Thursday, 14 March 2013

Environmental Awareness and Action in Australia

Australia typically holds their federal elections in March and this one was expected to focus on environmental initiatives.  The Opposition was set to announce a promise to reign in mining and carbon taxes, adding fuel to the fire of what governing party would win and what their commitment to environmental action would look like.  However, Prime Minister Julia Gillard shocked many when she announced that the election would take place in September, sparking the longest election campaign in Australian history. 

Given that the environment is set to become a hot topic in Australia throughout the summer and this campaign, it begs the question: What is Australia doing in terms of environmental action?  What is their environmental stance on international agreements?  Have they met or are they working towards meeting these accords?  How proactive is Australia in affirming a commitment to environmental action? In this article, we explore Australia to discover how the nation from Down Under is working towards a better world.


Australia has been monitoring chemical emissions being released into the air since July 1998. The National Pollutant Inventory was established to track 90 different chemicals, most of which are considered air toxins. From this list and monitoring, the Ambient Air Quality National Environment Protection Measure has calculated emissions of these chemicals and has set out a plan to lower such toxins in the air, such as carbon monoxide and photochemicals, and to eliminate some altogether, such as lead and sulphur dioxide. This is detailed within a ten year plan.

Climate Change

Australia has a three pillar approach to climate change: mitigation, adaptation, and a global solution

Mitigation refers to reducing emissions. The belief is that without any action, carbon related pollution could be as high as 20% higher than 2000 level by 2020. The goal of the government is to lower emissions by at least 5% compared to the 2000 level, which will require cutting net expected pollution but roughly 25% by 2020. This includes investments into clean energy alternatives and supporting individuals and businesses in their unique efforts.  More than $5 billion has been invested into clean energy technologies as defined in the Clean Energy Legislative Package. The government has also established the Australian Carbon Trust, a $100 million fund designed to finance businesses in retrofitting commercial and industries sectors to more energy efficient options.  The creation of education for green-collar job training will also help train people in a variety of industries with the skills necessary to facilitate such a green business revolution. 

Adaption is an educational initiative designed to help people cope with a changing Australia. A $126 million fund in the Climate Change Adaptation Program help educate individuals on managing climate change risks including water conservation, health and emergencies management, and in helping to transition industries that use a lot of resources, such as farming and mining to better alternatives.
Global solutions are underway as Australia is an active partner under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The goal is to create a legally binding framework for all nations that manages pollution reduction and enforcement.  Australia is also the current chair of the Umbrella Group, a coalition of non-European Union developed nations who are working towards climate change solutions. Under the Kyoto Protocol, Australia has also publically pledged to reduce their emissions by 25% lower than 2000 standards, a plans that has affected the creation of the domestic Clean Energy Legislative Package.

The Australian plan to increase clean energy initiatives is very unique and involves all of their citizens. 

First, within the Clean Energy Legislative Package, all Australians who make under $80,000 per year will receive tax rebates based on the government’s new carbon pricing strategy. There is an expected 0.7% increase in the cost of living as commodities that increase carbon production are taxed at higher level. The rebate in meant to offset consumer costs. This also includes the rollout of a nationwide education initiative so that everyone understands how carbon pricing works, what commodities it is attached to, and what appropriate rates should be. 

There have also been two local projects, one in Tweed and the other in Moreton Bay, to test different energy alternatives. 

Since 2009, Tweed has worked to reduce organic wastes ending up in landfills. They have been able to reduce waste production by 42% and instead, have used organic wastes in a new methane gas extraction system, which is capable of generating 3,000 megawatt hours of electricity. The capture and burning of methane also reduces 12,900 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually. Moreton Bay is tackling their landfill as well. Since 2006, the introduction of curbside recycling has removed 25% of all waste from entering landfills.  The city also has other recycling initiatives, which brings the total waste removal to 42%. The installation of landfill gas management systems also further reduces landfill gas emission by 50%. Under the new carbon pricing strategy, the city believes that they will save $3.2 million through lower carbon production. These are two strategies that are being investigated for potential national rollouts.

It has been 14 years since the Biodiversity Conservation Act was enacted in 1999. This piece of legislation has served as the cornerstone for all Australian environmental legislation that has since followed. The goal is to preserve and protect flora, fauna, and ecological heritage sites from damage and pollution. Australia is a nation of large wilderness of many diverse landscapes. In working with the states and territories, their legacy can be preserved in their original states, untouched by humans, as a living monument to the natural world as well as helping as natural carbon captures.

Environmental sustainability is an important issue as urban communities continue to grow. A $2 billion plan is meant to ensure biodiversity of Australia’s natural environment while bringing forth sustainable agricultural practices. There are 56 regional natural resource management groups that are working in conjunction with the government to protect untouched areas of the country, minimize damage to animal habits, and to ensure that natural carbon capture within forested areas are not cut down so as not to increase emissions.

Pollution and Waste Management
The National Waste Policy outlines the nation’s waste management and recycling programs, currently dated to include implementations until 2020. Between 2002 and 2007, Australia has noticed a 31% increase in waste generation. Much of this increase is in technologically outdated commercial goods, which may contain metals and chemicals that are harmful to the environment, in addition to taking up space in landfills. The aims of this policy are meant to serve 4 goals: reducing waste generation, re-imagining waste as a resource, safe disposal, and the reduction of contaminants entering the environment from landfill sites. Part of the mandate of this proposal also includes an adherence to monitoring and accurate data collection.

The National Water Commission was created from the National Water Commission Act in 2004 and further amended last year. This gives them the authority to manage Australia’s water systems through the Water Act of 2007. They also work in conjunction with regional, state, territorial, and local authorities in water management and conservation practices.  Current major projects include the Murray-Darling Basin audit. The Commission acts as an independent reviewer in such audits in order to find areas where increased water resource management can benefit.

What the Future for Australia Holds
Australia is one of the more progressive developed nations that is working towards an environmental strategy that balances environmental action with sustainability. This is a difficult thing to manage and the upcoming election shows exactly that. People have many different ideas of what a sound environmental strategy is. So far, Australians have benefitted from a government that has looked for national solutions as well as has contributed to global organizations in a leadership role. Let’s hope that Australia continues to be an example for the rest of the developed world and show that environmental action can work with sustainability!