NCWQ Environment Report November 2016

By Pat Pepper

NCWQ Environment Adviser

Update on Great Barrier Reef (GBR): In their response to the Great Barrier Reef Water Science Taskforce (GBREST) the Queensland Government (QG) has agreed or agreed in principle in August to all recommendations and allocated an additional $90 million over four years. The recommendations included enhanced communication, increased levels of agricultural extension, a greater focus on innovation, expanded monitoring, financial and other incentives, and staged and targeted regulations. Some recommendations require formal public consultation processes or working with stakeholders and/or the Australian Government to be fully implemented. The QG has commenced implementation of some of the recommendations e.g. investments into monitoring improvements, additional extension resources, communications, establishment of an innovation fund and the commencement of the projects to tackle nutrient, pesticide and sediment loss the Wet Tropics and the Burdekin catchments.

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 that A$8.2 billion would be the likely cost using current methods and prices to reach the targets albeit with a little more to be done in the Wet Tropics. $6.46 billion and $1.1 billion would be required to meet the maximum 50 per cent fine sediment reduction target in the Fitzroy basin and the Burdekin respectively. However, by spending around A$600 million in the most cost-effective areas halfway to the nitrogen and sediment targets could be achieved. Focusing on these areas would enable significant improvement to be made while allowing time to find more cost-effective solutions to close the remaining gap.

Graziers are being encouraged to participate in the voluntary, industry-led Grazing Best Management Practice program and identify practices that can help them improve the long-term profitability and sustainability of their enterprise as well as protect the GBR. However, at the first annual GBR Synthesis Workshop (a recommendation of the GBREST) held on 9-11 November2016, attendees considered broader actions than just changing land management practice on farms were needed. Priority actions identified included:

  • trialling advances in forecasting technology to predict rainfall
  • investigating the long-term impact of sediment and nutrient discharge
  • confirming the causes of crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks
  • assessing the critical factors to help ecosystems recover
  • understanding social and economic drivers to encourage landholders to improve their agricultural practices
  • communication and engagement to support the release of the Scientific Consensus Statement
  • targeting gully hotspots.

The Scientific Consensus Statement synthesises the latest scientific knowledge on reef water quality issues and will guide the review of the Reef Water Quality Protection Plan due to be completed in mid-2017.

In a new matched funding arrangement, Greening Australia and the QG will each provide $2 million over four years to trial innovative approaches to gully remediation. The QG contribution will be from the Great Barrier Reef Innovation Fund established on a recommendation of GBREST. wttp://

Severe damage at Douglas Shoal was caused in April 2010 by the Chinese bulk carrier Shen Neng 1 running aground due to negligence. Following the out of court settlement ($39.3million )with the owners the GBRMPA will now initiate field operations to remove toxic anti-fouling paint and rubble, enabling restoration of the natural ecological processes on this reef

Recently small oil patties from the same type of oil used by large trading ships washed up along a sixty kilometre stretch of coastline of Fraser Island and were removed by 30 shoreline personnel over a period of a week by rake and shovel to minimises the impact on the environment. There were no reports of any impact on wildlife. Authorities are attempting to identify the ship allegedly responsible. Maximum fines for a corporation for a discharge offence can include $11.78 million under Queensland law and $17 million under Commonwealth law.

Update on Paris Agreement on Climate: As of 21 November 2016: 193 Parties have signed the Paris Agreement and 112 Parties ratified, accounting in total for 78.78% of the total global greenhouse gas emissions While most of those countries ratifying the Agreement make a minor contribution, it is pleasing major contributors China (20.09%) and USA (17.89%) have ratified. India (4.10%) and Australia (1.46%) have also ratified.

Terrestrial Carbon Sinks: An international team of scientists have found that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide levels between 2002 and 2014 led to enhanced photosynthesis in plants so that they could absorb more of the greenhouse gas. As, at same time, the slowdown of global temperatures reduced the amount of CO2 plants breathed out, more carbon was taken up by plants than released. However, the scientists warn the slowdown in the growth rate of atmospheric CO2 could be temporary.

Between 1930 and 2013, more than 69 billion tonnes of cement was manufactured globally with an estimated 38.2 gigatonnes of CO2 released during the manufacture by calcination of carbonate rocks. However Xi et al found that carbonation of cement materials over the life cycle of cement represented a large and growing net sink of CO2 and estimated that 4.5 gigatonnes of carbon would have been absorbed over that period.

Download the full report with all references here.

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