Saturday 16 January 2016


The NSW Government is in the process of changing the broad suite of legislation which protects the natural environment. While this presents an opportunity to improve environmental protection, it also presents an opportunity for the Government to weaken it.  
One area of particular concern for environment groups is changes to the rules governing logging operations, changes which will seriously weaken protection for koalas. These new Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals (IFOAs) being written by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be available for public consultation early this year.

Koalas in this state are already in serious trouble – a situation which resulted in the listing of the species as vulnerable under the federal EPBC Act in 2012. 

The new IFOAs plan to replace on-ground surveys with habitat models to streamline pre-logging koala surveys.

Dr Oisin Sweeney, Science Officer with the NSW National Parks Association, said, “The experts that reviewed the EPAs models found that they can’t predict the occurrence of koalas because they don’t take into account either the social nature of koalas or past disturbance.”

“Basically koalas, like humans, like to stay close to their families.  These social ties mean that habitat is not the sole driver of koala occurrence.  The models don’t consider past disturbance either: intensive logging and fires leave a legacy which affects whether koalas will use an area.”

Dr Sweeney is also concerned that the EPA has not analysed the effect of the current regulations on koala populations. “It is extraordinary that despite huge documented declines in koala populations across the NSW coast, the EPA would consider weakening logging regulations without knowing what the current ones do.”

The North Coast Environment Council’s Susie Russell is scathing about the proposed changes.
Ms Russell said, “This is pretending to look for koalas, not looking for koalas.  And we know from past experience in Royal Camp [State Forest] that if you don’t look you don’t find and if you don’t find you don’t protect.”  

Questions obviously need to be asked about why the EPA, which does not have a good record with forestry compliance, is weakening koala protection.

-          Leonie Blain

This post originally appeared in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on 11 January 2016.

Monday 11 January 2016


Has Australia missed the renewable energy boat? The answer appears to be a resounding YES, and the irony is that much of the technology currently providing major employment opportunities worldwide was actually developed here in Australia. While renewable energy entrepreneurs have thrived overseas, successive Australia governments have remained wedded to coal, cutting support for alternative clean energy projects, and spending hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on carbon capture and storage technologies which, if implemented, will double the cost of coal-fired electricity.

The story of Australian expat, Danny Kennedy, is a typical example. Attracted by the progressive stance on renewable energy by California's Governor Schwarzenegger, he moved to San Francisco in 2008 to start the rooftop solar company, Sungevity. With some 1,000 employees that company is now one of America's biggest, and part of one of the USA's fastest-growing industries which employs some 55,000 people in California alone.

California has already shut down almost all its coal-fired plants and set a deadline of 2027 to stop importing coal-fired electricity. This is happening elsewhere with progressive countries like Germany and the Netherlands opting out of coal. India, the country on which Australia has seemingly pinned the future of our coal industry, has announced that solar and wind are their first commitment, and vowed to cut coal-fired electricity production.

More bad news for fossil fuel companies is that, according to CSIRO chief economist for energy Paul Graham, costs of solar panels now, 2015, are 20% cheaper than was predicted half a decade ago; and according to the Energy Networks Association, John Bradley, will continue to fall, along with the cost of storage. In fact, Mr Bradley believes the new technologies are changing so quickly that within the next 10 years electricity storage costs will fall by two-thirds, and solar costs continue to fall by another third again.

Is there any wonder therefore that, in the 10 weeks running up to the Paris climate summit, more than 100 institutions controlling $US800 billion in funds worldwide, opted to make new divestments of at least some of their fossil fuel assets.

            - John Edwards

This post was initially published in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on 7 December, 2015.