PETER SAINSBURY. Sunday environmental round up, 21 July 2019

Jul 21, 2019

The close connection between climate change and loss of biodiversity is finally receiving the attention it deserves, particularly the need to halt deforestation and begin massive programs of reforestation. Vales Point power station in NSW provides an indication of the perils in store for the public purse as privately owned fossil fuel facilities reach the end of their lives, and coal executive turned climate warrior Ian Dunlop is interviewed on the ABC. Electric vehicles sales are picking up in Australia – if you’re tempted to plug in, there’s a guide to which one might be right for you. Coral reefs are good for fish; fish are good for coral reefs – ecosystems in action … plus a pretty picture.

Loss of biodiversity has been something of a sleeper issue for quite a while but, not a moment too soon, 2019 seems to be the start of its time in the sun. This is prompted in large part by the release of the IPBES report in May which predicted that a million species could become extinct within decades unless urgent action is taken. Particularly significant is the emphasis now being given to the ineluctable relationship between loss of biodiversity and climate change: each exacerbates the other and tackling one assists with tackling the other. Climate Action Network International (CAN) has produced a 10-page position paper that clearly explains the role of diverse, resilient ecosystems in climate change mitigation and adaptation. The report identifies a range of ecosystems – e.g. forests, mangroves, grasslands, peatlands, oceans, and agricultural systems – that naturally store vast amounts of carbon but whose integrity and carbon absorbing and storing capacity have been diminished through human activity. Preventing further destruction of remaining intact ecosystems, restoring degraded ecosystems, reconnecting fragmented carbon-rich areas, and developing sustainable land management practices are recommended priorities. CAN also recommends integration of existing but separate international plans to tackle climate change, biodiversity, desertification and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Regarding tree loss, we are very conscious of the destruction in recent decades of the massive forests of the Amazon and South East Asia, and of course our own old growth forests, but we shouldn’t forget the clearing of trees that has occurred in Europe for centuries. Over the last 10,000 years humans have removed about a half of the world’s trees. A recent study reports that restoring forests over an area the size of the USA would suck up about two thirds of the carbon dioxide we’ve already emitted into the atmosphere. The exact figures have been challenged but the general principle is widely accepted, as is the potential of reforested areas to produce agricultural, economic and social benefits for local communities. That said, there are issues to be solved before we start planting millions of trees: e.g. water demands, potential displacement of crops, choosing the best trees for any particular location, the long time required to build up the carbon in the trees (slow growing trees are best) and in some places Indigenous people’s rights. While I am sure that if we are to successfully tackle climate change and biodiversity loss, reforestation and restoration of other destroyed carbon-storing ecosystems will play an important part, the timeframe for any meaningful benefit is long. These initiatives have little or no part to play in the urgent task of halting global greenhouse gas emission increases in the next few years and halving them in the next decade.

Further to last week’s story about the owners of dying coal mines in the USA declaring bankruptcy and leaving an environmental mess and workers without jobs or pensions, see what’s in store with the Vales Point power station. The NSW government sold Vales Point to Sunset Power in 2015 for the bargain basement price of $1 million. Sunset Power made a net profit of $113 million from Vales Point last year. In a bizarre sale agreement, when the power station closes responsibility for decommissioning the facility and decontaminating and rehabilitating the site will revert to the NSW government and will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. And how much does the sale contract specify as the maximum to be recovered from Sunset Power?  A paltry $10 million!

If you’re looking for someone who understands Australia’s coal industry and climate change, it’s hard to go past the ex-coal executive and now climate activist Ian Dunlop. In this 15 minute interview on ABC’s The Business, the always well informed Dunlop is given the opportunity to explain clearly why climate action is urgently needed and what strategies might bring about change.

And for what might have been, read this and weep: ‘Five years after the carbon price repeal, Australia remains in policy abyss’.

Cars are a matter of no significance whatsoever to me. I wouldn’t know a carburettor from a distributor; up to now, all I have required is a vehicle that is reasonably comfortable and reliable. As a result of their lower CO2 emissions and less air pollution, however, even I am aware of the increasing interest in electric vehicles and the information in this article seems to me to provide a reasonable summary of what all the fuss is about. If you’re considering taking the plunge, it may even help you decide which one to buy. The UK expects to have 36 million EVs by 2050, with the potential for them to be a distributed battery for a fifth of the UK’s solar generated energy.

Coral reefs protect fish. Less well known is that fish, including the delightfully-named little beauty below, provide benefits to coral, including providing some protection against coral bleaching and aiding recovery after heat-stress.

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