individual encounters 92% were related to encounters with plastic and at least 10% had ingested microplastics..Gall S.C and R.C.Thompson (2015) The impact of debris on marine life. Marine Pollution Bulletin 92, 170-179 Many of these environmental impacts of marine debris especially from microplastics and nanoplastics have been covered in previous reports. Supporting Information from NCWQ Environment Adviser, P.M. Pepper B.Sc. M.Sc. Ph.D. and NCWQ Nutrition Adviser & NCWQ Consumer Affairs Adviser Mrs Val Cocksedge OAM, DipHSc; NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Reports, March 2017, November 2015);

Risk to coral health from plastic debris: Assessing the influence of plastic waste on disease risk in 124,000 reef-building corals from 159 reefs in the Asia-Pacific region, Lamb et al estimated the likelihood of disease increases from 4% to 89% when corals are in contact with plastic. Three key diseases associated with rapid coral mortality increased markedly. Skeletal eroding band disease which can be caused by plastic debris opening wounds in coral tissue to let in pathogens, increased from 1.2 ± 0.1% to 43.9 ± 5.1%. White syndromes which can be caused by a pathogen colonising polypropylene which is used to make bottle caps and toothbrushes, increased from 1.9 ± 0.2% to 19.0 ± 4.0%. Black band disease which can result from plastic debris blocking out light and creating low oxygen conditions that favour the growth of microorganisms, increased from 0.6 ± 0.1% to 14.7 ± 3.9%. Structurally complex corals, particularly branching and tabular species are eight times more likely to be affected by plastic. This could seriously affect the numerous marine species that shelter under or within these corals, and in turn the fisheries that depend on them. The number of plastic items observed on each reef varied markedly among countries, from maxima in Indonesia [25.6 items per 100 ± 12.2 m] to minima in Australia (0.4 items per 100 ± 0.3 m2) Plastic waste associated with disease on coral reefs Lamb J.B., Willis B.L., Fiorenza E.A., Couch C.S., Howard R., Rader D. N., True J.D. Kelly L.A., Ahmad A., Jompa J. and C. D. Harvell (2018) Science Vol. 359, Issue 6374, pp. 460-462; http://science.sciencemag.org/content/359/6374/460.ful; https://theconversation.com/11-billion-pieces-of-plastic-bring-disease-threat-to-coral-reefs-90694 While Australia has a relatively low level of plastic entanglement on its reefs and this is not expected to increase at the alarming rate of the reefs off other countries, there is no excuse for complacency when Australia is custodian is one of greatest natural wonders in the world.

Land-based sources of the debris in the marine environment: Nearly half of the estimated 8 million metric tons of plastic that flow into the world’s ocean every year originate in just five rapidly developing economies in Asia — Indonesia, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, and China. To prevent this, Ocean Conservancy is seeking to raise over $150 million to design and build waste management and recycling systems in Southeast Asia. https://cleantechnica.com/2017/10/13/ocean-conservancy-campaign-targets-5-worst-ocean-plastic-polluters/

Hardesty et al found that within Australia, approximately three-quarters of the rubbish along the coast to be plastic. Debris was more highly concentrated around major cities, suggesting local source point pollution. As the quantity of debris increases in the marine environment, so does the likelihood of impacts from debris to marine fauna resulting in entanglement and ingestion and indirectly through chemical affects. Hardesty, BD, C Wilcox, TJ Lawson, M Lansdell and T van der Velde (2014). Understanding the effects of marine debris on wildlife. Final report to Earthwatch Australia Hardesty et al found that the strongest effect on debris count at a site to be due to littering behaviour. Transport by water was second, with a discernible but smaller effect from wind transport. The two strongest predictors of debris at a site were economic wealth and social disadvantage in the population near the site. Hardesty, et al. (2016) Understanding debris sources and transport from the coastal margin to the ocean. CSIRO: EP165651

Effect of the mobility of marine debris: Plastic debris and microplastics are transported by ocean currents across borders. Northern Australia has some of the highest densities of ghost nets in the world, with up to 3 tons washing ashore per kilometre of shoreline annually The Gulf of Carpentaria which is an important breeding area for several species of turtle (flat- back, green, hawksbill, loggerhead, and olive), is subject to an influx of abandoned, lost, or otherwise discarded fishing gear from the extensive fisheries of South-east Asia. Wilcox et al estimated that the total number of turtles caught by the 8690 ghost nets sampled was between 4866 and 14,600, assuming nets drift for 1 year. The risk from entanglement was quantified by mapping the distribution of turtles and predicting the drift trajectories of ghost nets using an ocean circulation model, to estimate probable encounter rates Wilcox, C., Heathcote, G., Goldberg, J., Gunn, R., Peel, D. and Hardesty, B. D. (2015), Understanding the sources and effects of abandoned, lost, and discarded fishing gear on marine turtles in northern Australia. Conservation Biology, 29: 198–206. doi:10.1111/cobi.12355; UNEP (2016). Marine plastic debris and microplastics – Global lessons and research to inspire action and guide policy change. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi.

Conversion of plastics to oil: The United Nations estimates plastic accounts for four-fifths of the accumulated garbage in the world’s oceans. This debris could be kept out of waterways by recycling existing plastics. Plastics can be converted to fuel by the pyrolysis process (heating the plastic in an oxygen-free chamber to about 4000 C to break down long chain polymers into smaller molecules) As the plastics boil, gas is separated out. The fuel is then distilled and filtered. Because the entire process takes place inside a vacuum and the plastic is melted minimal to no resultant toxins are released into the air, as all the gases and or sludge are reused to fuel the machine. However, some types of plastics e.g. pure hydrocarbons, such as polyethylene (PE) and polypropylene (PP) are more suitable than others for using this technology. PE and PP plastics are used in bottle caps, appliance plastics, nursery planters and dirty plastics such as meat wrappings With polystyrene (PVC) the large amounts of chlorine produced is likely to corrode the reactor and pollute the environment. Burning Polyethylene_terephthalate (PETE) which is widely used to bottle water and carbonated soft drinks, releases oxygen into the oxygen deprived chamber thereby slowing the processing, and is better recycled because of the high value of the resin. Several commercial machines are available for converting plastics to fuel. For example, in Niagara Falls, NY, John Bordynuik’s ‘Plastic Eating Monster accepts unwashed, unsorted waste plastics, composites and commingled materials and returns about 1 gallon of fuel from 8.3 pounds of plastic. In the UK Cynar’s ‘End of Life Plastic to Diesel’ product converts mixed Waste Plastics into synthetic fuels that are cleaner, low in sulphur and in the case of the diesel, a higher cetane than generic diesel fuel. https://insteading.com/blog/plastic-to-fuel The Japanese company Blest.co Ltd. markets small-scale systems that can convert PP, PE and PVC plastics into fuel oil. While Blest see a market in developing countries, they have demonstrated their Be-h machine (560 (W) x 320 (D) x 500 (H) mm; 50 kg) in schools in USA, Australia, Canada and Brazil educating children about environment issues and how plastics can be made into oil. The machine is claimed to be easy to set up on site so that it could be used where the waste plastics are collected and treated. http://www.wired.co.uk/article/blest-machine .http://www.blest.co.jp/eng/ http://www.hoaxorfact.com/technology/man-invented-a-machine-to-convert-waste-plastic-into-oil-and-fuel-facts.html Is there potential for service organizations to partner with schools? Given the mobility of debris perhaps even overseas schools?

UN initiatives: The Global Partnership on Marine Litter (GPML) of international agencies, Governments, NGOs, academia, private sector, civil society and individuals aims to

• To reduce the impacts of marine litter worldwide on economies, ecosystem, animal welfare and human health.
• To enhance international cooperation and coordination through the promotion and implementation of the Honolulu Strategy – a global framework for the prevention and management of marine debris, as well as the Honolulu Commitment – a multi-stakeholder pledge.
• To promote knowledge management, information sharing and monitoring of progress on the implementation of the Honolulu Strategy.
• To promote resource efficiency and economic development through waste prevention e.g. 4Rs (reduce, re-use, recycle and re-design) and by recovering valuable material and/or energy from waste.
• To increase awareness on sources of marine litter, their fate and impacts.
• To assess emerging issues related to the fate and potential influence of marine litter, including (micro) plastics uptake in the food web and associated transfer of pollutants and impacts on the conservation and welfare of marine fauna. https://www.unenvironment.org/explore-topics/oceans-seas/what-we-do/addressing-land-based-pollution/global-partnership-marine Having identified marine debris as a major global challenge UN Environment launched the Clean Seas campaign in an endeavour to eliminate major sources of marine litter by 2022, focusing on single-use plastic and micro-plastics in cosmetics. Governments are urged to pass plastic reduction policies; industry is being targeted to minimize plastic packaging and redesign products; and consumers called on to change their habits. https://www.unenvironment.org/regions/north-america/regional-initiatives/tackling-marine-debris. The UK, the US and Canada have announced bans on microbeads in personal care and cosmetics products, and the CleanSeas campaign is encouraging more countries to follow suit. http://web.unep.org/stories/story/cleanseas-more-800-people-pledge-stop-using-cosmetics-containing-microbeads Nearly 40 countries accounting for more than half of the world’s coastline have joined the UN’s CleanSeas campaign against marine litter and ocean pollution, announcing measures including plastic bag bans, new marine reserves and drives to increase recycling. http://www.cleanseas.org/news. At the close of the UN Environment Assembly in Nairobi 4-6 December 2017, environment ministers issued a declaration committing to increasing research and development, targeting pollution through tailored actions, moving societies towards sustainable lifestyles based on a circular economy, promoting fiscal incentives to move markets and promote positive change, strengthening and enforcing laws on pollution. Among the-non binding resolutions and decisions were moves to address marine litter and microplastics (submitted by Norway and Australia and co-sponsored by Iraq and Monaco), prevent and reduce air pollution, cut out lead poisoning from paint and batteries, protect water-based ecosystems from pollution, deal with soil pollution, and manage pollution in areas hit by conflict and terrorism. https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/press-release/world-commits-pollution-free-planet-environment-summit. http://enb.iisd.org/unep/oecpr3-unea3/ According to Boomerang Alliance, Australia has yet to commit support to the Cleanseas https://www.insidewaste.com.au/site/opinion/1052830/global-commitment-plastic-pollution-planetary-crisis-australias-response

Australian Government Initiatives: A threat abatement plan (TAP) prepared in 2009 and focusing on the impact of entanglement and ingestion of marine debris on vertebrate marine life was reviewed in 2015.It was noted that understanding of the global nature of the marine debris problem, as well as the potential sub-lethal and other impacts of microplastic and associated chemical contamination, had increased over the life of that plan. A Senate Inquiry report highlighted the need for improved action on many issues relevant to the TAP. Environment and Communications References Committee (2016) Toxic tide: the threat of marine plastic A TAP(2017) Under the six very worthwhile objectives of TAP 2017 are actions:

1. Contribute to the long-term prevention of the incidence of marine debris.
1.01 Establish a TAP team to coordinate TAP actions for the life of the plan.
1.02 Limit the amount of single use plastic material lost to the environment in Australia
1.03 Encourage development of a circular economy in Australia
1.04 Encourage innovation in recovery and waste treatment technologies
1.05 Improve management of ghost nets
1.06 Improve shipping waste management

2. Identify key species, ecological communities, ecosystems and locations impacted by marine debris for priority action.
2.01 Update the list of marine debris impacted EPBC species, as scientific evidence is published.
2.02 Monitor ecological research on marine debris to determine if further EPBC listed ecological communities are threatened by marine debris.
2.03 Identify locations within Australian waters where major circulation patterns cause aggregations of marine debris

3. Conduct research to understand and mitigate the impacts of marine microplastic and plastic debris on marine species and ecological communities.
3.01 Build understanding related to microplastic pollution
3.02 Determine microplastic’s relevance to the Australian Government’s Science and Research Priorities and corresponding Practical Research Challenges,
3.03 Survey marine plastic pollution in the southern ocean, sub-Antarctic islands, as well as other high value offshore island environments.

4. Remove existing marine debris.
4.01 Support beach based clean-up efforts
4.02 Improve the effectiveness of Australian Government grants in relation to marine debris operations
4.03 Removal of derelict fishing gear from Australia’s ocean and coast
4.04 Develop understanding on the potential for biological breakdown of plastic to aid in its removal from the marine environment

5. Monitor the quantities, origins, types and hazardous chemical contaminants of marine debris, and assess the effectiveness of management arrangements over time for reducing marine debris.
5.01 Continued collection of data in long term beach survey.
5.02 Maintain a national database for long term marine debris beach survey data and promote standard methodologies for collecting and ongoing monitoring of beach clean-up debris
5.03 Enhanced collection of data related to ghost net retrievals from Commonwealth waters across northern Australia
5.04 Continue to monitor persistent organic pollutant using plastic resin pellets from Australian beaches
5.05 Assess the effectiveness of Australia’s waste management in reducing the levels of plastics entering the marine environment
5.06 Regularly conduct assessment of mean surface plastic loads and associated hazardous chemical contaminants across Australian jurisdictions and territories
5.07 Improved understanding of the impact and origins of ghost nets.

6. Increase public understanding of the causes and impacts of harmful marine debris, including microplastic and hazardous chemical contaminants in order to generate behaviour change.
6.01 Raise the profile of marine debris impacts on listed threatened marine species.
Department of Environment and Energy (2017) Draft Threat Abatement Plan for the impacts of marine debris on vertebrate marine life Australia is undertaking many useful initiatives e.g. governments extending marine reserves; supermarkets phasing out plastic bags; businesses banning plastic drinking straws. However, with 25,760 km of coastline and in receipt of other countries plastic waste e.g. ghost fishing nets, surely Australia could be more proactive with domestic legislation and using the UN Environment platform to argue for countries to take responsibility of the marine waste originating in their country? A submission to the Federal Government has been prepared on this issue.

NCWQ Environment Report: November 2017

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environment Adviser

UPDATE ON MICRO AND NANOPLASTICS:
Scientific studies found organisms such as mussels, lugworms, lobsters and fish have ingested microplastics and in some cases absorbed toxins in their tissue. Supporting Information from NCWQ Environment Adviser, P.M. Pepper B.Sc. M.Sc. Ph.D. and NCWQ Nutrition Adviser & NCWQ Consumer Affairs Adviser Mrs Val Cocksedge OAM, DipHSc. Microplastics could act as an agent for the transfer of many fat-soluble pollutants, such as persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic compounds, from the environment and into organisms such as fish. Nanoparticles produced during fragmentation of microplastics can translocate across the gut epithelium resulting in systemic exposure, and a very wide distribution in all organs is likely. However, specific data for nanoplastics are not available. Lusher et al note further research into analytical methods, especially for nanoplastics; occurrence of microplastics (<150 μm) and nanoplastics (<100 nm = 0.1 μm) in seafood, and toxicological research on microplastics and nanoplastics, is needed to determine food safety risk. Lusher, A.L.; Hollman, P.C.H.; Mendoza-Hill, J.J. 2017.Microplastics in fisheries and aquaculture: status of knowledge on their occurrence and implications for aquatic organisms and food safety. FAO Fisheries and Aquaculture Technical Paper. No. 615. Rome, Italy.

The UNEA (United Nations Environment Assembly) report (2016) entitled “Marine plastic debris and microplastics- Global lessons and research to inspire action and guide policy change” recognized the possible negative impact to this plastic debris ecologically, socially and economically. At the UNEA meeting planned for 4-6 December, 2017 in Nairobi, Kenya, two options aimed at combating marine plastic litter and microplastics are to be presented: adapt existing treaties or introduce a new international treaty specifically to combat plastic pollution. https://www.plasticsoupfoundation.org/en/2017/10/united-nations-must-vote-international-legally-binding-treaty-on-plastic-pollution/; http://www.unep.org/environmentassembly/documents/official-documents/resolutions-and-documents-previous-assemblies

In their 16 May 2017 report “ Synthetic Polymer Contamination in Global Drinking Water” M Kosuth, S.A. Mason, C. Tyree and D Morrison draw attention to the high density of plastic particles per litre of tap water in seven countries. Of 159 samples analysed, 83% were found to contain plastic particles, 94% in the USA. https://orbmedia.org/stories/Invisibles_final_report The presence of microplastics in tapwater is particularly concerning because it points to substantial contamination of terrestrial and freshwater—as well as marine—ecosystems Little is known about the effects of microplastic consumption on human health. Microplastics and human health—an urgent problem e Lancet Planetary Health Volume 1, Issue 7, October 2017, Page e254 The Plastic Soup Foundation suggests microfibers can enter water supplies through machine washing synthetic clothing such as fleece, polyester, and nylon. These clothing fibers are often too small to be filtered out at wastewater treatment plants. http://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/pft/2017/9/6/microfibers-the-plastic-inside-us. Around 63% of clothing consists of synthetic materials or a mix of natural and synthetic fibers https://www.plasticsoupfoundation.org/en/files/synthetic-fibers/

Research at Plymouth University, UK found that laundering an average washing load of 6kg washed at 30˚C and 40˚C using various combinations of detergent and fabric conditioner could release an estimated 137,951 fibres from polyester-cotton blend fabric, 496,030 fibres from polyester and 728,789 from acrylic. https://3c1703fe8d.site.internapcdn.net/newman/gfx/news/hires/2016/washingcloth.jpg

In Europe the Life + Mermaids consortium, recently performed research into microfibre loss in washing machines, and managed to reduce fibre loss by 50% with bio-based coatings made from shrimp (chitosan) and plants (pectin). The Cora Ball, inspired by the natural functions of coral and developed by The Rozalia Project in the United States and the Guppy Friend washing bag by Berlin outdoor brand Langbrett have a filtering function during the washing cycle. However it would also be helpful if local municipalities could improve their filtration systems and the fashion industry could be persuaded to move away from synthetic fabrics. http://www.plasticpollutioncoalition.org/pft/2017/9/6/microfibers-the-plastic-inside-us.

Liebezeit & Liebezeit (2014) analysed 24 German beer brands for the contents of microplastic fibres, fragments and granular material, and in all cases found contamination. Counts for microplastic fibres ranged from 2 to 79 fibres per litre. Liebezeit G, Liebezeit E. 2014. Synthetic particles as contaminants in German beers. Food Add Contam: Part A. 31:1574-1578.
Liebezeit & Liebezeit (2013) also found microplastic contamination in honeys. Liebezeit G, Liebezeit E. 2013. Non-pollen particulates in honey and sugar. Food Add Contam: Part A. 30:2136–2140. However, Muhlschlegel,Hauk,Walter & Sieber found no indications that honey samples from Switzerland were significantly contaminated with microplastic particles. Muhlschlegel,Hauk,Walter & Sieber (2017) Lack of evidence for microplastic contamination in honey. Food Add Contam: Part A. 34:2136–2140
In a Parisian study microplastics, mostly fibres, were found in atmospheric fallout (29 to 280 particles/m2/day). https://hal-enpc.archives-ouvertes.fr/hal-01150549v1
Rachid Dris, Johnny Gasperi, Vincent Rocher, Saad Mohamed, Bruno Tassin. Microplastic contamination in an urban area: case of greater Paris. SETAC Europe 2015 (Society of Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry), May 2015, Barcelone, Spain. 2015

Submission: Since submissions on the impact of Microplastics, to the Queensland and Federal Governments in April and November 2015 respectively, further research has confirmed microplastics and nanoplastics contribute significantly to marine and coastal pollution and if ingested or inhaled, may transfer from the lungs and guts of organisms to their cells and tissues. Now, it is of grave concern that micro fibres have been found present in the air and contaminating tap water across the world. Hence further submissions have been prepared.

UPDATE ON CARMICHAEL COAL MINE IN THE GALILEE BASIN:

The Carmichael mine will be Australia’s largest coalmine with a potential production of 2.3 billion tonnes of thermal coal.in a lifetime of up to 60 years. Coal from the mine is proposed to be transported by a new 189km rail line to the Port of Abbot Point for export principally to India to be burnt for electricity production. Adani also proposes to expand the Port of Abbot Point to increase its capacity. The scale of this proposed mine means the potential environmental harm could be enormous not only in the Galilee Basin, but downstream in the rail corridor to Abbot Point, at the port at Abbot point and then the shipping passage through the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). These dangers have been previously documented. NCWQ submissions on impact of expansion of ports on the GBR environs; dredging and disposal of dredged material at Abbot Point; Galilee Coal Project at Bimblebox Nature Refuge

COURT CASES: There have been a number of court cases and appeals.

Two cases were brought in the Federal Court of Australia under the ADMINISTRATIVE DECISIONS (JUDICIAL REVIEW) ACT 1977 (Cth) against the decisions of the Commonwealth Minister for the Environment to approve the mine under the ENVIRONMENT PROTECTION AND BIODIVERSITY CONSERVATION ACT 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act). The application brought by the Mackay Conservation Group contended the Minister failed to take into account the climate impact of greenhouse gases emitted by the burning of coal from the Carmichael mine, failed to consider Adani’s poor record of environmental management in India and did not consider “approved conservation advice” for two endangered species (yakka skink and ornamental snake) that would be affected by the mine, as required by federal law, when assessing whether to grant its licence. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carmichael_coal_mine

The case by the Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) was based on whether the minister correctly applied the law when considering the impacts of the project on the Great Barrier Reef Australia has an international legal obligation to do all it can to protect our the Reef for future generations. The EPBC Act states the Minister must not act inconsistently with Australia’s responsibilities under the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage (the World Heritage Convention).http://www.edoqld.org.au/carmichael-coal-mine-federal-court-challeng Both cases were unsuccessful. http://www.edoqld.org.au/adani_carmichael_appeal_federal_court_decision

However, the limited role of a court in judicial review proceedings is often stressed by courts in controversial cases. The Federal Court’s function on a judicial review is confined as it is to a review of the legality, and not the merits, of the Minister’s decision. http://envlaw.com.au/carmichael-coal-mine-federal-court/

In the major dispute in the Land Court of Queensland and a subsequent judicial review challenge to the mine’s approval in the Supreme Court of Queensland, Environmental Defenders Office (EDO) Qld, the legal representation for Land Services of Coast and Country Inc. (Coast and Country) (LSCC), sought a clear recommendation that the Adani Carmichael coal mine should not proceed due to groundwater, climate, ecological and economic impacts. On Tuesday 15 December 2015, the Land Court recommended approval of the Adani Carmichael coal mine to the Queensland Government, subject to extra conditions to protect the Black-throated Finch. The environmental authority for the mine was granted under Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld) (EPA) on 2 February 2016 and the mining lease for the mine was granted under the Mineral Resources Act 1989 (MRA) on 3 April 2016. An application then an amended application by LSCC for a judicial review of the grant of the environmental authority under the EPA, was dismissed to the Supreme Court of Queensland on 25 October 2016. http://www.edoqld.org.au/adani_carmichael_land_court_objection http://envlaw.com.au/carmichael-coal-mine-case/

Two separate disputes about the mine involve native title issues raised by the Traditional Owners of the land on which the mine was proposed, the Wangan and Jagalingou People, were unsuccessfully litigated. http://envlaw.com.au/carmichael-coal-mine-case/

LOANS: Adani has requested A$1 billion to assist the development of mining infrastructure e.g. a rail line from the mine to the Abbot Point coal loading facility, from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility (NAIF) – a A$5 billion discretionary government fund set up in 2016 to promote economic development in the country’s north. The Constitution states that it is the Commonwealth Parliament that must determine both the loan and its conditions. However, the NAIF Act grants these powers to a corporate board, which answers only indirectly to the Parliament. Second, the Constitution states that it is the State that must receive the loan. Concerns have been raised that the State could simply pass on the tax funded loan to a private multinational company and the appropriateness of this. https://theconversation.com/australias-1-billion-loan-to-adani-is-ripe-for-a-high-court-challenge-85077.; http://www.afr.com/business/mining/coal/northern-australia-fund-board-risks-legal-action-over-adani-loan-20170411-gvipjp

JOBS: Claims are that the Adani Carmichael coalmine will offer up to 10,000 new jobs, mainly in Queensland. But Jerome Fahrer, who prepared an economic assessment of the Carmichael mine for Adani, admitted in court that over the life of the Project it is projected that on average around 1,464 employee years of full time equivalent direct and indirect jobs will be created. https://theconversation.com/nothing-but-truthiness-adani-and-cos-post-truth-push-for-the-carmichael-mine-85671; carmichael43A.pdf

One has to wonder if jobs to help keep the GBR pristine, perhaps funded by a levy on tourist operators, might be a better investment long term?

WATER: Carmichael coal mine has been granted an unlimited 60-year water licence to take water from the Great Artesian Basin. Water pressure is an issue with flows from artesian bores are now roughly half what they were in 1915. Since then, the water level in some bores has fallen by as much as 80 metres, and a third of bores have stopped flowing altogether. This directly affects the human, plant and animal communities that rely on artesian water. https://theconversation.com/why-does-the-carmichael-coal-mine-need-to-use-so-much-water-75923 April 13, 2017.

The drawdown of water by the Carmichael coal mine could reduce water reaching the Mellaluka and Doongmabulla Springs Complexes, which have exceedingly high conservation value. https://theconversation.com/four-environmental-reasons-why-fast-tracking-the-carmichael-coal-mine-is-a-bad-idea-67449

According to an environmental impact statement, the mine will draw 26 million litres of water a day from its pits by 2029 as annual production could reach as much as 60 million tonnes. The vibrancy of other major Australian industries that rely on water resources, land and healthy ecosystems, such as agriculture and reef tourism could potentially be undermined. Risky Business: Health, Climate and Economic Risks of the Carmichael Coalmine by Professor Will Steffen, Professor Hilary Bambrick, Dr. David Alexander and Dr. Martin Rice. Climate Council of Australia Ltd 2017. Why the preferential treatment over producing food and the environment?

RISK: Allegations of Adani’s environmental offences in India include causing salinity in water supplies, the illegal destruction of mangroves and sand dunes and the blocking and filling of creeks. http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/emails-reveal-officials-probing-environmental-and-financial-concerns-with-adani-supermine-20171102-gzdc5h.html Report_Earthjustice and Environmental Justice Australia. The Adani Groups Global Environmental Record_29 Oct 2015.pdf

CONCERNS: Concerns about the impact of this mega project include
• Contribution to greenhouse gases including that from the coal exported overseas,
• Impact on ground water users,
• Loss of biodiversity and the probability that biodiversity offsets will not adequately redress this loss,
• Impact of dredging at Abbot Point,
• Increased shipping within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.

Environment Report, September 2017

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environmental Adviser

A range of environmental issues were researched and reported on during the year. Threats to Great Barrier Reef and global warming remain major issues. Advocacy was undertaken on these issues.

Threats to Great Barrier ReefThe Queensland Government (QG) has accepted and is implementing the recommendations of the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce (GBRWST), including enhanced communication, increased levels of agricultural extension, a greater focus on innovation, expanded monitoring, financial and other incentives, and staged and targeted regulations. Early in the year, a submission was made urging the QG to ensure the recommendations come to fruition.

The QG commissioned the GBRWST to investigate the cost of various policy options to meet the reef water quality targets (sediment runoff to be reduced by 50% in the Fitzroy, Burdekin and Wet Tropics regions, and nitrogen levels by 80% in Burdekin and Wet Tropics catchments; sediment runoff by 20% and nitrogen levels by 50% in Mackay-Whitsunday and Burnett Mary catchments) below 2009 levels. The GBRWST estimated a cost of $8.2 billion using current methods and prices to reach the targets with a little more to be done in the Wet Tropics. However, by spending around $600 million in the most cost-effective areas halfway to the nitrogen and sediment targets could be achieved, allowing time to find more cost-effective solutions to close the remaining gap.

Unfortunately, for the second consecutive year the GBR suffered mass coral bleaching. In addition, tropical cyclone Debbie with to its category four intensity and slow speed impacted around a quarter of the Reef. There are also ongoing impacts from crown-of-thorns starfish, coral disease and poor water quality from coastal run-off. Recovery from bleaching is likely to be slower than from other impacts.

On 26-27May 2017, more than 70 leading marine experts from around the world met in Townsville for a Reef Summit to determine what else could be done to protect the Reef in addition to the existing extensive actions which were strongly supported. Additional options explored were developing coral nurseries, strategies for extending culling activities for the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, protecting herbivorous fish, expanding the vessel monitoring system and identifying priority reefs and demonstration sites for coral restoration.

The World Heritage Committee (WHC)’s 41st session held in July 2017 in Krakow, Poland recognised the significant effort underway to build the resilience of the GBR under the Australian Government(AG) and QG’s’ Reef 2050 Plan but noted the mass coral bleaching of 2016 and 2017 and that climate change remained the most significant overall threat to the future of the GBR. The WHC strongly encouraged accelerating efforts to meet the intermediate and long-term targets of the plan, essential to the overall resilience of the GBR, in particular those regarding water quality.

Reducing Australia’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions: At the National Council of Women Australia (NCWA) Conference on June 15th 2017 the resolution “The NCWA urges the AG to give priority to strategies combating global warming by reducing greenhouse gases and promoting renewable energy, while ensuring energy security, given the implication for Australia’s environment and such unique ecosystems as the GBRwas passed unanimously. Supporting arguments included:-

  • Scientific evidence of the increase in greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide) and the relationship with global temperature.
  • Scientific evidence that human greenhouse gas emissions resulting in climate changes cannot be explained by natural causes
  • Impact of global warming on the GBR
  • Alternative energy resources and renewable energy storage
  • Integration of variable renewable energy into the power system grids

Details of these and other environmental issues are available in quarterly reports with references on www.ncwq.org.au

 

NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Report, July 2017

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environmental Adviser

Update on Great Barrier Reef (GBR): Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has confirmed an estimated 29 % of shallow water corals died from bleaching in 2016, up from the 22 % estimated mid-2016. Also coral bleaching extended to deeper corals beyond depths divers typically survey to, but that mortality cannot be systematically assessed. In 2017, further coral loss is expected with a pattern similar to 2016, but most severe in the centre of the Reef between Cairns and Townsville. Ongoing thermal stress is also causing elevated coral disease.

Tropical cyclone Debbie impacted around a quarter of the Reef in early 2017. Due to its category four intensity and slow speed as it crossed the reef, coral mortality is expected to be high in this zone, which includes the Whitsunday Islands tourism area.

There are also ongoing impacts from crown-of-thorns starfish, coral disease and poor water quality from coastal run-off. Recovery from bleaching is likely to be slower than from other impacts. http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/media-room/latest-news/coral-bleaching/2017/significant-coral-decline-and-habitat-loss-on-the-great-barrier-reef

On 26-27May 2017, more than 70 leading marine experts from around the world met in Townsville for a Reef Summit to determine what else could be done to protect the Reef in addition to the existing extensive actions which were strongly supported. Additional options explored were developing coral nurseries, strategies for extending culling activities for the coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, protecting herbivorous fish, expanding the vessel monitoring system and identifying priority reefs and demonstration sites for coral restoration.” http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/media-room/latest-news/corporate/2017/reef-summit-sets-new-course-of-action-for-the-great-barrier-reef

The World Heritage Committee (WHC)’s 41st session held in July 2017 in Krakow, Poland recognised the significant effort underway to build the resilience of the GBR under the Australian and Queensland governments’ Reef 2050 Plan but noted the mass coral bleaching of 2016 and 2017 and that climate change remained the most significant overall threat to the future of the GBR. The WHC strongly encouraged accelerating efforts to meet the intermediate and long-term targets of the plan, essential to the overall resilience of the GBR, in particular those regarding water quality.http://whc.unesco.org/archive/2017/whc17-41com-7BAdd-en.pdf

Paddock to Reef Integrated Monitoring, Modelling and Reporting Program: Wetlands in the Central Queensland (19), Cape York (10), Far North Queensland (5), North Queensland (6) and Wide Bay Burnett (10) regions, which are representative of the natural freshwater wetlands, have been assessed to provide baseline data of the GBR catchment wetlands’ conditions and processes so that positive and negative trends can be detected over time. Wetlands can not only reduce the impact of sediment run-off from river and creek systems but are also intrinsically invaluable in their own right, recharging ground water, providing important habitat for a diversity of wildlife, including commercially important species of fish. http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2017/7/15/fifty-wetlands-assessed-under-qldfirst-research-project  Preliminary results of research by Dr Fernanda Adame from Griffith University’s Australian Rivers Institute, indicate wetlands can remove nitrogen from the water and that forested wetlands have higher carbon and nitrogen storage capacity compared to marshes. http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2017/7/16/palaszczuk-governmentbacked-great-barrier-reef-research-shows-early-promise

Clean energy technologies: The Clean Energy Finance Corporation, has invested around $20 million into a project at the Pilgangoora open pit mine.(Western Australia)  which produces lithium concentrate, an essential component in electric vehicles and battery storage. http://www.environment.gov.au/minister/frydenberg/media-releases/mr20170627.htm

Tidal energy which is created through tidal movement and the vertical fluctuations in sea level and the horizontal flow of the water, has the potential to be available for more than 18 hours a day. The only slack period between high and low tide is predictable so tidal generation technology could be integrated to enhance the country’s grid stability, or to provide support to off-grid industrial sites and remote communities. A $6 million three year project led by the Australian Maritime College at the University of Tasmania, in partnership with CSIRO and University of Queensland and supported by a $2.5 million investment by the Australian Government through the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, will map the scale and distribution of Australia’s tidal energy resources. Potential sites and the technical performance modelling of known tidal energy devices and environmental impact will be assessed.http://www.environment.gov.au/minister/frydenberg/media-releases/mr20170713.html?utm_source=mins&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=feed

New Acland Stage 3 mine expansion at Oakey, Darling Downs: On 31 May 2017 Queensland Land Court recommended outright rejection of the New Acland Stage 3 mine proposal to expand coal production to 7.5 million tonnes per year on the following grounds:-

  1. Groundwater: Major shortcomings with the groundwater impact predictions proposed risks to the surrounding landholders;
  2. Noise: A stricter night time noise limit should be applied but is not permitted by the current legislation;
  3. Agricultural land was among the best 1.5% of agricultural land in Queensland and significant from an agricultural perspective;
  4. Intergenerational equity;
  5. Economics: While there would be a positive economic impact overall the loss of $437 million in royalties was significant and the high job figures in the Environmental Impact Study are not supported, rather 680 net jobs were accepted;
  6. Dust: If the mine was to proceed, it should be subject to additional monitoring requirements, including online real time forecasts and results, and additional dust limits to protect nearby residents; http://www.edoqld.org.au/news/key-findings-acland-coal-v-ashman-ors-and-dehp-no-4-2017-qlc-24/

The Maranoa-Balonne-Condamine assessment conducted by CSIRO and Geoscience and drawing on advice from Independent Expert Scientific Committee on Coal Seam Gas Extraction and Large Coal Mines found that impacts of the New Acland Stage 3 coal mine expansion and The Range coal mine on water resources in the region will be limited to small areas near the mines.  http://www.environment.gov.au/minister/frydenberg/media-releases/mr20170713a.html?utm_source=mins&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=feed : www.bioregionalassessments.gov.au/assessments/maranoa-balonne-condamine-subregion

Proposed Bio-industries: Bio Processing Australia has proposed a $50 million biorefinery at Mackay with $8.64 million assistance from the Queensland Government. The facility will comprise:-

A commercial-scale advanced biofuels pilot plant in Yarwun, Gladstone will take agricultural waste such as bagasse from sugar production and turn it into biofuels. http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2017/6/1/new-gladstone-plant-a-boost-for-biofuel-industry-in-queensland

Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environment Adviser

 

NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Report, June 2017

 

By Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environment Adviser

Update on Climate Change:

Further evidence of the increase in greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide (CO), methane (CH) and nitrous oxide (NO)) and the relationship with global temperature: Measurements of greenhouse gases (CO₂, CH₄ and N₂O) in current and archived air samples, air trapped in bubbles in ice cores, and compacted snow have been compiled to cover the past 2,000 years by dozens of laboratories around the world, including CSIRO, the Bureau of Meteorology’s Cape Grim Station, NOAA, AGAGE and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, among others. The data shows the growth of greenhouse gases began with the onset of the industrial era around 1750 but sharply increased from 1950s and still continues today.

Between 1990 and 2010 the net emissions of CO₂increased by 42 %, which is particularly important because CO₂accounts for about three-fourths of total global emissions. Climate Change Indicators in the United States: Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions www.epa.gov/climate-indicators –Ben Henley(University of Melbourne) and Nerilie Abram (ANU) have shown a close relationship between global temperature and CO₂ since 1850.

https://theconversation.com/the-three-minute-story-of-800-000-years-of-climate-change-with-a-sting-in-the-tail-73368

Alternative energy resources Most of Australia’s electricity is generated centrally and relies heavily on fossil fuels 86% v 14% renewables. : https://www.originenergy.com.au/blog/about-energy/energy-in-australia.html; Department of the Environment and Energy, Australian Energy Statistics, Table O, May 2017  Fossil fuels can destroy and pollute the environment ; reserves are also limited, expecting to last only another 100 years given are basic rate of consumption. http://www.conserve-energy-future.com/different-energy-sources.php

But there are alternatives to fossil fuels. e.g. Nuclear power. However uranium isn’t renewable and there are issues about safety and disposal of waste; the cost of building and decommissioning nuclear power stations; and the danger of stockpiles of enriched uranium and nuclear plants being targeted by terrorists

http://www.ga.gov.au/scientific-topics/energy/resources/australian-energy-resource-assessment

On the other hand, Australia has a rich diversity of renewable energy resources with low greenhouse gas emissions. – dispatchable (i.e. biomass, concentrated solar power with storage, geothermal power and hydro) and non-dispatchable, or Variable Renewable Energy or VRE (i.e. ocean power, solar photovoltaics(PV) and wind).

  • Bioenergy: While Australia’s potential bioenergy resources are large and there are under-utilised resources in crop residues, plantation and forest residues and waste streams, the proportion of biomass potentially available for bioenergy will depend on the value of biomass relative to competing uses, impact of their removal (retention of biomass in situ returns nutrients to soil, improves soil structure and moisture retention), and global oil prices. http://www.ga.gov.au/scientific-topics/energy/resources/other-renewable-energy-resources/bioenergy
  • Hydro power is the most advanced and mature renewable energy technology and has low greenhouse gas emissions, low operating costs, and can response quickly to demand. Much of Australia’s economically feasible hydro energy resource has already been harnessed. http://www.ga.gov.au/scientific-topics/energy/resources/other-renewable-energy-resources/hydro-energy
  • Geothermal energy there is significant potential for geothermal energy in Australia. It is estimated that one per cent of the geothermal energy shallower than five kilometres and hotter than 150°C could supply Australia’s total energy requirements for 26 000 years http://www.ga.gov.au/scientific-topics/energy/resources/geothermal-energy-resources
  • Ocean Energy
  • Tidal energy Australia’s tidal energy resources is restricted to the tide kinetic energy present on Australia’s continental shelf. The regions of shelf that have the largest kinetic energy densities are the North West Shelf and the southern shelf of the Great Barrier Reef
  • Wave energy generated by converting the energy of ocean waves into other forms of energy is greatest on the southern half of the Australian shelf, The states with the best wave energy resource are Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and Tasmania.

In the case of tidal and wave energy resources, the lack of control over the timing, rate or level of delivery can impact significantly on their potential as an electricity source http://www.ga.gov.au/scientific-topics/energy/resources/other-renewable-energy-resources/ocean-energy

  • Wind energy Australia has some of the best wind resources in the world. These are located mainly in the southern parts of the continent (which lie in the path of the westerly wind flow known as the ‘roaring 40s’) and reach a maximum around Bass Strait. http://www.ga.gov.au/scientific-topics/energy/resources/other-renewable-energy-resources/wind-energy The biggest disadvantage is the variability of wind
  • Solar energy The Australian continent has the highest solar radiation per square metre of any continent and consequently some of the best solar energy resource in the world. The regions with the highest solar radiation are the desert regions in the northwest and centre of the continent. http://www.ga.gov.au/scientific-topics/energy/resources/other-renewable-energy-resources/solar-energy As with wind, viability can be a problem. . However, the sun does not shine all the time.

Renewable energy storage, like pumped hydropower, heat storage and batteries, flywheels, fuel cells and compressed air storage can provide a solution to the intermittency of variable renewable energy sources such as solar and wind These technologies have different characteristics and applications for the electricity grid. As battery costs continue to fall households and businesses with solar photovoltaics can store electricity they generate for use later and minimise the need to purchase increasingly expensive electricity from the grid. The lithium-ion battery has seen rapid cost decreases and is considered to have a range of technical and performance advantages over other battery types (energy and power density, usable life). However other batteries, such as advanced lead-acid batteries and redox-flow batteries are suited to specific purposes – such as stabilising the electricity grid, for longer-term storage or larger energy capacity. Battery storage technology also has the potential to reduce the two biggest contributors to the cost of electricity bills in Australia – the cost of building and maintaining the electricity distribution network and purchasing wholesale energy. They provide an alternative to expanding and upgrading the network, by instead evening out the demand on the network at peak times, and making more effective local use of surplus distributed generation. High levels of variable renewable energy can cause instability in the electricity grid if the generation is not adjusted to match demand.

Powerful Potential: Battery Storage for Renewable Energy and Electric Cars by Andrew Stock, Petra Stock and Veena Sahajwalla (Climate Council of Australia, 2015)

Integration of variable renewable energy into the power system grids is possible with system-friendly variable renewable energies, flexible generation, grid extension, smart grid technologies, and storage technologies. New advances in wind and solar photovoltaics technologies allow frequency and voltage control. Flexible generation requires changes in the energy mix to optimise production from both dispatchable and variable renewable energy resources. IEA-ETSAP and IRENA© Technology Brief E15 – April 2015 Smart grid technologies are made possible by two-way communication technologies, control systems, and computer processing. These advanced technologies include advanced sensors known as Phasor Measurement Units that allow operators to assess grid stability, advanced digital meters that give consumers better information and automatically report outages, relays that sense and recover from faults in the substation automatically, automated feeder switches that re-route power around problems, and batteries that store excess energy and make it available later to the grid to meet customer demand. https://energy.gov/oe/services/technology-development/smart-grid Small variable renewable power plants which produce electricity close to demand sites could be connected to a distribution network. In this way the need for centralised power generation, high-voltage transmission lines could be reduced, as well as transmission and distribution costs. . IEA-ETSAP and IRENA© Technology Brief E15 – April 2015

NCWQ Environment Report, April 2017

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser

Update on Climate Change: The debate on climate change has continued but unfortunately appears to have become more ideological than scientific, perhaps fuelled by American and Australian politicians or aspiring politicians. Lord Christopher Monckton (a well known climate sceptic)’s view that anthropogenic global-warming is a myth is often cited in the popular press. His and similar views are supported by some scientists. https://www.thenewamerican.com/tech/environment/item/24820-climate-scare-over-top-experts-expose-scam-at-freedom-confab https://www.thenewamerican.com/tech/environment/item/22095-in-paris-scientists-debunk-un-climate-hysteria These views are just as vigorously refuted by other scientists https://www.skepticalscience.com/Monckton_Myths_arg.htm; Monckton-vs-Scientists.pdf.  Many of the protagonists on both sides appear to be intransigent but the issues raised need serious consideration.

The popular press has made much of the so called hiatus in global warming data accusing America’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of manipulating the data to exaggerate global warming and timing their publication to influence the historic Paris Agreement on climate change. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4192182/World-leaders-duped-manipulated-global-warming-data.html The U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space, and Technology accepted this conclusion. https://science.house.gov/news/press-releases/former-noaa-scientist-confirms-colleagues-manipulated-climate-records However, NOAA results have been validated by independent data from satellites, buoys and Argo floats https://www.carbonbrief.org/factcheck-mail-sundays-astonishing-evidence-global-temperature-rise o

The Conversation has published a series on the science behind climate change and concluded  that human greenhouse gas emissions are resulting in climate changes that cannot be explained by natural causes. https://theconversation.com/climate-change-is-real-an-open-letter-from-the-scientific-community-1808  These include articles by

However Dr Judith Curry, President of Climate Forecast Applications Network and  former Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Georgia Institute of Technology, concluded that while climate models are useful tools for conducting scientific research to understand the climate system, the current global climate models (GCMs) can not attribute the causes of 20th century warming or predict global or regional climate change on timescales of decades to centuries, with any high level of confidence. Her conclusions are based on

  • substantial uncertainties in equilibrium climate sensitivity,
  • inability of GCMs to simulate the magnitude and phasing of natural internal

variability on decadal-to-century timescales,

  • the use of 20th century observations in calibrating/tuning the GCMs, and
  • the failure of climate models to provide a consistent explanation of the early

20th century warming and the mid-century cooling.

Thus she warns against using GCMs to justify political policies to alter world social, economic and energy systems. Judith Curry, Climate Models for the Layman, 2017, The Global Warming Policy Foundation Briefing 24.

The 2015 edition of the State of the Climate report updates climate indicators such as greenhouse gases; temperatures throughout the atmosphere, ocean, and land; cloud cover; sea level; ocean salinity; sea ice extent; and snow cover show patterns, changes, and trends of the global climate system. Blunden, J. and D. S. Arndt, Eds., 2016: State of the Climate in 2015. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 97 (8), S1–S275, DOI:10.1175/2016BAMSStateoftheClimate.1  Highlights include

  • Global Temperature: Long-term warming and a strong El Niño contributed to the highest annual combined temperature for ocean and land since reliable records began in the mid-to-late 1800s. Average temperature departures for 2015 compared to the 1981-2010 averages showed Russia and western North America especially warm with only a few areas on land, notably Greenland and north eastern Canada, were cooler than average. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/featured-images/2015-state-climate-global-temperature
  • Global mean sea level rose approximately 7 cm above the 1993 average in 2015, making it the highest observed since the satellite altimeter record began in 1993. Regional variations highlighted the short-term influence of climate phenomena like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the El Niño https://www.climate.gov/news-features/featured-images/2015-state-climate-sea-level
  • Ocean heat storage has increased substantially since 1993, hitting a record high in 2015. The heat content in the upper 700 m of the ocean rose more than the deeper ocean (0–2000m) relative to a 1993 baseline. Heat energy rises and falls every few years in response to natural patterns like El Niño and La Niña, but those ups and downs are superimposed on a long-term increase. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/featured-images/2015-state-climate-ocean-heat-storage.
  • Global average carbon dioxide concentration (CO2) was reported as 4 parts per million (ppm), a new record high. At Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii where atmospheric carbon dioxide has been recorded longer than anywhere else in the world, the atmospheric mole fraction has increased from ~315 ppm in 1958 to 400.8 ± 0.1 ppm in 2015. Human emissions from fossil fuel combustion and cement production are largely considered responsible for this increase. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/featured-images/2015-state-climate-carbon-dioxide.
  • Warm oceans and loss of sea ice are causing big changes in marine life. For example, loss of sea ice is changing the behaviour of Arctic walruses and causing huge declines in some Antarctic penguins species. Warm water fishes are driving polar species out of the Barents Sea. A toxic algal bloom in the Northwest Pacific was the largest in at least the past 15 years. Domoic acid in the algae can build up in shellfish, other invertebrates, and fish leading to illness and death in a variety of birds and mammals that consume them. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/2015-state-climate-warm-oceans-loss-sea-ice-behind-big-changes

As Dr Curry has pointed out there are difficulties in using the current global climate models to predict future climate with any certainty. Nevertheless, progress requires the on going monitoring of environmental data such as greenhouse gases; temperatures throughout the atmosphere, ocean, and land; cloud cover; sea level; ocean salinity; sea ice extent; and snow cover. NOAA compiles this from more than 450 scientists from 62 countries around the world. The global climate indicators help nations to understand the probable or possible impact of global warming on the world and its inhabitants. Regional differences highlight the effect climate phenomena like the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and the El Niño  can have on any long term trend. It is essential this research continues. The USA Committee on Science, Space & Technology are currently holding a Full Committee Hearing – Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy Implications and the Scientific Method. Given the implication for our environment and such unique ecosystems like the Great Barrier Reef it is crucial that in Australia research continues without political and ideological distractions.

Update on Great Barrier Reef (GBR): As noted in previous reportedly global warming is the overriding threat (NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Reports, July 2016, Feb 2016,March 2015); GBR-Coral-Mortality-13-June-2016.pdf  http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/media-room/latest-news/coral-bleaching/2016/the-facts-on-great-barrier-reef-coral-mortality; Ocean-acidity levels will continue to increase as the ocean absorbs anthropogenic carbon-dioxide emissions www.csiro.au/State-of-the-Climate-2014; National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS). “Study projects unprecedented loss of corals in Great Barrier Reef due to warming.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 January 2015. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150122103242.htm

Coral bleaching has been discussed previously (NCWQ Environment Adviser’s Reports, July 2016, Feb 2016, March 2015, October2014, May2014)), in particular, the most serious bleaching event to hit the Reef on record in 2016, when the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) reported the overall mortality to be 22% with about 85%of that die-off occurring in the far north between the tip of Cape York and just north of Lizard Island, 250 kilometres north of Cairns ( the most pristine of GBR). GBR-Coral-Mortality-13-June-2016.pdf  http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/media-room/latest-news/coral-bleaching/2016/the-facts-on-great-barrier-reef-coral-mortality  In Global warming and recurrent mass bleaching of corals (2017), Professor T Hughes, James Cook University, with 45 other coauthors shows the footprint of bleaching on the GBR in 1998, 2002 and 2016, using aerial and underwater survey data, with the spatial pattern of heat stress (Degree Heating Weeks, DHWs; °C-weeks) during each mass-bleaching event.

Professor Hughes and his colleagues found water quality and fishing pressure had minimal effect on the unprecedented bleaching in 2016. However these measures could give reefs a better chance to recover. Even good colonizers and fast growing corals can take 10 to 15 years to recover hence assemblage structure of corals is expected to change. A fourth bleaching event could interrupt the slow recovery. The authors urged immediate global action to curb future warming to secure a future for coral reefs. http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v543/n7645/full/nature21707.html?WT.mc_id=COM_Nature_1703_Hughes

Many reefs worldwide have declined due to a reduced cover of reef-building corals and an increased abundance of upright macroalgae. Research conducted on Heron Island demonstrated that increasing ocean acidification to elevated CO2concentrations predicted to occur in 2050 and 2100, advantages seaweeds over corals. Vital corals could be significantly harmed by 2050 and killed off by 2100. A common brown algae species found in reefs worldwide was shown to be among those that caused the most damage. Del Monaco, C.. Hay M.E., Gartrell1, P., Mumby P. J.,  & Diaz-Pulido1,G. Effects of ocean acidification on the potency of macroalgal allelopathy to a common coral. Sci. Rep. 7, 41053; doi: 10.1038/srep41053 (2017).  The authors said it was futile to remove seaweeds that have the ability to regrow, and the problem could be tackled only by cutting carbon emissions. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/feb/03/rising-carbon-emissions-could-kill-off-vital-corals-by-2100-study-warns

The GBRMPA has warned that more of the reef is showing built-up heat stress than this time last year, just before its worst bleaching event. While cooperative efforts by the entire international community is needed to address climate change and protect coral reefs worldwide the GBR independent review group said Australia needs to do more. They made a number of recommendations aimed at meeting the 2018 water quality, providing more effective regulations to reduce Reef pollution, controlling vegetation loss in Reef Catchments, planning framework to protect the Reef’s outstanding universal values, managing sustainable fisheries, enhancing Reef management, improving monitoring, modelling, evaluation and reporting.. A funding shortfall of $143m to $408m to meet the Reef 2050 Plan actions was estimated. The report also says Australia’s emission reduction targets are “not commensurate with a fair contribution to the reduced global carbon budget” needed to meet Paris agreement targets and protect coral reefs worldwide. It specifically criticises Australia’s support for new coal mines in Queensland that “pose a serious threat to the world heritage area.  Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, Progress On Implementation   Review By Great Barrier Reef Independent Review Group  February 2017 https://independent.academia.edu/DiTarte

Download the full report HERE!

NCWQ Environment Report November 2016

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser

Update on Great Barrier Reef (GBR): In their response to the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce (GBREST) the Queensland Government (QG) has agreed or agreed in principle in August to all recommendations and allocated an additional $90 million over four years. The recommendations included enhanced communication, increased levels of agricultural extension, a greater focus on innovation, expanded monitoring, financial and other incentives, and staged and targeted regulations. Some recommendations require formal public consultation processes or working with stakeholders and/or the Australian Government to be fully implemented. The QG has commenced implementation of some of the recommendations e.g. investments into monitoring improvements, additional extension resources, communications, establishment of an innovation fund and the commencement of the projects to tackle nutrient, pesticide and sediment loss the Wet Tropics and the Burdekin catchments. http://www.gbr.qld.gov.au/taskforce/final-report/.

The QG commissioned the GBRWST to investigate the cost of various policy options to meet the reef water quality targets (sediment runoff to be reduced by 50% in the Fitzroy, Burdekin and Wet Tropics regions, and nitrogen levels by 80% in Burdekin and Wet Tropics catchments; sediment runoff by 20% and nitrogen levels by 50% in Mackay-Whitsunday and Burnett Mary catchments) below 2009 levels. The GBRWST estimated that A$8.2 billion would be the likely cost using current methods and prices to reach the targets albeit with a little more to be done in the Wet Tropics. $6.46 billion and $1.1 billion would be required to meet the maximum 50 per cent fine sediment reduction target in the Fitzroy basin and the Burdekin respectively. However, by spending around A$600 million in the most cost-effective areas halfway to the nitrogen and sediment targets could be achieved. Focusing on these areas would enable significant improvement to be made while allowing time to find more cost-effective solutions to close the remaining gap.

Graziers are being encouraged to participate in the voluntary, industry-led Grazing Best Management Practice program and identify practices that can help them improve the long-term profitability and sustainability of their enterprise as well as protect the GBR. http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2016/11/23/environment-minister-supports-best-management-practice-graziers-with-sponsorship-for-reef-and-beef-event However, at the first annual GBR Synthesis Workshop (a recommendation of the GBREST) held on 9-11 November2016, attendees considered broader actions than just changing land management practice on farms were needed. Priority actions identified included:

  • trialling advances in forecasting technology to predict rainfall
  • investigating the long-term impact of sediment and nutrient discharge
  • confirming the causes of crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks
  • assessing the critical factors to help ecosystems recover
  • understanding social and economic drivers to encourage landholders to improve their agricultural practices
  • communication and engagement to support the release of the Scientific Consensus Statement
  • targeting gully hotspots.

The Scientific Consensus Statement synthesises the latest scientific knowledge on reef water quality issues and will guide the review of the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan due to be completed in mid-2017. http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2016/11/15/experts-identify-priority-actions-for-the-great-barrier-reef

In a new matched funding arrangement, Greening Australia and the QG will each provide $2 million over four years to trial innovative approaches to gully remediation. The QG contribution will be from the Great Barrier Reef Innovation Fund established on a recommendation of GBREST. wttp://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2016/10/18/palaszczuk-government-commits-funding-for-4-million-project-to-help-improve-reef-water-quality

Severe damage at Douglas Shoal was caused in April 2010 by the Chinese bulk carrier Shen Neng 1 running aground due to negligence. Following the out of court settlement ($39.3million )with the owners the GBRMPA will now initiate field operations to remove toxic anti-fouling paint and rubble, enabling restoration of the natural ecological processes on this reef

Recently small oil patties from the same type of oil used by large trading ships washed up along a sixty kilometre stretch of coastline of Fraser Island and were removed by 30 shoreline personnel over a period of a week by rake and shovel to minimises the impact on the environment. There were no reports of any impact on wildlife. Authorities are attempting to identify the ship allegedly responsible. Maximum fines for a corporation for a discharge offence can include $11.78 million under Queensland law and $17 million under Commonwealth law. http://statements.qld.gov.au/Statement/2016/10/24/oil-cleanup-winding-down-on-fraser-island

Update on Paris Agreement on Climate: As of 21 November 2016: 193 Parties have signed the Paris Agreement and 112 Parties ratified, accounting in total for 78.78% of the total global greenhouse gas emissions While most of those countries ratifying the Agreement make a minor contribution, it is pleasing major contributors China (20.09%) and USA (17.89%) have ratified. India (4.10%) and Australia (1.46%) have also ratified.

Terrestrial Carbon Sinks: An international team of scientists have found that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels between 2002 and 2014 led to enhanced photosynthesis in plants so that they could absorb more of the greenhouse gas. As, at same time, the slowdown of global temperatures reduced the amount of CO2 plants breathed out, more carbon was taken up by plants than released. However, the scientists warn the slowdown in the growth rate of atmospheric CO2 could be temporary.

Between 1930 and 2013, more than 69 billion tonnes of cement was manufactured globally with an estimated 38.2 gigatonnes of CO2 released during the manufacture by calcination of carbonate rocks. However Xi et al found that carbonation of cement materials over the life cycle of cement represented a large and growing net sink of CO2 and estimated that 4.5 gigatonnes of carbon would have been absorbed over that period.

Download the full report with all references here.

Environment Report 2016

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser

A range of environmental issues were researched and reported on during the year. The threats to Great Barrier Reef and global warming remain major issues. Advocacy was undertaken on these issues.

Microplastics: At the National Council of Women Australia (NCWA) Conference on October 11th 2015 the following resolution “The NCW A urges the Federal Government to tackle the threat of microplastics by

  • Supporting  research and monitoring programs,
  • Engaging with industry to decrease plastic waste, which involves decreasing production of throwaway packaging and increasing the content of recycled material in new plastic products,
  • Tightening biodegradability standards,
  • Promoting consumer education.”

was passed unanimously.

Global warming: Also at the Conference the resolution “The NCW A urges all Federal, State, Territory and local governments to maintain clear, consistent and long-term support to the renewable energy industries, along with other emission reduction support, so as to reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by the recommended 40-60% reduction based on 2000 levels by 2030.” 

Through the Direct Action scheme with the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) and the Safeguard Mechanism, Australia is expected to meet its 2020 target to reduce emissions to 5% below 2000 levels. However the key disadvantage of the scheme which uses a reverse auction to allocate payments from the ERF is that it could fund individual projects that would have happened anyway without government funding e.g. landfill projects which already generate revenue from electricity sales and renewable energy certificates. To accurately assess the scheme the ongoing emissions levels of participating projects and the emissions that would have been observed without the subsidy should be known. The latter is difficult to assess.

Australia’s target to reduce Green House Gas emissions has been rated “inadequate” by the Climate Action Tracker, a Consortium of four research organisations. {Climate Analytics, Ecofys, NewClimate Institute, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research}. The climate action and global efforts towards the globally agreed aim of holding warming below 2°C, since 2009 is being tracked for 32 countries which cover about 80% of global emissions.

Hopefully an Australian Government review scheduled for 2017 will consider not only the Direct Action scheme but also alternatives such as a baseline and credit scheme without government subsidies, an emissions tax and an emissions trading scheme.

Impact of large scale coal mining and coal seam gas mining: The potential impact of these activities on groundwater resources is practically concerning. Not only is food production on good farming land (e.g. the Darling Downs) at risk but also the environment, flora and fauna  

Great Barrier Reef (GBR): While the overall coral mortality from the recent bleaching event was only 22 % overall with about 85 % of that die-off occurring in the far north between the tip of Cape York and just north of Lizard Island, it is essential that land management in catchment areas be improved to reduce downsteam pollution and pressure on the coral. The uptake of best management practices by farmers and graziers has been less than desirable. The GBR Water Science Taskforce has recommended problem areas and incentives be targeted. Hopefully the situation will improve with the implementation of these recommendations and the promised extra funding. The expansion of coal mines and existing ports with increased shipping traffic raises the risk of damage to the reef and marine life from collisions and oil spills.

Details of these and other environmental issues are available in quarterly reports with references on www.ncwq.org.au e.g. concerns about the effectiveness of the current methods of biodiversity offsetting; opportunities to use nutrients in wastewater.

Environment Report July 2016

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser

Update on Great Barrier Reef (GBR): Hundreds of comprehensive in-water surveys to assess coral mortality have been conducted Reef-wide since the beginning of March by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) with the Australian Institute of Marine Science, the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service and other partners. The GMRMA reports the overall mortality to be 22 per cent with about 85 per cent of that die-off occurring in the far north between the tip of Cape York and just north of Lizard Island, 250 kilometres north of Cairns ( the most pristine of GBR). This has resulted from the most serious bleaching event to hit the Reef on record, and was related to a combination of warming of our planet’s oceans and a major El Niño. The Chairman of the GBRMPA, Dr RusselReichelt, reported that because some reefs had been under greater heat stress than others, the bleaching had resulted in varying mortality rates, but that fortunately the section of the Marine Park that had substantial increase in coral cover in recent years (the southern part of the Reef) has experienced little mortality. http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/media-room/latest-news/coral-bleaching/2016/the-facts-on-great-barrier-reef-coral-mortality As Dr David Wachenfeld of the GBRMPA has said it is crucial to reduce greenhouse emissions if the diversity and current quantity of coral and marine life are to be maintained in the long term. In the medium term, land management improvements in catchment area to reduce downstream pollution will help reduce pressure on the coral as will short term measures like removal of crown of thorns (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8GkZvSJBuxE). However, only half of cane famers and a tenth of graziers in the GBR catchments have participated in some best management practice. In most districts around half of the farmers were over-applying fertilisers. GBR Water Science Taskforce has recommended that of the $90 million already allocated to improve water quality, the Queensland Government spend $33.5 million on two particular problem areas for nutrient, pesticide and sediment loss, in the Wet Tropics and the Burdekin. Also another $20 million should be spent on incentives for farmers, including ongoing payments for farmers to restore wetlands and flood plains, and temporarily retire or de-stock parts of their property. It also recommended a legal cap on the amount of fertiliser farmers could use if other measures did not work. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-05- 25/great-barrier-reef-taskforce-report-90-million-state-funding/7444074

The GBR wellbeing became a major issue in the federal election campaign with the political parties pledging extra funds. In addition to $461 million currently planned to be spent over six years on incentive programs to help farmers move to more “water quality friendly” management practices, the re-elected Government has committed up to $1 billion over 10 years from an existing $10 billion administered by the Clean Energy Finance Corporation. This will provide loans to finance more energy- and water-efficient irrigation systems on farms, as well as improved pesticide and fertiliser application systems. Whether this will be sufficient funds and whether enough farmers will take up the loan facility is being questioned. http://theconversation.com/policycheck-what-are-the-parties-really-offering-to-save-the-great-barrier-reef-60927

Potential detrimental effects of coal mine expansion: In the Queensland Land Court, the Environmental Defenders Office (EDO Qld) on behalf of Oakey Coal Action Alliance (one of 30 community objectors) is challenging the expansion of the existing open-cut New Acland Coal mine. The grounds for the challenge are that the mine will destroy prime agricultural land in the Darling Downs, risk precious groundwater, risk exceeding air quality limits and potentially place some of the local community’s health at risk. Serious issues have been raised about validity of the groundwater, noise and air quality impact modelling undertaken by the company. The social, physical and mental impacts of the project are currently being considered by the court. http://www.edoqld.org.au/news/acland-mine-dust-modelling/

Update on Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin: On behalf of Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), EDO Qld sought an independent judicial review by the Federal Court of the legality of Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt’s re-approval of the proposed Adani Carmichael coal mine project in Queensland’s Galilee Basin. The case is based on whether the Minister correctly applied the law when considering the impacts of the project on climate change and the GBR and will set a precedent for further climate change decision-making under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 relating to burning of coal overseas, and duties to not act inconsistently with Australia’s responsibilities under the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage. The Court has yet to give its decision. http://www.edoqld.org.au/carmichael-coal-mine-federal-court-challenge/ On behalf of Land Services of Coast and Country, EDO Qld filed an application for judicial review in the Queensland Supreme Court of the decision to grant Adani Mining Pty Ltd an Environmental Authority under the Environmental Protection Act 1994 (Qld). It is claimed the decision by the Queensland Environment Department to issue an Environmental Authority to Adani for the Carmichael mine did not comply with Section 5 of the EP Act which places a mandatory duty on decision makers to best achieve the ecologically sustainable development purpose of the Act. The hearing has been set for 5 August 2016. http://www.edoqld.org.au/adani-supreme-court-challenge/ The Company plans to export up to 60,000 tonnes a year of coal through the Great Barrier Reef http://www.theaustralian.com.au/business/mining-energy/lawfare-risks-adani-exit-from-queensland-coalmine/news-story/8759d1a7d9278c0e9f0298fc38159888 The scale of this proposed mine, which would be the largest coal mine in Australia and one of the largest in the world, means the potential environmental harm could be enormous not only in the Galilee Basin, but downstream in the rail corridor to Abbot Point, at the port at Abbot point and then the shipping passage through the GBR. These dangers have been previously documented. NCWQ submissions on impact of expansion of ports on the GBR environs; dredging and disposal of dredged material at Abbot Point; Galilee Coal Project at Bimblebox Nature Refuge

Update on Climate Change: At the Paris Climate Change Conference, all 197 United Nations countries agreed to take strong action to reduce emissions. Australia which is responsible for around 1.3 per cent of global emissions, has steadily reduced the task of meeting its 2020 target to reduce emissions to five per cent below 2000 levels and is expected to beat this target by 78 million tonnes. The 2030 target to reduce emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels is expected to be met through energy productivity, fuel switching, fugitive emissions management, land use change, management of agricultural practices, management of industrial processes, renewable energy and waste management. The Direct Action scheme with the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF; $2.55 billion) supports Australian businesses, communities and landholders to undertake activities which reduce or avoid greenhouse gas emissions such as projects improving energy efficiency, capturing methane from landfills and storing carbon in forests and soils. The scheme uses a reverse auction to allocate payments from ERF. Bids to implement registered emissions reduction projects are submitted the Clean Energy Regulator (CER) who selects the lowest bids per unit of notional abatement. The auction winners enter into contracts with the CER to deliver Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs), each representing a tonne of carbon dioxide equivalence (t CO2-e) emissions reduction below an assumed baseline. The contracts guarantee payment from ERF in return for delivery of emissions reductions. A Safeguard Mechanism commenced on 1 July 2016 to ensure emission reductions purchased by the Government are not offset by significant rises in emissions above business-as- usual levels elsewhere in the economy. The safeguard mechanism requires Australia’s largest emitters, around 140 large businesses that have facilities with direct emissions of more than 100,000 t CO2-e a year, to keep emissions within baseline levels which have been set using data already reported under the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme. This will cover around half of Australia’s emissions. Flexible compliance arrangements allow a range of options for meeting safeguard obligations.

  • ACCUs can be used to offset emissions above the baseline.
  • Multi-year monitoring will allow a facility to exceed its baseline in one year, so long as average emissions over two or three years are below the baseline.
  • An exemption will be available for facilities whose emissions are the direct result of exceptional circumstances, such as a natural disaster or criminal activity.
  • There will be a range of discretionary, graduated enforcement options that the CER will be able to apply to deter non-compliance. https://www.environment.gov.au/node/41417?utm_source=Climate%20change&utm_campaign=feed&utm_medium=rss

However the key disadvantage of the scheme is that it could fund individual projects that would have happened without government funding e.g. landfill projects which already generate revenue from electricity. To accurately assess the scheme the ongoing emissions levels of participating projects and the emissions that would have been observed without the subsidy should be known. The latter is difficult to assess. An alternative could be a baseline-and- credit scheme without government subsidies. Other alternatives are an emissions tax or an emissions trading scheme (ETS) which would introduce a price per unit of emissions and the private sector would decide which projects to implement. Large emitters are already required to report their emissions, so implementation would be comparatively straightforward. Firms covered by an emissions tax or an ETS could be allowed to use voluntary offsets generated outside the scheme to reduce their tax/permit liabilities. However offset arrangements would need to be carefully designed. https://theconversation.com/direct-action-not-giving-us-bang-for-our-buck-on-climate-change-59308 Burke, P.J. (2016), Undermined by adverse selection: Australia’s Direct Action abatement subsidies, CCEP Working Paper 1605, Apr 2016. Crawford School of Public Policy, The Australian National University. A review of Australia’s emissions reduction policies is scheduled for 2017. Hopefully all options including the Direct Action, a baseline-and- credit scheme without government subsidies, an emissions tax or an emissions trading scheme will be considered.

In addition to reducing emissions other Government policies include supporting clean and efficient energy, building resilience to the unavoidable impacts of climate change and supporting an effective international response to climate change. To meet the Renewable Energy Target of 23% of Australia’s electricity coming from renewable sources by 2020, Australian households and businesses are encouraged to install solar and other renewable energy technologies, and the electricity sector to move to cleaner and more diverse sources.

A $1 billion Clean Energy Innovation Fund aims to help emerging clean energy technologies move from demonstration to commercial deployment. https://www.environment.gov.au/node/41417?utm_source=Climate%20change&utm_campaign=feed&utm_medium=rss factsheet-Australian-government- action.docx South Australia with more than 40% of its energy based on wind and solar is currently experiencing an energy crisis indicating the need for diverse energy sources with sufficient transmission connections nationwide. The Australian Energy Market Commission (AEMC) has announced a review of the national market to look at whether the current wholesale energy market frameworks can support increasing volumes of renewable energy and maintain system security. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-21/energy-ministers- need-to-focus-on-reforming-electricity-market/7646106

However as Tony Wood, Director of the energy program at the Grattan Institute, has said it is unhelpful to blame the perceived failure of the wholesale market, inadequate transmission planning or the intermittent nature of wind and solar. He advocates the 2017 review of climate change policy begin immediately, with a priority to strengthen and evolve the existing Safeguard Mechanism so that it becomes an effective market mechanism for reducing emissions and driving new investment. He also recommended that the national electricity market be reviewed, considering alternative or additional mechanisms that may be needed to avoid future threats to reliability and/or prices. http://www.afr.com/opinion/from-reliable-and-cheap-to-patchy-and-expensive-south-australias-energy-policy-20160719-gq8ths

To build resilience to the unavoidable impacts of climate change, the Government has developed a National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy. CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology have developed climate projections that provide detailed information about the implications of future climate scenarios in different regions to assist planners and decision-makers at all levels of government and across the community. The Government spends $560 million per year on recovery, compared to around $50 million per year on building disaster resilience. As further investment in resilience would seem wise economically. The Coastal Risk Australia website shows how rising sea levels could affect the majority of Australia’s coastline.