Finally, the majority of people and businesses have decided they want action on climate change. Coalition ministers keep assuring us that we will meet our emissions reduction targets easily but they offer no proof for this claim.
They talk about the renewable energy projects planned before the renewable energy target and subsidies are abolished, and they may well bring about the desired reductions in the electricity sector, but we cannot ignore rising emissions from other sectors.
The National Greenhouse Gas Inventory claims significant emissions reductions from the land use, land use change, and forestry (LULUCF) sector (4% net reduction of total emissions in 2016-17), but there is little genuine data to back this up, and they seem to want to keep it that way.
The latest report (released on football Grand Final eve and on the same day as the interim report into the banking RC) states that the LULUCF estimates “have a greater level of uncertainty than the other sectors in the national inventory” because “Processed satellite images are not yet available to support the calculation of emissions estimates for 2017 and 2018.”
After several inquiries, no-one seems to know anything about the State of the Forests report that is published every five years and due this year. No-one can verify they are even working on it let alone give me a publishing date.
And it’s not just the Feds hiding information.
The Guardian had to fight an eight-month legal battle to get a look at the NSW government’s 2014-16 Native Vegetation report card. The most recent report from 2016-17 has still not been released, with the department claiming it is still not complete.
It’s no wonder they want to hide the figures.
In 2013-14, 900 hectares was cleared in total in NSW. In 2014-15 this jumped to 2,730 hectares and by 2015-16 it had increased to 7,390 hectares.
At the same time measures to conserve native vegetation slumped to the lowest level in a decade and restoration of native vegetation areas fell to less than half the decade average. Weed removal programs also went into reverse, with just a tiny fraction of the areas being managed for weeds – 29,970 hectares compared to the decade average of 182,200 hectares.
And this was before the NSW government changed the law in 2017 to make land-clearing even easier.
“Mr Baird’s bill appears more concerned with fast-tracking land clearing than conserving nature, and has clearly been crafted to please big agribusiness and the developer lobby,” said NSW Nature Conservation chief executive Kate Smolski after stakeholder meetings in 2016.
Then there is Queensland.
With 395,000 hectares of regrowth and old growth vegetation having been cleared in 2015-16 — a rise of 33 per cent over the previous year — Queensland accounts for more than half of Australia’s total losses of native forest. According to The Conversation, this rate of increased clearing is unmatched anywhere else on the globe.
More than 1 million hectares of native bush and forest has been cleared in Queensland over the last four years.
The ERF has claimed 124 Mt CO2-e of contracted emissions reductions through businesses, mainly farmers, “Protecting native forests by reducing land clearing, Planting trees to grow carbon stocks, and Regenerating native forest on previously cleared land.”
One wonders how any seeds and saplings planted have fared through the drought. One also wonders how you can claim emissions reductions for projects that are supposed to take decades like the Moombidary Forest Regeneration Project.
Projections suggest that in the two decades to 2030, 3m hectares of untouched forest will have been bulldozed in eastern Australia.
This has drastic consequences, not only on emissions, but also on biodiversity and the health of the Great Barrier Reef.
About three-quarters of Australia’s 1,640 plants and animals listed by the government as threatened have habitat loss listed as one of their main threats.
Every day, including today, we hear stories about sediment run-off from land-clearing on farms endangering water quality on the reef.
Today we also hear that the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has forecast that, by March next year. the entire reef has a 60 per cent chance of being subject to “bleaching alert level one”, where bleaching is likely. And worse still, the southern half of the reef has a 60 per cent chance of seeing the highest “bleaching alert level 2”, where coral death is likely.
Governments must be honest with us about these threats. They must provide us with the most up-to-date information. They must allow us to take part in the decision-making about priorities.
The consequences of their obfuscation and inaction and downright lies are becoming graver by the minute.