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 Reef: The 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 GBR” was 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