By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser


National Council of Women Australia (NCWA) Conference (11-13October): At the Conference, members voted unanimously for the following two Resolutions which relate to the Environment:-

  1. The NCW Australia 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.
  1. The NCW Australia 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.

The National Coordinator for General Well-Being, Doreen Todd, convened a meeting of those National and State Advisers for Environment, Habitat, Health and Nutrition, who were in attendance at the Conference, to discuss aligning our work with UN Sustainable Development Goals. Discussions centred on

Goal 2. End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture

Goal 3. Ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages

Update on Climate Change: In support of the first resolution, the following information was collated prior to the Conference.

In preparation for the adoption of the Paris Agreement in December 2015 Governments including Australia have submitted an intended nationally determined contribution(INDC). The Climate Action Tracker (CAT), a Consortium of four research organisations. {Climate Analytics, Ecofys, NewClimate Institute, Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research}, tracks climate action and global efforts towards the globally agreed aim of holding warming below 2°C, since 2009. Thirty two countries which cover about 80% of global emissions are tracked and their submitted INDCs assessed and rated, focusing on:

  • Impact of INDCs or other commitments on emissions in 2020, 2025 and 2030 and beyond.
  • Effect of current policies on emissions
  • Whether the INDCs is a fair share of global effort to limit warming below 2°C

Australia has been rated “inadequate”. Australia’s target is to reduce Green House Gas (GHG) emissions by 26–28% from 2005 levels including land-use, land-use change and forestry (LULUCF) by 2030. After accounting for LULUCF, this target is equivalent to a range of around 5% below to 5% above 1990 levels of GHG emissions excluding LULUCF in the year 2030. Australia has a large gap between current policy projections for 2030 and the INDC target. Of the nine industrialised countries assessed to date (Australia Canada, EU, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Russia, Switzerland, USA) Australia ranks eighth on its projected rate of reduction in per capita emissions, exceeded only by Russia, and eighth on projected improvement in emissions intensity for the period from 2012 to 2030, with Canada ranking worst. The “inadequate” rating indicates that Australia’s commitment is not in line with most interpretations of a “fair” approach to reach a 2°C pathway: if most other countries followed the Australian approach, global warming would exceed 3–4°C.

CAT noted that had the Australian Climate Change Authority’s recommendations been adopted (an emissions reduction target of 30% below 2000 levels by 2025 (incl. LULUCF). 40–60% below 2000 levels (incl. LULUCF) by 2030) Australia would be much closer to being in line with 2°C and placing it in the “medium” category in 2030 instead of “inadequate”.

Australia’s electricity sector accounts for 33% of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions with 90% of electricity production generated by burning fossil fuels (75% from coal). Giga-What? A guide to the Renewable Energy Target by Petra Stock (Climate Council of Australia)2015) Yet, Australia’s renewable energy resources are capable of producing 500 times the amount of electricity currently used. (Geoscience Australia and ABARE 2010; AEMO 2013b). A Productivity Commission review of more than 1,000 emissions reduction policies found that policies encouraging additional large-scale renewable electricity power plants were the second-most cost-effective set of policies after emissions trading schemes.

When Australia’s Renewable Energy Target(RET) was 41,000GWh large-scale renewable electricity annually by 2020 plus uncapped support for eligible small-scale solar and wind, greenhouse gas emissions were reduced by 22.5 million tonnes carbon dioxide- equivalent to 10 per cent of Australia’s annual electricity emissions. If the policy with that target had continued, the RET was estimated to reduce emissions by 58 million tonnes carbon dioxide (2015–2020) – equivalent to annual emissions from all of Australia’s passenger cars and light commercial vehicles. With the target now of 33000 GWh this could change but the fact remains that, the RET has increased the supply of renewable energy thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from electricity generation. Giga-What? A guide to the Renewable Energy Target by Petra Stock (Climate Council of Australia)2015)

As energy storage technologies are becoming more viable in Australia, wind and solar power should become more viable. A lithium-ion battery, Powerwall, is expected to sell in Australia next year for about $5,500 While currently batteries are considered the default form of electricity storage, at an industrial scale, there are promising technologies for particular applications and locations e.g. storage systems, such as flywheel and compressed air. Once energy storage can be cost-effectively deployed at a large scale, the implications for energy markets and energy security are immense.

Underground coal gasification (UCG): The Queensland Environment and Heritage Department (QEHD) has commenced proceedings alleging unlawful serious environmental harm, against a company in respect to its activities at its experimental underground coal gasification plant at Hopeland near Chinchilla. hopelands-update5.pdf UCG involves the burning of subterranean coal seams to convert the coal into a synthesis gas (primarily a mixture of hydrogen and carbon monoxide) which is the brought to the surface for use as fuel, fertilisers or chemical products. The QEHD alleges that toxic gas is leaking through underground pathways, polluting a massive area of subsoil two to six metres below ground level and has established a caution zone of approximately 320 square kilometres outside of the site itself where varying concentrations of these gases have been uncovered. The levels are considered to be high enough to cause health and safety risks and some of the land surrounding the site may no longer be able to be classified as strategic cropping land due to irreversible acidification of the soil and released toxic contaminants into water and air as well

Threats of contaminated water: In South West Queensland, a Texas silver mine company went into liquidation, and abandoned four large storage ponds full of water contaminated with cyanide and elevated levels of heavy metals such as copper, iron, manganese, zinc and nickel. The QEHD, local landholders and environmentalists were extremely concerned that as little as 40 millimetres of rain could trigger a spill from the site and send contaminated water into the nearby Dumaresq River, and from there into the McIntyre River and the Murray-Darling Basin, with disastrous results to ecosystems and rural industries. While the State has a $2 million bond from the failed company, the rehabilitation cost could be as high as $10 million dollars.; The QEHD and Department of Natural Resources and Mines (QNRM) have reduced the risk of a spill by pumping down one dam into a larger dam, freeing up additional storage space should the site receive significant rainfall. While there has been no discharge of the contaminated water into local waterways to date, cases such as this highlight the need for monitoring by Government and stringent emergency response plans to be funded by the companies and perhaps investigation into the use of such ponds.

Loss of public rights of appeal on underground water licences for mining companies: While the Water Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2014 (Qld) introduced some the positive changes including obligatory make good agreements, cumulative impact management, adequate monitoring and reporting obligations, loss of public rights of appeal on underground water licences for mining companies is a retrograde step. Public scrutiny of the impacts of major mines on groundwater could be seriously undermined. Will the public only learns of potential problems after a mishap?

Marine Debris in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area: As part of the Australian Marine Debris Initiative, volunteers have collected over 683,000 individual items of marine debris (discarded fishing gear, plastic and glass bottles, rubber thongs, aerosols and drink cans etc) weighing over 42 tonnes, from beaches in the Great Barrier Reef region between 2008 and 2014. During October 2015, 500 volunteers collected a further 4,000 kilograms.

A series of Future Leaders Eco Challenge (FLEC) events have or will take place in Palm Island, the Whitsundays, Gladstone, Bundaberg, Yeppoon, Mackay, Ingham, Bowen and the Burdekin, when teachers and over 127,000 students from 310 Reef Guardian schools will learn about marine debris and help clean up their local coastal environment.

Marine debris from the catchment generally appears to accumulate and be confined within the lagoon system of the Reef but with a northward movement. At the southern end of the Reef, debris appears to be more ocean-sourced. Large deposits of debris accumulating in the northern most parts of the Reef are of international origin. Could the Australian government help create international laws to stop the dumping of plastics in the oceans?

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