Interlude

The Green Journal AU has undergone a hiatus during summer in the southern hemisphere.

Following the COP21 in Paris last December, actions of individual countries in reducing greenhouse emissions should have started to speed up the momentum. This blog attempts to provide updates soon.

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Q & A at the Melbourne Town Hall, 7 March.

Meanwhile in Australia, three influential scientists/academics/authors have been invited to open a conversation on climate science and hope for the planet. The Sydney Opera House and Wheeler Centre, in cooperation with the University of Melbourne, have arranged the forum led by the trio: Naomi Oreskes, David Suzuki, and Tim Flannery. The engagement was held last week in two venues: Melbourne Town Hall (7 March) and Sydney Opera House (8 March).

Suzuki spoke of his long-time experience as an activist in conservation, along with his involvement with indigenous people in Canada as well as in South America. He reiterated the interconnections of all living beings as one. Oreskes, on the other hand, emphasised the scientific evidence of climate change based on the accumulated experience and expertise of people working together. Flannery, meanwhile, noted some scientific breakthroughs that could offer solutions to give humanity hope for future.

It was a full house in both venues. Guests and other participants are positive the event was just a beginning of the conversation.

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World leaders now need to act on historic climate deal

PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 12: Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Christiana Figueres (L 2), Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon (C), Foreign Affairs Minister and President-designate of COP21 Laurent Fabius (R 2), and France's President Francois Hollande (R) raise hands together after adoption of a historic global warming pact at the COP21 Climate Conference in Le Bourget, north of Paris, on December 12, 2015. (Photo by Arnaud BOUISSOU/COP21/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

PARIS, FRANCE – DECEMBER 12: Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Christiana Figueres (L 2), Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki Moon (C), Foreign Affairs Minister and President-designate of COP21 Laurent Fabius (R 2), and France’s President Francois Hollande (R) raise hands together after adoption of a historic global warming pact at the COP21 Climate Conference in Le Bourget, north of Paris, on December 12, 2015. (Photo by Arnaud BOUISSOU/COP21/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

THE 12-day COP21 in Paris concluded with an agreement among 195 or so countries to limit global average temperature to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels in a bid to significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.

The agreement aims to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change, in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty. Limiting carbon emissions is expected to increase the ability of nations to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and to foster climate resilience. The agreement also encourages low greenhouse gas emissions development to prevent threats on food production.

The agreement will be implemented to reflect equity and the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, in the light of different national circumstances.

FULL TEXT HERE.

There have been positive reactions to the agreement:

Academic and climate experts from Australia and beyond have welcomed the agreement. “The signature achievement of the Paris Agreement is a much bolder temperature target than expected: a ceiling of 2℃ warming, plus the pursuit of the safer target of 1.5,” according to Robyn Eckersley, professor of Political Science, University of Melbourne.

“Twenty-three years after signing the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, the nations of the world have at last decided to act on it. The Paris Agreement will mark a turning point in so many ways and represents a victory that would have seemed impossible even one or two years ago.” said Clive Hamilton, professor of public ethics, Centre For Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, Charles Stuart University.

“2015 is set to be the hottest year ever recorded. Appropriately, the Paris Agreement contains the strongest temperature goal of any international climate deal so far. Its aims – to strengthen global action to hold warming well below 2℃ and encourage efforts to limit warming to 1.5℃ – frame and drive the Agreement’s ambition.” said Peter Christoff, associate professor, School of Geography, University of Melbourne.

However, the agreement did not come without shortcomings:

Prof Hamilton notes, “The decisive question now is how powerfully the Paris Agreement will signal to those outside national governments, including business, that the world has entered a new era. Because it is what they do over the next few years that will determine how deep the next round of emission cuts can be. All the indications are that Paris will send a very strong signal indeed.”

Katharine Hayhoe, associate professor and director of Climate Science Center, Texas Tech University said, “The Paris Agreement is not naïve: the majority of its 31 pages lays out the need for ongoing reporting, special IPCC reports, financing for the Green Climate Fund, even naming individual climate Champions, tasked with keeping the process moving. To succeed, it will need all the help it can get; but if it does, all of our work – in climate science, policy, impacts, law, communication, and many other fields – will have not been in vain. That’s worth fighting for.”

More details from The Conversation here.

Stephen Kretzmann, Oil Change International (OCI)executive director said the Paris climate talks highlighted the need to stop funding fossil fuels and to adhere to scientific warnings to keep coal in the ground. He said, “The clear hypocrisy of funding the industry that is destroying the climate cannot withstand scrutiny for much longer.”

Hannah McKinnon, OCI senior campaigner, admits the agreement does not offer a “silver bullet to change the world or save the climate” but rather – “it is the growing climate movement that is already making that happen. Everywhere you look, citizens, front line communities, Indigenous Peoples, business leaders, and politicians are standing up to Big Polluters and taking a clean, safe, and renewable energy future into their own hands.”

“It’s the people on the streets who provide the real hope for addressing the climate crisis. People fighting for climate justice around the world are the ones who will solve this problem and they’re already making headway day by day,” said David Turnbull, OCI campaigns director.

The 350.org Executive Director May Boeve and Co-founder Bill McKibben issued a press release following the latest text of the climate agreement in Paris.

McKibben said every government seems now to recognize that the fossil fuel era must end and soon. But the power of the fossil fuel industry is reflected in the text, which drags out the transition so far that endless climate damage will be done. Since pace is the crucial question now, activists must redouble our efforts to weaken that industry.

Boeve notes the agreement marks the end of fossil fuels era, and there is no way to meet the targets laid out in this agreement without keeping coal, oil and gas in the ground. The text should send a clear signal to fossil fuel investors: divest now.

“Our job now is to hold countries to their word and accelerate the transition to 100 percent renewable energy. Over ten thousand of us took to the streets of Paris today to demonstrate our commitment to keep up the fight for climate justice, while many more demonstrated around the world. Our message is simple: a livable climate is a red line we’re prepared to defend, ” Boeve said.

The organisation recognises the final text still has some serious gaps. Specifically, it excludes the rights of indigenous peoples. Finance for loss and damage is also lacking, and while the text recognizes the importance of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees C, the current commitments from countries still add up to well over 3 degrees of warming.

Despite the ban on climate marches following the Nov 13 terror attacks, people cannot be silence to press for climate action. (Photo: Indigenous People’s Network/Flickr)
Despite the ban on climate marches following the Nov 13 terror attacks, people cannot be silence to press for climate action. (Photo: Indigenous People’s Network/Flickr)

Members of the Indigenous Environmental Network are not convinced of the outcome of the 12-day talks. At the last day of the conference, they held the morning prayer circle and was moved down the street to the infamous Pont des Arts, also known across the world as the ‘Love Lock Bridge’ where they staged a direct action. Their collective message was clear – “People discuss ‘red lines’, we are the red line. We are the keepers of the land, protectors of animals, the seas, the air. We are the solution.”

Indigenous representatives from Indigenous nations of Circumpolar, Amazon, South Pacific and North America joined for an early morning sunrise ceremony prayer at the foot of the historic Notre Dame Cathedral, to close the climate negotiations.

Indigenous representatives from Indigenous nations of Circumpolar, Amazon, South Pacific and North America joined for an early morning sunrise ceremony prayer at the foot of the historic Notre Dame Cathedral, to close the climate negotiations.

Indigenous representatives from Indigenous nations of Circumpolar, Amazon, South Pacific and North America joined for an early morning sunrise ceremony prayer at the foot of the historic Notre Dame Cathedral, to close the climate negotiations.

Quoting Alberto Saldamando, human rights expert and attorney, they flashed in their website:

“The Paris accord is a trade agreement, nothing more. It promises to privatize, commodify and sell forested lands as carbon offsets in fraudulent schemes such as REDD+ projects. These offset schemes provide a financial laundering mechanism for developed countries to launder their carbon pollution on the backs of the global south. Case-in-point, the United States’ climate change plan includes 250 million megatons to be absorbed by oceans and forest offset markets. Essentially, those responsible for the climate crisis not only get to buy their way out of compliance but they also get to profit from it as well.”

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Melbourne’s climate march a huge turnout for COP21

On the frontline of People's Climate March Melbourne, Nov. 27.

On the frontline of People’s Climate March Melbourne, Nov. 27. (Photo: The Green Journal AU)

The People’s Climate March kicked off in Melbourne before dusk on Friday, Nov 27, with a massive turnout of about 60,000 people. Other rallies across Australia are expected to follow suit over the weekend – Saturday and Sunday — to include Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Canberra and Hobart. The marches will set momentum for the Conference of Parties 21 (COP21) climate talks scheduled for Nov 29 – Dec 12.

The march on Friday is described as ”massive” and the ”city’s biggest climate march ever.” Chants and oratories opened at the State Library located along Swanston corner La Trobe Streets before the march proceeded to the Parliament House along Spring Street where more speeches were made.

Indigenous Australians at the forefront of climate march in Melbourne, Nov. 27. (Photo: The Green Journal AU - Asian Correspondent)

Indigenous Australians at the forefront of climate march in Melbourne, Nov. 27. (Photo: The Green Journal AU)

Australian organisers and participants include a wide spectrum of conservation groups, political parties, medical and health professionals, superannuation funds, indigenous people, community groups, clean energy businesses, farmers, families, and other civic groups and individuals.

The Melbourne turnout calls for other cities to do the same and to demonstrate their support for a strong climate action.  Paris announced it will ban all climate rallies along its boulevard and other public places as the city plays host to the climate talks. The ban will be enforced for security reasons in the aftermath of the terror attacks on Nov 13.  The conference has also been reduced to a “negotiation” event – without celebrities and entertainment. Those who cannot march are also asking march partners elsewhere to march for them. A website has been opened for this purpose:

“If you can’t make your voice heard in the country where you live, make it count somewhere else in the world. Marchers from all over the world are ready to carry your message on your behalf.”

The Paris climate talks will see representatives of around 200 countries coming together to forge a binding agreement on capping carbon emissions as a way to limit the earth’s temperature below two degrees Celsius by 2050. This climate talk is said to be the last chance to seal an agreement.

Australian Labor Party raises the banner. (Photo: The Green Journal AU - Asian Correspondent)

Australian Labor Party raises the banner. (Photo: The Green Journal AU)

The Australian Greens are in too. (Photo: The Green Journal AU - Asian Correspondent)

The Australian Greens are in too. (Photo: The Green Journal AU)

The march culminates at the Victorian Parliament Building. (Photo: The Green Journal AU- Asian Correspondent)

The march culminates at the Victorian Parliament Building. (Photo: The Green Journal AU)

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Top coal financiers: Japan, China, Korea

Divestment is becoming both a buzzword and a movement that urges organizations to shift support from dirty fossil fuels to clean and renewable energy. But it is a long way to go when governments are being lobbied by big industries and financial institutions and continue to work in secretive partnership. Re-blogging this post:

Miners shovel coal at a mine in China's Hebei province. Pic: AP.

Japan, China, and South Korea are the top financiers of coal exports via international financial conduits, a new report has revealed.

International environmental groups have called for these countries to stop financing coal exports via Export Credit Agencies and asked all other countries involved in climate talks to honor their commitments to combat global warming by reducing carbon emissions.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, Oil Change International and World Wide Fund for Nature released the report, Under the Rug: How Governments and International Institutions are Hiding Billions in Support to the Coal Industry, exposing the secretive operation between governments and financial institutions to finance big polluters despite international outcry for urgent climate action.

The report said “total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions related to international public finance for coal between 2007 and 2014 conservatively amounted to almost half a billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) per year. Emissions are close to a total of 18 gigatonnes for the entire lifetime of the supported power plants alone.”

The report revealed US$73 billion or over $9 billion a year within that period in which public finance was approved for coal.  Japan gave the largest amount of coal financing of any country, with over $20 billion during that time, followed by China with finance close to US$15 billion.

OCIKorea, Germany, and Australia are among top sources of funds transmitted via financial agencies. These countries are also reported to be leading the opposition to limits on coal finance in international discussions, along with other countries which continue to resist pressure to end public financing.

The report comes a summit in Paris in December this year to ratify a commitment to cap carbon emissions and to solidify targets of limiting global temperature below two degrees Celsius.

The report recommends improved transparency to avoid catastrophic climate change. It calls for phasing out international public finance for all fossil fuel projects, including exploration for more fossil fuels.

The report also urges the immediate disclosure of exhaustive data on public finance for the entire energy sector. Funding has largely gone unnoticed as it is often hidden from view as many countries are choosing to sweep this under the rug, rather than face the necessary task of cleaning up their own houses, the report added.

OCI-2World governments, particularly G20 and G7 members, have recognized the threat of climate change over the last eight years, and made repeated commitments to both fight climate change and end fossil fuel subsidies.

However, billions of dollars’ worth of government support continues to flow towards fossil fuels and coal. “This government financing for coal – largely in the form of export support, but also as development aid and general finance – is perpetuating coal use and exacerbating climate change. It needs to stop, immediately”, the report added.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said that at least 75 percent of existing fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground to avert global warming of more than two degrees. As coal makes up two-thirds of the carbon content of known global fossil fuel reserves, coal poses a serious threat to the climate.

Full Report HERE.

WWF calls EU for  climate leadership in OECD talks before COP Paris 

In Brussels, Belgium, 34 OECD countries convened for their annual Ministerial Meeting, June 3-4, while  G7 Heads of States and governments will meet in Germany on June 7-8 as a key political opportunity to make their climate credibility by ending support for coal.

“Many developed country governments that push for ambitious climate action are simultaneously funding coal abroad. They cannot do both and be credible,” said WWF’s Global Climate and Energy initiative leader Samantha Smith. “It is time for rich nations to put their money behind the solutions, like renewable energy, rather than using taxpayers’ money to fuel climate change.”

WWF said international public finance for coal between 2007 and 2014 is blamed for Italy’s pollution, the country which ranked 20th in the highest amount of carbon emissions globally,  “causing total greenhouse gas emissions amounting to almost half a billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent per year.”

Contradicting the claim that export finance for coal is necessary to fight energy poverty in poor countries, the report clearly shows that zero export finance for coal has gone to Low Income Countries, where the need for energy access is greatest, while one-fourth went to High Income Countries with no every poverty concerns.

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Sébastien Godinot, economist at WWF European Policy Office said the EU, led by the European Commission, failed to agree an official position on coal export finance ahead of the OECD meeting taking place next week. He said EU Member States are still divided, with some willing to end support for coal plants and others being more reluctant. So far the EU has largely been inaudible in the OECD negotiations, he added.

“COP Paris is around the corner.  It is time for European countries, the Commission and the EU as a whole to end procrastination and show leadership”, said Godinot, as “climate commitments and engagement to phase out fossil fuel subsidies should immediately lead the EU to ask the OECD to end export credits for coal.”

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‘Road to Paris’ calls for strong carbon emission cuts

Paris hosts the COP21 on December 2015.

Paris plays host to the 21st Conference Of Parties for the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change, December 2015. (Photo: Creative Commons)

The Climate Reality Project (CRP) is launching the Road to Paris, a global campaign that will bring together citizens, business leaders, non-profit organizations, and NGOs to galvanize climate action and encourage participating countries to commit strong carbon emission cuts. The campaign will urged countries to forged commitments at the 21st Conference Of Parties for the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change in December this year.

Road to Paris would include emissions reductions commitments based on national circumstances, a system of periodic review for these commitments, and a long-term goal of net zero carbon emissions.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, from left, primatologist Jane Goodall, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and  U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon participate in the People's Climate March in New York, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. Thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Manhattan on Sunday, accompanied by drumbeats, wearing costumes and carrying signs as they urged policy makers to take global action on climate change. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, from left, primatologist Jane Goodall, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, and U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon participate in the People’s Climate March in New York, Sunday, Sept. 21, 2014. Thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Manhattan, accompanied by drumbeats, wearing costumes and carrying signs as they urged policy makers to take global action on climate change. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)

It will focus on mobilizing public support from the global community and citizens in eight countries that hold strategic significance for the upcoming negotiations, as a building block for a strong international agreement. Target countries include Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, India, Philippines, South Africa, and the United States. The CRP will also have a programmatic presence in Mexico and Europe.

Former United States Vice President Al Gore, chairman of The CRP, said the UN climate negotiations in December mark a crucial opportunity for the international community to come to a bold, universal agreement to make significant emissions reductions commitments, including a long term goal for zero net carbon emissions.

The Philippine flag stands amid devasted region brought about by typhoon Haiyan,  the deadliest Philippine typhoon recorded in modern history,  killing at least 6,300 people. (Photo: AP)

The Philippine flag stands amid devastation brought about by typhoon Haiyan, the deadliest typhoon recorded in modern history, killing at least 6,300 people. (Photo: AP)

He stressed out that the Road to Paris will not end at COP21. He urged people to take urgent actions saying solutions to the climate crisis is within reach.

“We cannot afford to gamble with the future of our planet. Solutions to the climate crisis are within reach, but in order to capture them, we must take urgent action today across every level of society. Now is the time for people all over the world to lend their voices to the cause and urge their leaders to take this historic first step.”

The CRP’s Road to Paris campaign will build on work the group has already undertaken in each key country, including training new members of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps and organizing support on the ground through local branches.

Taxis are stranded in New York. At least 48 are dead across the US east coast as Superstorm Sandy, a former hurricane, causes widespread flooding and power cuts.

Taxis are stranded in Queens St, New York. At least 48 are dead across the US east coast when Superstorm Sandy, a former hurricane, causes widespread flooding and power cuts. (Photo: Xinhua/Telegraph)

In partnership with Live Earth: Road to Paris, CRP Leaders will run programs to address the unique challenges and opportunities of each target country.

CRP President and CEO Ken Berlin boasts the group as a leading international climate organization with about 5,700 trained leaders in the eight countries alone. He said, ” it is our responsibility to do everything we can to help spur action around the globe, providing support and guidance to the most critical players on the road to Paris.”

Climate March in Melbourne in time of the UN Climate Summit in New York, Sept 2013. (Photo: Asian Correspondent)

Climate Mobilization March in Melbourne in time of the UN Climate Summit in New York on Sept 2014. (Photo: Asian Correspondent)

Individual country programs will be rolled out over the coming weeks. Specific actions in each country will depend on the local political, economic, and social landscape, and will take into account the country’s climate change risk profile and opportunities for implementing solutions.

In the US, the CRP will continue its People vs. Carbon campaign in support of the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan. There are also two Climate Reality Leadership Corps trainings being held in the United States in 2015 – in Iowa and Florida.

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[Book Review] Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia

Image via Amazon.

‘Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia’ by Lukas Straumann is a controversial book that uncovers the modus operandi of a multi-billion timber industry accused of wiping out the ancient rainforests of Sarawak, home of the last nomadic tribes of Southeast Asia in the heart of Borneo, Malaysia.

It argues two major points: first, the violations of  indigenous people’s rights, including plunder of their source of subsistence; and second, fraud and deceit spawned into the global financial system perpetrated by logging barons.

Straumann calls for the prosecution of criminals who are responsible for the destruction of pristine rainforests, displacement of people, and death of indigenous cultures. It invites a course of action to salvage the remaining forests in Borneo. The book raises questions such as: Is here a hope and redemption for the indigenous people? What lies ahead in this ravaged wilderness? Is palm oil or 12 mega-dams the answer to bail out communities from poverty? What are the implications of this crime for the rest of humanity?

The book also questions the credibility of judicial systems, the police, the FBI, the United Nations’ agencies, Interpol, and other international watchdogs mandated to protect human rights, stop corruption, and to ensure environmental sustainability.

The Bruno Manser Fund (BMF), like other NGOs, works for social and environmental causes. BMF has exerted all means to seek justice for the rainforests, the Penans, and the victims of reprisal. However, Straumann is far from optimistic.

The book dissects the system of corruption and environmental crime that befell Sarawak. A model that examines the intricate details of its mechanism, it leads to the understanding of the system that spreads throughout Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, Australia, and beyond. It identifies who’s who in the business and the flow of bribe money, fraud, tax evasion, and money laundering.

Sarawak is the epicentre of environmental disaster with a trail of destruction intruding and expanding into Papua New Guinea, Guyana, Equatorial Guinea, Cambodia, and other territories. To know Sarawak is to know what happened in the other countries, perpetuated by the same logging companies.

Fingers are pointed at the Rolls Royce-driving prominent statesman Abdul Taib Mahmud: “The Most Honourable Chief Minister of Sarawak.” He rose to power in 1986 with the help of his uncle and ruled for three decades. While in office, he allegedly amassed assets totalling US$15 billion. He heads a business empire scattered all over the world and shared among family members. His real estate portfolio is scattered throughout Ottawa, San Francisco, Seattle, London, Adelaide, Hong Kong and Malaysia. He forged global connections with logging barons, financial kingpins, and corrupt politicians in countries where timber is ready for disposal.

The Timber Industry

The book unravels how the timber trade works with the same principles throughout Asia. Logging companies have to pay hefty bribes in exchange for logging concessions. This is especially true in less developed countries where corruption is rife. Bribe money also allows loggers to cut trees beyond agreed limits.

Straumann identifies the movement of timber from its origin to export destinations. Along with it is the flow of more bribe money to “grease” the export processes. Overseas, money is laundered via financial conduits and using various cronies as fronts.

Straumann names the major logging companies, the “Dirty 6” including Samling Group, Rimbunan Hijau, WTK Group, Ta Ann Group, KTS Group, and Shin Yang Group — all related to Taib’s clan and associates. Major markets include Japan, South Korea, China, and Taiwan, to name a few.

The forest of Sarawak alone is given to four logging companies, all involved in clearing 18 million hectares of forests around the world and transforming them into palm oil plantations.

Loggers operate in poor and vulnerable countries, while real estate and related businesses are invested in more developed countries.

In the book, Tasmania demonstrated its power to stop bulldozers from clearing the wilderness. An activist became a media sensation when she climbed a 60-meter-high eucalyptus tree which she named the “Observer Tree” and sat there for 449 days to deter the Ta Ann Group.

Taib probably cannot betray his Colombo Plan benefactor. He got his law degree from Adelaide University, a beneficiary of Australia’s post-war scholarship. He later made donations amounting to $7 million to the university’s Centre for Environmental Law and in return he was awarded an honorary doctorate. In 2008, a courtyard was named after him.

The Adelaide University Environmental Collective holds a rally to pressure the Vice Chancellor of the Uni to change the name of the Taib Mahmud courtyard. (Photo: Supplied)

The Adelaide University Environmental Collective holds a rally to pressure the Vice Chancellor of the Uni to change the name of the Taib Mahmud courtyard. (Photo: Supplied)

 

Brazilians were also up in arms against logging into the Amazon rainforest and, so far, they have succeeded driving out the timber mafia.

Other regions, however, are not as lucky as Tasmania or Brazil and they can be exploited anytime at Taib’s whim, the book suggests.

Bullying Tactics

Opposition to the logging brings repercussions. Ross Boyert, an insider who tipped off Straumann on the inside operation, faced the consequence of backflipping. Boyert filed a legal suit against Taib including breach of contract, fraud, and infringement of labor laws. Boyert also attempted to expose Taib’s properties overseas with proxy ownership among his kin. As a result, he was stalked, bullied, and psychologically tortured before he committed suicide.

Bruno Manser, the founder of BMF, is one of the most vocal activists that speak for the Penans. He explored Borneo and lived in the rainforests with the indigenous people. He has been on the watch list of Taib and was warned not to go back to Sarawak. He defied warnings, went back, and in 2000, he disappeared in the forest without a trace. In 2005, BMF officially announced he is presumed dead.

Penan activists were not spared. Harrison Ngua, for example, who was working for Sahabat Alam Malaysia, an environmental and human rights organization, was jailed for months while he was blindfolded and interrogated.

Hope for the Rainforest

The rainforest of Sarawak is one of the ancient rainforests explored by British naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913), a contemporary of Charles Darwin. It contains some of the most diverse flora and fauna on the planet.  It has been a home of the nomads for many generations —until the loggers came.

Straumann describes the helplessness of the Penans as they watched from the sidelines heavy machinery cleared the rainforests. The last “noble savages” of Southeast Asia were robbed in a broad daylight –  right before their eyes.

As of writing and publication of the book, Straumann has suggested the removal of Taib  from power. But even so, what is done cannot be undone.

It could be said that the logging industry does not monopolize environmental destruction, but Sarawak is symptomatic of a bigger issue of our time. The coal, seam gas, rare earths, and other resources industries have been drilling and extracting to satisfy insatiable greed for profits. The Great Barrier Reef in Queensland, the Arctic in the North Pole, and the Pacific Ocean’s bed are but few other examples where multinational companies are destroying the environment. Grassroots around the world are now standing in the gap to pressure governments and banking institutions to stop the madness once and for all.

James Lovelock came up with Gaia hypothesis, which posits that the planet is a  self-regulating entity with the capacity to keep itself healthy by controlling the interconnections of the chemical and physical environment. He likens the planet to a nurturing mother capable of renewal and regeneration. But with the scale, magnitude, and pace of destruction, scientists predict a bleak future. Humans have been destroying the planet’s life-support system beyond its capacity to regenerate.

Australia’s leading scientist, Tim Flannery, in his book ‘Here on Earth’ (2010), pleads a cause for planetary justice. He argues there is a new awakening of humanity that can give hope to the survival of the planet.  He suggests people need compassion and to care more than ever before.

Straumann, however, grapples for a solution. Perhaps, the motto of the White Rajahs for the original inhabitants of Borneo would somehow help: “Dum spiro spero (As long as I breath, I hope) — for what dies last is the hope for justice and a better future.”

The Malaysian government wanted this book banned. Taib already lodged a full probe into its allegations. Straumann, nonetheless, is unfazed.

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* Some of the opinions expressed in this article are the author’s

The print and Kindle editions of ‘Money Logging: On the Trail of the Asian Timber Mafia’ can be bought on Amazon.com

Secret cull of 700 koalas doesn’t come as a surprise

Koalas mainly eat eucalyptus leaves. Pic: Jonathon Colman (Flickr CC)

Koalas mainly eat eucalyptus leaves. Pic: Jonathon Colman (Flickr CC)

It was shocking to hear of the secret cull of about 700 starving koalas in the Cape Otway region near the Great Great Ocean Road in western Victoria, but this does not come as a surprise.

Australian media, including The Age said “wildlife officials did three euthanasia sweeps to kill 686 koalas in 2013 and 2014 in a covert campaign that was designed to avoid any backlash from green groups and the community.” The newspaper claims the cull was conducted under the previous Liberal government to address overpopulation.

Many koalas in  Victoria have become refugees, displaced from their habitats due to mismanagement of gum tree plantations.

Friends of the Earth (FoE) campaigner Anthony Amis said their habitats have been shrinking more rapidly against a “large number” of koalas.

He said once plantations are logged, koalas that survive clearfelling become homeless, feeding on whatever suitable vegetation is remaining. At several locations, there are koalas living in a couple of trees. This often results in over-consumption of vegetation. He said, “Unless the koalas move on, vegetation will probably be overbrowsed, with the animals eventually starving to death”.

A koala, sitting beside the road on the way to Apollo Bay.. Pic: Shiny Things (Flickr CC)

sA koala, sitting beside the road on the way to Apollo Bay.. Pic: Shiny Things (Flickr CC)

There are regions in western Victoria where displacement resulted in starvation and deaths.  The Crawford River Region is one example where some of the displaced koalas moved to roadside vegetation, including old growth trees. The region has between 7,000 and 8,000 hectares of bluegum plantations.

In some native forests where koalas already exist, the influx of displaced koalas poses a great challenge. Most of them may remain homeless with no food to eat.

Amis said, “It does not take a genius to realise that logging of thousands of hectares of such habitat will cause a profound ecological impact.”

He added FoE also has concerns about the absence of animal care facilities in some of the more isolated areas to cope with increases of koala injuries during logging operations. Many animals could suffer horrible deaths. He said:

 “t is not good enough for the State Government and plantation companies to sit on their hands and do nothing about this problem. It is clear to us that we are only now witnessing the start of what will be a protracted and controversial problem.

Amis also noted that since the mid 1990s the State Government embarked on controversial fertility control options to control koala populations and reduce overbrowsing. He said, “Mt Eccles National Park and Framlingham forest have suffered overbrowsing in the past. We hope this situation does not increase into other areas in the South West”.

A koala crossing a road Pic: Supplied

A koala crossing a road Pic: Supplied

The population boom is presumed to be a result of displaced koalas coming from French Island. He explained the animals are more likely to be free from Chlamydia which means “the natural process of population control in koalas does not apply to South West Victorian Koalas”.

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Tasmania to become world’s eco-tourism hub

Tasmania is dreaming big time. The Liberal government is plotting to transform the state into an environmental tourism capital to attract globe trotters. It comes as no surprise that conservation groups are blocking the proposed project and say the World Heritage Site will be exploited for development; a trade off to draw 1.5 million visitors a year by 2020.

Aerial view of Tasmanian island. (Photo: Supplied)

Aerial view of Tasmanian island. (Photo: Supplied)

The Office of Will Hogman, premier of Tasmania, has been advertising the mega-tourism plan approved by Matthew Groom, minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage. Last year, it called for EOI (Expression of Interests) from private developers to submit proposals. Out of 37 who submitted interests, 23 have been shortlisted as of December.

Stage 1 involved assessment of proposals against various criteria including appropriateness of the proposed project to the site. Building and operational qualifications of the proponent were also reviewed, as well as the financial capability of the proponent to carry out the proposal.

Shortlisted developers are now being asked to proceed to Stage 2. Final selection is set to be done by March 13.

Groom, in a press statement, said his government is determined to open Tasmania for tourism investments that will create jobs for many Tasmanians. He promised the natural and cultural values of national parks and World Heritage Area will be fully protected.

The Maria Island Walk EOI. The project involves developing a hut based six day guided walk on the 84km long South Coast Track in the Southwest National Park.  (Photo: Office of the Coordinator-General)

The Maria Island Walk EOI. The project involves developing a hut based six day guided walk on the 84km long South Coast Track in the Southwest National Park. (Photo: Office of the Coordinator-General)

The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area covers 1.4 million hectares, almost a fifth of the total area of Tasmania. It encompasses 19 national parks and more than 800 reserves.

The heritage area is well-known for its teeming and diverse native flora and fauna, along with unique landscape, pristine coastlines, and tangible and intangible Tasmanian Aboriginal cultural values reflecting thousands of years of living culture.

Conservation groups have been up in arms to oppose the development project. Tasmania’s leading environment organisations are calling for local, national and global support to stop what they call “an intrusion” into the Tasmania’s Wilderness World Heritage Area.

The Bob Brown Foundation in Tasmania and Friends of the Earth in Melbourne, respectively, are spearheading to organise meetings and rallies to lambast the Liberal government. Environmental top guns will be holding the microphones in Melbourne like Bob Brown, The Wilderness Society’s Vica Bayley, Tasmanian Greens Leader and Bass MHA Kim Booth, and Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre’s Adam Thompson.  In Hobart, on 3 March, speakers will include World Heritage expert Jamie Kirkpatrick, environmentalist Bob Brown, champion orienteerer and runner Hanny Allston, and the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre’s Ruth Langford.

The platypus is also native to Tasmania. Pic: Vera Rayson (Flickr CC)

The platypus is also native to Tasmania. Pic: Vera Rayson (Flickr CC)

Bob Brown Foundation’s spokesperson Jenny Weber said the Tasmanian government is opening the Tasmanian wilderness’ World Heritage Area to logging, mining and invasive tourism projects.

Weber admits there are positive aspects of the proposals like the Gordon River experience by World Heritage Cruises. However, 2-4 days package tours, for example, require construction of accommodation facilities like private huts. Weber foresees “the largest expansion of hut intrusions into the wilderness.”

Bob Brown also said, “A circuit around Cradle Mountain with a proposed ‘lodge’. What’s next a circuit around Federation Peak with a lodge? No absurdity is off the agenda in this process of opening the World Heritage Area to such intrusions.”

Robert Campbell from the Tasmanian National Parks Association lamented, “Our National Parks are a legacy handed down to us by Tasmanians who had the foresight to preserve what they held to be precious. They are not the Government’s to give away or auction off to the highest bidder…”

Indeed, known as one of the last frontiers of untouched wilderness, Tasmania’s pristine wonders is open for business.

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Hyundai AU to launch zero emission hydro-powered car

A zero-emission electric vehicle that runs on hydrogen has arrived in Australia. Emitting only water,  Hyundai ix35 Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV) will be Australia’s first and only hydrogen car refueller to be installed at Hyundai headquarters in Macquarie Park, Sydney. Testing and demonstration drives are expected to begin any time from now.

Built in Ulsan, South Korea, it is the first hydrogen-powered car to be permanently imported into the country. The vehicle is the first component of Hyundai’s plan to operate a test fleet of ix35 Fuel Cell vehicles in Australia. As such, it represents a pioneering step toward the commercial availability of emissions-free hydrogen powered vehicles in Australia.

Mr Charlie Kim, chief executive officer, Hyundai Motor Company Australia (HMCA) said the company became the first automobile manufacturer in the world to begin mass-production of a hydrogen-powered vehicle,” adding “This gave HMCA the ability to order a Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle in the same way as we order any other new Hyundai car. Now we have one, and we believe this fantastic car will help demonstrate the potential of hydrogen as a green transport solution for Australia.”

Hyundai has now begun the installation of Australia’s only Hydrogen Refuelling Station (HRS) at its headquarters in Macquarie Park using hydrogen provided by gas partner Coregas Australia. The HRS, supplied by American company Air Products, has passed all planning permissions from Ryde Council and is expected to be fully operational early in 2015 after testing is completed during December

“Ultimately, we see no reason why Australians should not enjoy the same environmental solutions as consumers in other markets,” continued Mr Kim. “Hyundai strongly supports the idea of a ‘Hydrogen Highway’ in Australia like those already in operation overseas, and we are committed to working with local partners to try to facilitate this.”

Read more about the specifications of the car on Hyundai Australia here.

‘Big 4′ banks under pressure to rule out funding of coal projects

The Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) has released a report calling on Australia’s “big four” banks to rule out involvement in financing controversial coal projects proposed for Queensland’s Galilee Basin near the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage area.

The report called ‘The Equator Principles and financing of coal projects in the Galilee Basin‘ names Australia’s “big four” banks   – Australia-New Zealand Banking Corp (ANZ), Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), National Australia Bank (NAB), and Westpac Banking Corp – as signatories to the Equator Principles (EPs) and calls on all four to rule out any involvement in the Galilee Basin projects.

The report is a result of research undertaken by ACF energy analyst Tristan Knowles which investigates how Australian banks should deal with financing coal projects in the area. The EPs are a voluntary framework the banks have signed up to guide them in the assessment and management of environmental and social risk in the projects they consider financing.

Anti-coal activists hang a huge banner in front of Commonwealth Bank's headquarters, calling on to follow international banks: rule out finance for new coal export terminals at Abbot Point in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.  (Photo: Market Forces)

Anti-coal activists hang a banner in front of Commonwealth Bank’s headquarters, calling on to follow international banks: rule out finance for new coal export terminals at Abbot Point in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. (Photo: Market Forces)

The EPs serve as a guide to the best practices and a “gold standard” in environmental and social risk management. ACF said the EPs are relevant to proposed coal projects in the Galilee Basin because mines and infrastructure require project finance and advisory services to proceed. More notably, the project value is well over US$10 million – the current threshold for coverage by the EPs.

ACF insists that coal projects in the Galilee Basin are a litmus test for the EPs stating, “If they’re truly a gold standard for environmental and social risk management, Australian banks should rule out further financing of these projects because they will result in serious damage to the environment… We hope this report focuses the debate about Galilee Basin Coal projects back on the banks’ commitments to be environmental leaders.”

Anti-fossil fuel protesters call on Australian four major banks to divest from financing coal projects during the Divestment Day rally. (Photo: Market Forces)

Anti-fossil fuel protesters call on Australian four major banks to divest from financing coal projects during the Divestment Day rally. (Photo: Market Forces)

Several foreign banks have already backed out from financing Adani Group’s coal port expansion, including US banking giants Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan Chase.

Prior to those banks’ rejection, the Deutsche Bank, Royal Bank of Scotland, HSBC and Barclays all ruled out funding the development of the Adani’s $16.5bn project

The report said the massive projects will destroy tens of thousands of hectares of land, consume huge amounts of water and potentially impact on the Great Artesian Basin, and result in significant greenhouse gas pollution.

The UN World Heritage Committee, which visited the site in 2013, also said coal projects will cause irreparable damage to the World Heritage Area and warned the Australian government to delist the site.

News blog link: The Green Journal @ Asian Correspondent

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