Enviro round-up: June
Queensland's Environment Minister, Dr Steven Miles, left for Bonn on Friday, to hear UNESCO's World Heritage Committee's final – as opposed to draft – decision about whether or not the Great Barrier Reef is 'in danger'. I don't imagine he would be going unless he knew the right decision awaited him, do you? I don't know if Federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt is going too, but if so, I hope they don't crow about the result like they did a month ago. In truth, the hard slog to restore the Reef is ahead of them (see Grief about the Reef, June 2015).
So far, I'm underwhelmed by the still-fairly-new Queensland government. I have tried to be patient, but here we are, approaching July, and important policy, pledged during their election campaign as part of a de-Newmanisation process, has not yet come before Parliament. They don't appear to have been in session much since Premier Annastacia Palusczcuk was sworn in, but I know nothing of Parliamentary scheduling. In any case, policy implementation is largely on hold pending the Budget (14 July), which hangs like the sword of Damocles above state departments, key industries such as construction and NGOs alike.
Almost as disappointing as Minister Anthony Lynham seeking expressions of interest in oil and gas exploration in Queensland's Channel Country (see Dear Premier, June 2015), was the fact that this week he was calling for 'suitably qualified companies to undertake the dredging works and construct the dredged material containment ponds required to expand the Port of Abbot Point' (see here). The ponds will be situated on unused industrial land adjoining the existing coal terminal. This plan replaces that of the Newman government who were going dump dredge spoil in the Caley Valley Wetlands once they knew they couldn't get rid of it at sea.
But hang on… why is the port being expanded if Adani are going to pull the plug on their massive Carmichael mine? This week's big news was broken by The Guardian (read here) on Thursday (see top of page), but soon backed up by mining industry and other media outlets. Whether you think this was posturing on the part of Adani, or an attempt to bully the Queensland government into speeding up approvals, it matters little. Similar reports in the Times of India and a subsequent 4 per cent loss in the value of Adani Enterprises shares was surely never what the company intended.
An even bigger surprise, however, was Papa Francisco doing a great job as climate action advocate. In his first papal document, or encyclical, on the environment, the Pope didn't hold back on calling a halt to the degradation of the planet, the 'throwaway' culture, and weak, self-interested governance. He demanded the replacement of fossil-fuel-based technology and the greater responsibility towards those in abject poverty. He immediately placed himself among the leaders on the road to Paris in November.
No response from Tony Abbott and his catholic Cabinet members yet: they've been too busy diminishing Australia's Renewable Energy Target. Denialists the world over have criticised the Pope for stepping beyond his religious remit, but many millions more have been impressed. Laudato Si, indeed. He's probably the most progressive-thinking pope I've ever known, and he's earned himself even more Brownie points since, by suggesting a fixed date for Easter. Its jigging about in the calendar from year to year has always irritated me. As my friend commented the other day: 'We are all catholics now'!
Few days go by without disturbing stories about the effects of a changing climate. The California drought continues; Alaska has hundreds of wild fires, and tarmac is melting in Oregon; northern France is expecting temperatures in the mid-30s next week. One report in particular has troubled me. It was about migratory species of bird that haven't left Fraser Island to breed in the Siberian summer as they normally would. There is speculation the birds have not been able to fatten themselves up in preparation for such an arduous journey. There may no longer be enough pilchards; or perhaps the birds have been disturbed by too many 4WDs careening along the beach. Equally worrying is the fact that birds that normally fly north from Australia's southern states to winter on Fraser haven't arrived this year.
The Bimblebox Alliance is hard at work raising the profile of Protected Areas that aren't really. This includes writing letters to the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection and popping up at gatherings frequented by Minister Steven Miles to ask awkward questions.
The landscape conservation arm of the Department has conducted research in conjunction with James Cook University to identify which habitats might best survive in a warming world. Climate-resistant pockets were found in elevated areas and valleys along the eastern ranges of the state, but also in mulga country much further west. These parcels of land are being termed 'refugia'. With limited funds available for conservation, the Minister said:
We could probably find the money to buy more properties but we need the money to manage it properly and deal with pests and fire and weeds. Nature Refuges will be incredibly important at helping us meet our goal of preserving land across the state. We can't achieve the amount of natural estate that we want to just with national parks so we need to work with private landholders.
With so much of the state covered by mining exploration permits – 80 per cent or more – the Minister needs to legislate to protect those landowners already signed up to the Nature Refuges Program, and reassure anyone who might like to help conserve Queensland's refugia in the future but knows at the moment their efforts would be afforded no protection against would-be mining magnates, logging or those with certain land-title rights.
This post was last edited on 1 July 2015