Thursday, June 16, 2016

Bandaids for an unmitigated reef catastrophe #ReefElection

Image: Malcolm Turnbull, Greg Hunt, Ewen Jones travelling to Magnetic Island. Photo: Greg Hunt/twitter. Article first published using storify at

A promise by the Prime Minister to divert $1 billion in Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) funding to improve reef catchment water quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions has been soundly criticised as legally problematic, inefficient and far below the funding scientists say is required to Save the Reef.

This video, published on 2nd June 2016 from the Climate Council, articulates the climate change threat facing the reef, with statements from tourism operators, marine scientists and climate scientists.

It is taking a dive into the future with Prof Tim Flannery and Amanda McKenzie of the Climate Council on a reef off Port Douglas. "If the average Australian could have seen what I've seen today, they would be absolutely outraged." said Flannery. "It's an unmitigated catastrophe what is unfolding now. It's almost like we are seeing the reef in a life and death struggle"

Tourist boat operator John Rumney said "If the reef dies then it's a total ecological collapse and all the fish will go as well. So commercial fishing, recreactional fishing and the tourism industry will all suffer. This is serious for Queensland and Australia."

Professor Will Steffen tells us "This bleaching event is happening because these organisms are being shocked by extraordinary high surface temperatures. This is caused by the greenhouse gases that are being poured into the atmosphere from the burning of coal and other fossil fuels. This is an extreme, global event that has surprised us in its extent, its size and how fast this is actually occurring."

"This has to be the reef election" Tim Flannery surmises. "We need to put the fate of the Great Barrier Reef front and centre. We need to wean ourselves off coal and we need to do it incredibly quickly. Otherwise future generations are going to miss the opportunity completely of seeing this extraordinary place: Australia's Great Barrier Reef."

The Climate Council released a report in early May outlining the problems, issues and solutions with the Great Barrier Reef: Australia's Coral Reefs Under Threat From Climate Change.

I have done several articles on the impact of climate change on coral reefs. This one in particular demonstrates the peril coral reef ecosystems face in a controlled experiment, as well as looking at marine biodiversity at an undersea volcanic area with high CO2.

On Monday 13 June, 2016, Greg Hunt and Malcolm Turnbull increased their commitment to the Great Barrier Reef. Only the new promise was a redirection of $1 billion in funds from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to fund programs in the Great Barrier Reef Catchment to increase water quality management and reduce climate change.

Sounds like a win-win? Except it goes against the charter of the CEFC and may actually undermine good business appraisal of funding renewables where it is most efficient.

The Coalition government have spent 3 years trying to close down the CEFC, but have now decided to divert some of the CEFC money to boost their inadequate Reef promises to shore up votes in Queensland.

It follows previous announcements on increasing water quality management by the Liberals, Labor and Greens on May 30th, 2016. But all the announcements were way short of what scientists say the minimum necessary is for reef resilience in the next ten years: at least $1 billion per year over ten years. Without this level of funding we might as well kiss the Reef goodbye now. Even then, I argue the Great Barrier Reef could be already facing extinction due to the double whammy of the rise in temperature of ocean waters and ocean acidification.

It also follows revelations that the Federal Government censored all mentions of Australia from a UNESCO report on tourism sites at risk from climate change.

Here are the PM's statement followed by Environment Minister Greg Hunt's video statements. They also published a press release.

"Protecting the reef is a national responsibility for all of us", the Prime Minister states, "The Australian and Queensland governments are rolling out a $2 billion 10 year plan to protect and restore the reef."

"While the World Heritage Committee has described Australia as a world role model in reef management, there is always more we can do."

No mention here of the censorship of the UNESCO report on tourist sites at risk from climate change. In fact not only was mention of the Great Barrier Reef excised, but other World Heritage listed areas such as climate threats to Kakadu and Tasmanian forests were removed.

"That is why my Coalition Government will invest another $1 billion to tackle head on the two biggest challenges for the reef: water quality and climate change. Our new $1 billion reef fund will support farmers, industry, councils, to invest in technologies that reduce runoff into the reef waters. Less fertilizer, sediment and sewerage running off into the reef means better water quality, that in tern means a healthier, more resilient reef. By investing in clean energy projects in the reef catchment, the billion dollar fund will help reduce Australia's emissions, and contribute to our historic global climate change commitments made in Paris last year." said Turnbull in the video.

"This is about addressing the two great challenges for addressing the reef: water quality and climate change. We are making real progress on both fronts, but this is the largest single investment in the health of the reef in Australian history. It's about improving the water, improving the land and helping the farmers all in one package." said Environment Minister Greg Hunt.

Australian Marine Conservation Society Spokesperson Imogen Zethoven said the new policy and funding commitment does not seriously tackle the number one threat to the Reef: climate change. She articulated that to protect the reef's future and the 69,000 jobs that depend on a healthy Reef, the next Australian government must rule out new coal mines, phase out coal-fired power stations, rapidly phase out fossil fuel subsidies and urgently shift to renewable energy.

“The Coalition’s policy does not tackle the first three of these, and the fourth - renewable energy - is existing funding already in the CEFC which will now be directed at renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in the Great Barrier Reef catchment, rather than across the country. From the Reef’s perspective, it doesn’t matter where in the country this money is spent, as long as it reduces carbon dioxide emissions,” Ms Zethoven said.

“The Coalition’s policy will also see some CEFC funding spent on loans to farmers and others in the Reef catchment to improve water quality,"

But a recently leaked Queensland Government report showed scientists suggest that around $16 billion is needed to have an effective impact on water quality.

“While money being spent on the Reef is vital to restore its health and secure tourism jobs into the future, money alone is not the answer. To achieve the transformational change that’s needed, federal regulations to cap farm pollution from running into the Reef’s waters and harming its plants and animals are essential...The policy released today does not address the need for federal regulations or the need for a stronger and more independent management authority to look after our natural wonder."

“The Coalition’s response is lacking in detail and ambition, and will not make the difference people are hoping will deliver a healthy future for the Reef. We urge the Coalition to go further and release a strong climate policy linked to the vulnerability of the Reef,” said Zethoven in a statement.

My immediate response was to argue that scientists say at least $10-16 billion is needed over 10 years, and robbing the CEFC of One billion dollars in funding was not an adequate solution.

The latest study by Jon Brodie and Richard G. Pearson - Ecosystem health of the Great Barrier Reef: Time for effective management action based on evidence - was published in Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science. The abstract, shown below in full, articulates the steps that are required at a minimum to save the reef:

The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) is a World Heritage site off the north-eastern coast of Australia. The GBR is worth A$ 15–20 billion/year to the Australian economy and provides approximately 64,000 full time jobs.

Many of the species and ecosystems of the GBR are in poor condition and continue to decline. The principal causes of the decline are catchment pollutant runoff associated with agricultural and urban land uses, climate change impacts and the effects of fishing.

Many important ecosystems of the GBR region are not included inside the boundaries of the World Heritage Area. The current management regime for catchment pollutant runoff and climate change is clearly inadequate to prevent further decline. We propose a refocus of management on a “Greater GBR” (containing not only the major ecosystems and species of the GBR, but also its catchment) and on a set of management actions to halt the decline of the GBR.

Proposed actions include:
(1) Strengthen management in the areas of the Greater GBR where ecosystems are in good condition, with Torres Strait, northern Cape York and Hervey Bay being the systems with highest current integrity;
(2) Investigate methods of cross-boundary management to achieve simultaneous cost-effective terrestrial, freshwater and marine ecosystem protection in the Greater GBR;
(3) Develop a detailed, comprehensive, costed water quality management plan for the Greater GBR;
(4) Use the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act and the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act to regulate catchment activities that lead to damage to the Greater GBR, in conjunction with the relevant Queensland legislation;
(5) Fund catchment and coastal management to the required level to solve pollution issues for the Greater GBR by 2025, before climate change impacts on Greater GBR ecosystems become overwhelming;
(6) Continue enforcement of the zoning plan;
(7) Australia to show commitment to protecting the Greater GBR through greenhouse gas emissions control, at a scale relevant to protecting the GBR, by 2025.

But is gets worse. Michael Slezak writing in the Guardian suggests that directing the CEFC investment in Reef water management is outside their charter, illegal and will undermine their renewables investment.

Giles Parkinson in RenewEconomy was equally as critical: Coalition turns Clean Energy Finance Corp into election slush fund.

Critical analysis was sadly lacking from Adam Gartrell in the Sydney Morning Herald which basically just paraphrased the Liberal Press release and statements.

Political response from the Greens and Labor

Senator Larissa Waters, the Australian Greens Deputy Leader and climate change spokesperson, said:

"This is a sneaky attempt by the Turnbull Government to try to distract from the damage it is doing to the Reef by approving coal mines to export out through the Reef and cook its corals.

"All of this money is taken from the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the government hasn't specified how much will go to clean energy and how much will go to water quality.

"Putting an unspecified extra amount out of $100 million a year over ten years into Reef water quality is so far short of what the Reef needs and it comes at the expense of clean energy funding.

"The Greens have pledged a legal cap on water pollution, and a $2 billion fund over 5 years, including $500 million in new grant funding, which supports vital work like revegetation, wetland restoration and combating gully erosion.

"It's startling that Turnbull Government is trying to sell this plan to cut money from clean energy while pushing ahead with coal mines as somehow being a plan to save the Reef.

"The 69 000 people who rely on the Reef for the their job won't be fooled by this sneaky attempt by the Turnbull Government to cover up the damage its fossil fuel donors are doing to the Reef.

"The Greens have the courage and vision to protect Reef jobs by transitioning away from coal with assistance for coal workers who are already losing their jobs and by providing new clean energy jobs," Senator Waters said.

Mark Butler, Labor's Shadow Minister of the Environment, was equally scathing in his media statement:

"But it is really just the biggest ever con job. It provides no new investment. It is just a redirection of existing resources. This is spin and political desperation on a grand scale.

"For three years we have seen the Abbott-Turnbull Government duck, weave and avoid doing anything meaningful to address climate change. Yet all experts say climate change is the greatest threat to the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

"Just days ago, we found out that the Turnbull Government intervened to stop Australia being mentioned in a UNESCO report on the impact of global warming on world heritage areas.

All we see from this Government is them trying to hide the truth, avoid the science and disrespect Australians and the 70,000 people who rely on the Reef for their jobs.

"In contrast, Labor has committed to both serious action on climate change and additional real funding for action on the Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef ecosystem on Earth and one of the best known marine areas in the world. Labor will protect the Great Barrier Reef, and the 70,000 jobs it supports.

Greg Hunt provided a meme for the announcement, which was quickly corrected on social media....

Of course the Prime Minister has known the greatest threat to the Great Barrier Reef was climate change. He was Environment Minister in the Howard Government in 2007 when 50 Australian marine scientists issued a consensus declaration in October 2007 that the primary solution was rapid emissions reduction. This was far from the first warning.

Here is what Ewen Jones, the Liberal Party Herbert MP really thinks about Saving the Reef and Climate Change: He wants Adani's Carmichael mine to go ahead and a new thermal coal plant built causing more greenhouse gases and climate pollution, as revealed on ABC program QandA.

Sofia appeals for Ellen DeGeneres to speak up on Saving the Reef

Last week Sofia, an eleven year old Queenslander appealed to Ellen DeGeneres, the voice of Dory in Finding Nemo and Finding Dory, to help raise the profile of the threat of climate change to the Great Barrier Reef. More than 27,000 people have responded to her petition to date.

And Ellen responded in a general video message that all Australians should work to try and save the reef. Pretty innocuous statement, but it was then criticised and she was bombarded with tweets from the Environment Minister.

Getup also responded with a meme correcting Greg Hunt's tweets:

Marine scientists speak out

Marine scientists have been articulating solutions for decades, but largely ignored. We are now being offered mere band aid solutions. Here is John Pandolfi in the Guardian on Five things we can do right now to save the Great Barrier Reef.

Here's What Happened When Greg Hunt Tried To Shut Down The World's Foremost Coral Reef Scientist, Professor Charlie Veron from Buzzfeed: Australia’s Environment Minister Tried To Silence “Godfather Of Coral”. Listen to an audio interview with Charlie Veron on ABC Radio National: The demise of the Great Barrier Reef or watch a video version:

You can also see individual messages by marine biologists at James Cook University at Buzzfeed: 13 Messages From Marine Biologists Fighting For The Great Barrier Reef.

"Both parties are ignoring the big, coal-coloured elephant in the room. With the world speeding towards a tipping point, action can not wait for the next election cycle to begin", writes Costa Avgoustinos at New Matilda, while I argue both Turnbull and Shorten refuse to connect the dots in the aftermath of the East Coast Low storm that battered and caused flooding from Queensland to Tasmania.

And in breaking news, Bramble Cay melomys, a small rodent that was the only mammal endemic to the Great Barrier Reef, is now being assessed as extinct due to the climate change impact of sea level rise destroying it's habitat.

You can view the whole storify here with extra social media tweets: #reefelection: Bandaids for an unmitigated reef catastrophe

Here is a tweet on June 7, 2016 by Malte Meinshausen, a Climate scientist at University of Melbourne ( ) and Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, that lists this 2013 scientific study from Nature: Limiting global warming to 2 °C is unlikely to save most coral reefs.

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