11 Jul 2013

To Save The Reef, We Must Say No To Coal

By Georgina Woods

Rudd's new environment minister has 30 days to make a call on the Abbot Point coal developments - and the future of the Great Barrier Reef, writes Greenpeace's Georgina Woods

Just 10 days into his new tenure as Minister for Climate Change and Environment, Mark Butler has inherited a major controversy. Abbot Point in north Queensland, just south of Cape Upstart and north of the Whitsunday Islands, has become the battleground for the future of the Great Barrier Reef. The latest scandal is the dumping of dredge sludge in the marine park, but the broader story is even slimier.

Abbot Point is part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area and hosts the reef’s most threatened marine mammal, the Australian snubfin dolphin, as well as dugongs and marine turtles. It also boasts a turtle nesting beach and an internationally significant coastal wetland. Three imminent developments for expanded coal exports threaten this area and have become the litmus test for two of the most fundamental environmental challenges Australia faces: conserving the reef and limiting global warming to below two degrees above pre-industrial temperatures.

Two proposed coal terminals for Abbot Point would be built by GVK and Adani, the same Indian companies that are also seeking to build new black coal mines, the largest Australia has ever seen. GVK’s “Terminal 3” has already received approval from the Federal Government; but a criminal investigation is underway into whether GVK subsidiary Hancock Coal Infrastructure used misleading and false information to obtain it.

If that is found to be the case, the Environment Minister, Mark Butler, has the power to revoke the approval. Adani’s Terminal 0 has just last week released its final Environmental Impact Statement, which means Mark Butler has until 16 August to decide if it will go ahead.

For these two coal terminals to go ahead, a third development must be approved by the Minister: a capital dredging project to deepen the waters around the small existing coal terminal, to allow hundreds of large bulk carriers to berth and load the coal. North Queensland Bulk Ports is the proponent of this capital dredging. It wants to dump the resulting dredge spoil offshore in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, but has declined to specify where exactly this dumping will take place.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority Chair, Russel Reichelt, told Senate Estimates in May that it would be best practice “to have a specific location" before a decision to allow the port expansion was made. One would think so. Local commercial fishermen have indicated that offshore dumping is a red line for them and want it ruled out altogether. The minister this week delayed his decision on this development until 9 August.

The potential impacts of these developments are not trivial, and neither are the consequences if Australia fails to protect the Great Barrier Reef from development. The World Heritage Committee noted at its meeting in June that limited progress had been made in implementing some of its previous recommendations, particularly with regard to coastal development.

The Committee urged Australia to “ensure rigorously that development is not permitted if it would impact individually or cumulatively on the [outstanding universal value] of the property” and decided to consider listing the Great Barrier Reef as a World Heritage site “in danger” at its meeting next year, if further progress is not made.

There is an even greater matter at stake: Will Australia take part in fulfilling its commitment, along with the 196 other countries that are party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, to limit global warming to below two degrees above pre-industrial levels? Meeting that commitment will take extraordinary effort.

Global greenhouse pollution must peak and decline by the middle of this decade, and global demand for coal must begin to rapidly decline after 2016. In Queensland and NSW, 91 new and expanded coal mines are seeking approval by the end of the critical decade for global warming. It looks like Australia has no intention of staunching the flow of our coal to Asia, and working to limit global warming. It looks like we are actively choosing not to take action to stop the globe warming to a degree that will create, according to the Climate Commission “unprecedented changes in climate so severe that they will challenge the existence of our society as we know it today”.

In Queensland, the bulk of the expanded coal volumes are proposed to be shipped from export terminals in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Reef scientists say that we do not stop global warming, coral reefs worldwide are unlikely to survive at all, which means slime. Literally. An update last week from University of Queensland researchers studying the impact of ocean warming and acidification on outer reefs in the Great Barrier Reef revealed the corals are likely to dissolve faster than the researchers had expected. The Great Barrier Reef will bleach, dissolve, and cease to exist on our watch.

The previous Environment Minister sought to characterise this awful confluence of threats to the Great Barrier Reef as environment groups not being “genuine” about our love for the Reef. As if the threat to the Reef from global warming were a stalking horse for our efforts to protect everything else we love from climate change, too. It is Australia that has been disingenuous: the decisions we’re making now will become the Great Barrier Reef’s destiny. It is as real and intense as that. Mark Butler now has 30 days to make a decision about Abbot Point. To safeguard the Reef he has no choice: He must say “no” to the coal industry.

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cloa513
Posted Thursday, July 11, 2013 - 16:36

When will the New Matilda stop being a mouthpiece of the greenie groups.

They care  so little about the environment. Greenpeace- another fake environmental group.

ria17
Posted Thursday, July 11, 2013 - 17:11

I strongly agree! We need to protect the coral reefs so they can be still a beautiful tourist spot at the beach. - YORHealth

Movieman Japan
Posted Thursday, July 11, 2013 - 18:22

Reef in danger from dumping dredged material?
Simple, dump it on land.

That whole area is a vast low-lying swamp. For hundreds of square miles there is very little land  over a meter above sea level, so spreading the sand and mud inland should please those who predict rising sea levels will wipe out our coasts.

What a neat circle.
The very people who are driving climate change and raising sea levels can actually save the coastline and the wildlife at risk.

 

Michael_Wilbur-Ham
Posted Thursday, July 11, 2013 - 18:23

What does it say about Labor that we can't be sure what will happen, and that there recent track record makes it more likely than not that they would approve the construction?

But of course in a democracy it should be for the voters to decide. The climate commission has recently said that we need to keep 80% of our coal in the ground - yet so far BOTH Labor and the LNP want to expand coal exports.

And Labor have just announced that some targets set for this year to reduce pollution into the GBR have been put back to 2018. The high nutrients flowing into the GBR are another significant threat to its future.

The article points out the urgent need for real action on climate change - we need to reduce our 1990 emissions by 40% by 2020 to do our share. Yet BOTH Labor and the LNP are only committed to a 0.5% cut.

So those who vote LNP or Labor get what they voted for - expansion of coal mining, destruction of the barrier reef.

I suggest that those that really care, and don't just pretend, should vote Green.

But changes in votes are unlikely when the progressive opinion leaders don't mention the only viable political alternative.

The above article doesn't mention The Greens (it's the usual "if only Labor would do the right thing").

Recently Q&A had Anne Summers on the panel. She has been a board member of Greenpeace. Yet she didn't once mention any environmental issue nor any political alternative to Labor. Instead all she did was defend Gillard.

What does this say about the commitment of those who have been at the very top of Greenpeace?

The GBR is doomed - and those just wishing Labor would do better, but encouraging everyone to vote Labor anyway deserve a significant amount of the blame.

This user is a New Matilda supporter. DrGideonPolya
Posted Friday, July 12, 2013 - 18:10

Excellent article.

The  expert Australian Climate Commission hasa found that 80% of fossil fuel reserves will have to stay in the ground (e.g. see “Climate Commission report says that 80 per cent of fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground”, ABC News, 26 June 2013: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-06-17/fossil-fuel-reserves-must-stay-in-ground-report/4757448 ).

The  German WBGU that advises the German Government has estimated that no more than 600 billion tonnes of CO2 can be emitted between now and zero emission sin 2050 if the world is to have a 75% chance of avoiding a catastrophic 2C temperature  rise. Australia already exceeded its fair share of this terminal greenhouse gas pollution budget of 600 billion tonnes CO2-e  in 2011 (see Section G, “2011 climate change course”: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/2011-climate-change-course ) .

The Australian Climate Commission has similarly stated that “The report says global carbon dioxide emissions cannot exceed 600 billion tonnes between now and 2050 if the climate is to stay within 2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels”. However there is a Lib-Lab (Liberal-Laboral) consensus on unlimited coal and gas exports  (see “Government says coal industry vital despite Climate Commission’s warning against fossil fuels”, ABC News,  17 June 2013: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-06-17/ministers-warn-against-winding-down-coal-industry-despite-dire-/4760414  ).

Australia had already exceeded its "fair share" of the world 's terminal GHG pollution budget" in 2011. It is time for Labor to be fair dinkum about the science and the Great Barrier Reef - if they don't measure up, decent Australians will vote 1 Green and put Labor last (the Coalition is just as bad but unlike neoliberal Labor has not actually betrayed decent Labor voters and decent Labor values such as respect for the environment).

This user is a New Matilda supporter. DrGideonPolya
Posted Sunday, July 14, 2013 - 08:36

In addition to saying  no to coal we must also say no to gas - however the Lib-Lab climate criminals and the presstitutes of the Mainstream media, including  the endlessly lying ABC, say otherwise.

I have set up an alternative to the recently announced $10 million "ABC Fact-checking unit", specifically a website entitled “ABC Fact-checking Unit & incorrect reportage by the ABC (Australia's BBC)” (see  : https://sites.google.com/site/mainstreammediacensorship/abc-fact-checking-unit ).

This pro bono  publico, Alternative ABC Fact-checking unit website set up by a 5-decade careere scientist provides detailed, alphabetically-organized  reportage on ABC malreportage e.g. the false ABC reportage that “gas is cleaner than coal”, to whit the following entry:

“Gas is cleaner than coal” (incorrect assertion). Gas burning produces less of toxic pollutants such as carbon monoxide (CO ), nitrogen oxides (NOx),  particulate matter (PM), and sulphur dioxide (SO2) than coal burning and vastly less  radioactivity and heavy metals   than coal burning (see Gideon Polya, Expert Witness testimony to stop gas-fired power plant installation ”, Countercurrents, 14 June 2013: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya140613.htm ). Further, burning 1 tonne CH4, the major constituent of natural gas,  yields 2.75 tonnes CO2 whereas burning  carbon, C, the major constituent  of coal, yields 3.67 tonnes CO2. CO2 emissions (in pounds per Btu of energy input) are 117,000 for gas, 164,000 for oil and 208,000 for coal (see  “Gas is dirty energy”: https://sites.google.com/site/gasisnotcleanenergy/gas-is-dirty-energy  and Natural gas.org, “Natural gas and the environment”: http://www.naturalgas.org/environment/naturalgas.asp  ). However methane (CH4) is about 85% of natural gas which  leaks (2-8% in the US depending upon the source, from conventional gas to coal seam gas (CSG)-derived and fracking-derived gas) and methane (CH4) .has a Global Warming Potential (GWP) 105 times that of CO2 on a 20 year time frame and taking aerosol  impacts into account (see (see Section F, “2011 climate change course”: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/2011-climate-change-course ), this meaning that depending upon the leakage, gas burning for power can be dirtier greenhouse gas (GHG)-wise than burning coal (see “Gas is dirty energy”: https://sites.google.com/site/gasisnotcleanenergy/gas-is-dirty-energy ). Indeed the ABC quotes Professor Hultman, from the school of public policy at the University of Maryland, saying that  using the "most extreme assumptions", coal seam gas is actually dirtier than coal over a 20-year time frame (see Wendy Carlisle, “CSG worries hinge on timing of climate change”, ABC News, 10 December 2012: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2012-12-09/background-briefing-coal-seam-gas/4416808  and Wendy Carlisle, “The missing emissions”, Background Briefing, 9 December 2012: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/backgroundbriefing/2012-12-09/4409500#transcript )” .

The website then details NINE (9) instances in which the ABC incorrectly reports that “Gas is cleaner than coal”(see “Gideon Polya, “Western Mainstream Media lying, ABC Fact-Checking Unit  and incorrect reportage by the ABC ( Australia 's BBC)”, Countercurrents, 13 July 2013: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya130713.htm  ) .

To save the Great Barrier Reef we must keep BOTH coal and gas in the ground - but just try telling that to the anti-science, climate criminal, terracidal l Lib-Labs (Liberal-Laborals)  .

 

jackal012
Posted Sunday, July 14, 2013 - 19:09

I'm with the good Dr on this one.

 

ABC being a bit cunning wouldn't have anything to do with its Endangered species Board put there by the little low life John I wannabe an Australian War Time Winston, Hero, Leader.

Would it. The cunning little cockroach.