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.

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