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 e.g. concerns about the effectiveness of the current methods of biodiversity offsetting; opportunities to use nutrients in wastewater.

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