NCWQ ENVIRONMENT ADVISER’S REPORT 2021/2022
Prepared for the NCWQ 2022 AGM
by Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environment Adviser.
A range of environmental issues were researched and reported on during the year including the condition of the Great Barrier Reef, renewable technology and marine plastic pollution and current and possible measures to ameliorate its effect. Advocacy was undertaken on the last two issues.
Renewable technology is continually improving and there have been several developments to complement renewable energy sources. The major objection to solar and wind energy has been that they are intermittent energy sources requiring to be backed up by dispatchable power. Lithium-ion, Vanadium Redox Flow and Hydrogen Batteries are contenders in specific areas and situations as is Hydro Electrolyser and Pumped Hydro Storage. Hydrogen generates heat energy to generate electricity in power stations and can be used for storage for later use. However, disposal and recycling at the end of the life of components of the various sources need to be addressed.
With an abundance of natural resources to make clean energy, Australia should be in a good position to satisfy local energy needs and export hydrogen to other countries to help satisfy their needs.
Great Barrier Reef (GBR): At its 44th session the World Heritage Committee (WHC) accepted the Australian Government (AG)’s position that UNESCO had sought an immediate ‘In Danger Listing’ of the GBR without appropriate consultation, without a site visit and without all the latest information. In response to the WHC, the AG provided the WHC with a comprehensive overview of new information relating to the health and resilience of the Reef, new investments, and actions and measures taken since the release of the Great Barrier Reef Outlook Report 2019 for examination at WHC’s June 2022 session, in particular, research at the Australian Institute of Marine Science showing that without major disturbances from cyclones, coral bleaching and crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks, coral reefs could recover as measured by hard coral cover, but that the composition of coral species could change. In December 2021 the AG and Queensland government (QG) released an updated Reef 2050 Plan to further address the highest risks to the Reef – climate change, land-based run-off, coastal development, and aspects of human use of the Reef. The AG committed an additional $1 billion to fund the Plan’s implementation through to 2030, in addition to the current $3 billion AG and QG investment.
- the Reef Restoration and Adaptation Program to enhance natural adaption and resilience to climate change and significantly fast track regeneration and restoration of coral cover lost through previous extreme weather events.
- measures such as gully remediation and improvements in agricultural practice to improve water quality of the GBR
- targeted control of Crown-of-Thorns Starfish to enable reefs to recover from tropical cyclones and coral bleaching events.
- community and Traditional Owner-led partnership projects to contribute to the protection and the heritage values (natural, historical, and indigenous).
- strategic international partnerships to advance hydrogen as an energy source to reduce CO2 emissions which could impact on the long-term health and resilience of the Reef.
Marine plastic pollution and current and possible ameliorating measures including the removal of floating plastic from ocean garbage patches and from rivers were investigated. Not for profit organisations have researched, developed and successfully demonstrated methods to remove the floating plastics from rivers and the ocean patches e.g. Ocean Cleanup estimate their system will be able to clean up 90% of floating ocean plastic in the Great Pacific garbage patch by 2040. Wind and wave action can break up the debris into microplastics and nanoplastics. Given the potential toxicity of nano and microplastics and especially nanoplastics, their presence in the food chain is serious. Hence, the need for physical, chemical, and biological methods to remove microplastics. While advances using plastic-eating microorganisms look promising, there are serious concerns about releasing genetically engineered microorganisms into the environment. It is imperative that plastic waste be captured at its source so plastic waste from rivers and other outlets does not make it to the open sea.
It is heartening that at the United Nations Environment Assembly in March 2022, a resolution to negotiate an international legally binding agreement to end plastic pollution by the end of 2024 was endorsed, together with one on an Enhancing Circular Economy. Adoption of a circular economy for plastics with advanced recycling technologies could help Australia reach it targets for plastic management.
The State of the Environment Report, produced every five years, reported continuing declines in the amount and condition of native vegetation, soil, wetlands, reefs, rivers, and biodiversity. The situation is dire in many aspects due to the frequency, intensity, and compounding nature of extreme weather conditions and events such as bushfires. While many ecosystems have evolved to rebound, species already threatened by habitat loss and invasive species can be stressed to their limit. Aspects pertinent to Queensland were investigated and the several new initiatives the QG in partnerships with community groups and landowners has for improvement considered.
Details of these and other environmental issues are available in reports with references on www.ncwq.org.au.
Pat Pepper, NCWQ Environment Adviser