PETER SAINSBURY. Sunday environmental round up, 22 September 2019Sep 22, 2019
The world’s rich countries continue to pump US$64 billion per year into coal companies, with Japan leading the charge internationally and domestically. Unhealthy environments are responsible for almost a quarter of deaths globally, but maybe if your community is in an environmentally-challenged area it’s best to stop fighting the environment and move. And a shout-out for mangrove swamps.
Ten years ago the Group of 20 (G20), the countries that produce 79% of global greenhouse gases, agreed to phase out subsidies to fossil fuels. And yet they still provide at least US$63.9 billion per year to coal alone (‘at least’ because governments don’t view transparency in these matters as a high priority). Between 2013/14 and 2016/17 support for coal mining fell from $22b to $10b while support for coal-fired power generation rocketed from $17b to $47b. China and Japan were the big funders of overseas coal facility development. Government subsidies for new coal facilities either lock in health and climate damaging infrastructure for decades or create stranded assets a few years down the track – neither outcome is good. Subsidies would be much better directed to ensuring a just transition to environmentally sustainable energy and an environmentally sustainable economy. Box 2 of the linked report critiques the myth that coal has contributed to and is essential for further poverty reduction.
Japan’s record on coal is akin to its record on killing whales: it is determined to stay with both to the bitter end. According to the Kiko Network (a Japanese NGO focused on climate action) Japan’s coal plans include a long-standing commitment to develop carbon capture, (+/- utilisation) and storage (CCUS) to support its ongoing use of coal-fired power generation. This is despite unresolved technical issues leaving the technology unproven and extremely expensive (only two power plants with CCS are operational in the world and renewables are much cheaper); the enormous amount of energy required to capture, compress, transport, and store the CO2 (or use it in industrial processes); limited availability of safe underground storage sites; no private sector investment interest; and Japan’s complete failure over the last 10 years to meet its cost per tonne of carbon captured targets for CCS. More importantly though, the supreme need is to eliminate coal usage completely by 2040, not reduce its emissions by 50% in the long term. We need effective, affordable zero emissions strategies to be implemented during the next 10 years, and, shock-horror, we already have them. We just need policy consistency and certainty to scale them up.
So your neighbourhood or town gets severely damaged or even destroyed in a storm or bushfire or flood. When the disaster has passed, what do members of the community do? Sell up and move away, rebuild a stronger house or lobby for better local defences? – assuming you have the resources to even make a choice. A recent paper makes the case for ‘managed strategic retreats’ by some communities and calls for better access to reliable climate-hazard maps to inform choices. The paper cites the example of a town of 500 in the USA that moved itself out of a flood plain after serial floods and took the opportunity to reinvent itself. As one of the paper’s authors said: ‘You’re in a fight with the ocean. You’re fighting to hold the ocean in place. Maybe that’s not a battle we want to pick.’ Lessons here for (bushfire-, flood plain-, coastal- or drought-) exposed Australian communities??
23% of deaths globally could be prevented if we had healthier environments. About one in eight deaths is attributable to air pollution. More than 2 billion people drink faecally contaminated water. Chemicals in the air, water, soil, workplace and consumer products cause at least 1.6 million deaths per year. These are just a few of the nuggets included in the WHO’s recent ‘Healthy Environments: why do they matter, and what can we do?’ The publication is organised by risks (air pollution, water and sanitation, chemicals, radiation and climate change) and settings for action (emergencies, workplaces, cities, housing and health facilities). In a sign of the times, each section consists of four pages of infographics rather than standard text. It’s a useful resource.
Mangrove swamps have long been maligned: mosquito infested mud-flats that block access to the water. More importantly, they are also rich ecosystems that provide humans and other species with many services: coastal defence, carbon sink, food and fuel, ecotourism and rich biodiversity. Loss of mangroves through land clearing, changed river flows and climate change represents yet another degradation of the natural environmental with catastrophic consequences for humans. It’s time we paid Australia’s 41 species of mangroves more respect.
So what is this a picture of?