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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‘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

Gore praises Obama ahead of climate leaders training in Australia

Former US Vice President Al Gore is scheduled to visit Australia this month to lead a climate leadership training drive, shortly after US President Barack Obama’s historic announcement early this week directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to initiate massive cuts on dirty carbon emissions.

Climate Reality Project Chairman and former US Vice President Al Gore (Photo: CRP)

The 25th Climate Reality Leadership Corps training program will kick off on June 25-27 in Melbourne in partnership with Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF) to teach participants about the science of climate change and how to communicate its effects.

US President Barack Obama announces historic cuts in carbon emissions (Photo: AP)

Gore’s leadership training  will mark another important event following initiatives of various NGOs towards decarbonising Australia. Last month, US economist Jeffrey Sachs led the launch of a low carbon economy initiative.

Gore, the Climate Reality Project chairman, praised  Obama’s announcement to cut the nation’s dirty carbon emissions from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels by 2030. This is equal to the emissions from powering more than half the homes in the United States for one year. The former VP said the clean energy initiative is the most crucial step towards combating the climate crisis.

We simply cannot continue to use the atmosphere as an open sewer for dirty and dangerous global warming pollution that endangers our health and makes storms, floods, mudslides and droughts much more dangerous and threatening – not only in the future, but here and now.

Gore reiterated that actions are taking place worldwide to address climate change but remained wary about special interest groups that continue to deny and spread misleading information to muddle and obfuscate the issue. He said denial of the linkage between carbon emissions and climate change is like denial of the link between tobacco and lung cancer. He warned that further inaction would be extremely dangerous and destructive for America and the rest of the world. He added that there are now technologies that can offer alternative sources of clean, efficient, and competitive renewable energy.

He backs Obama for facing challenges through a series of critical actions and empowering the EPA to enforce limits on CO2 emissions for new power plants and accelerating the shift to  renewable energy.  He said America has taken another historic step in leading the world towards a green and sustainable economy.

Not all businesses are happy

Smoke billow from coal-fired power plants (Photo: AP)

Not all businesses are happy and merchants of doubt are expected to block climate initiatives. Christopher Helman of Forbes notes the “casualties” of the plan: “Coal miners and owners of coal-fired power plants. Don’t expect their shares to sell off on today’s rule revelation though — EPA has been telegraphing its plans for months, so the bad news is baked in.”

…..it is clear to analysts that coal will bear the brunt of this anti-carbon crusade, while natural gas will be the big winner. Coal-fired power plants are responsible for about 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions in America. Per megawatt-hour, coal plants emit about 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide. Compare that to natural gas turbines, which emit just .4 metric tons per mWh.

The EPA reportedly estimates that investments needed to meet the emission limits will cost about $8 billion a year, but would save 6,600 lives and more than $50 billion a year in health care costs tied to air pollution.

While the announcement is widely praised, not everybody is positive. Bloomberg reported how the US zero emission would only be defeated by the rising emissions of China, India, and Indonesia, for example.

Burning fossil fuels in the U.S. released 5.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2012. China emitted 9.0 billion tons and by 2020 is forecast by the U.S. Energy Department to reach 11.5 billion metric tons, while the U.S. stays flat. India, Indonesia and other developing nations are expected to grow, as well.

Were U.S. emissions cut to zero, “global emissions would continue to increase,” Robert Stavins, director of Harvard University’s Environmental Economics Program, said in an e-mail. “So, the direct impacts of the new power plant rules on atmospheric greenhouse-gas concentrations will be small.”

Optimism in the Pacific

Solar panels station on Port Augusta, Victoria (Photo: Supplied)

Scientists in the Pacific welcome Obama’s clean energy plan. Radio Australia interviewed Dr. Padma Lal,  an independent researcher on Climate Risk in the Pacific, who applauds the announcement and said it is urgent to take action to make the plan a reality.

She noted other countries – the major polluters – have already started taking action to reduce their carbon emissions, such as China, India, Brazil.

…..we would like to see other countries such as Australia and European nations to follow suit. Perhaps it’s a bit too early to say that this is actually going to happen, it’ll be interesting to see in tangible terms what actions are taken by the American state. From the Pacific point of view it really is urgent that they do take such measures…

Gore leads climate training in Australia

The former US VP will lead the leadership training in Australia, alongside world-class climate scientists, political strategists, communication experts, community organisers and activists. He said:

We have taken these trainings around the world, and in every community committed leaders are standing up to take action on the climate crisis. Our goal is to provide them with the best possible tools to become even more effective leaders in their schools, businesses, houses of worship, and local and national governments.

The intensive program is expected to formally train a new group of Climate Reality Leaders, who can become change agents in their own communities. They will emerge from the program as “energised and skilled communicators” with the knowledge, tools and drive to educate diverse communities on the costs of carbon pollution and what can be done to solve the climate crisis.

Australia leads the world’s highest per capita carbon emissions (Image: Supplied/ Carbonworks)

ACF CEO Kelly O’Shanassy said that is the absence of government support to educate and train leaders on the urgency of climate change, her organization welcomes Gore’s project to Australia.

Australia is on the front line when it comes to climate change impacts, yet our national government is unravelling hard-won progress to price pollution and boost renewable energy. In the absence of government leadership on climate change, the people need to lead the way.

 

 

Blog Link: The Green Journal/ Asian Correspondent

Deutsche bank rebuffs Adani’s funding request

The Deutsche Bank of Germany announced it will not lend money to the Indian mining firm Adani Group to finance the development of Abbot Point Terminal I. The decision came after an AGM held on Thrusday.

We stress that we take the future of the Great Barrier Reef very seriously. We observe that there is no consensus between UNESCO and the Australian government regarding the expansion of Abbot Point. Since our guidance requires such a consensus as a minimum, we would not consider a financing request. – Deutsche Bank Group

Deutsche Bank Group convenes AGM 2014 (Photo: Deutsche Bank Group FB)

Adani is one of the last remaining investors standing for the port terminal, along with another Indian firm, GVK Group.

Other investors have long abandoned their stakes, including mining giants Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton, Lend Lease and Anglo American. Market and financial analysts said the multi-billion dollar investment is unfeasible due to the end of the mining boom, with the downward spiraling of coal market prices worldwide. Galilee Basin in northern Queensland, where coal will be extracted,is also extremely remote and without basic infrastructure.

Tony Brown, tour operator for the Whitsundays, speaks at the bank’s AGM 2014 (Photo: Market Forces)

Australian mining goddess Gina Rinehart, herself, sold most of her coal assets in 2011. GVK bought them.

But despite Indian interests, the project has been stalled for two years. Adani is required to complete all environmental approvals and then raise AU $8 billion of additional debt and equity financing, and hence allow construction to commence on the Carmichael coal, rail and port proposal. Read the scale and magnitude of funding HERE.

There are speculations that the two companies tried to sell their equity holdings. GVK allegedly offered Coal India Ltd, but was rebuffed due to its uncommercial value. Adani is also rumoured to have approached several Chinese firms, including China Railway Corp.

Early this month, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) warned investors it is too risky to invest in the project. Local banks which were appointed to finance the project include National Australia Bank, Commonwealth Bank, and Westpac Banking Corp- on top of a few other international banks.

Tim Buckley , director of Energy Finance Studies, Australasia for the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis said that India cannot afford the price of imported coal:

India’s perilous economic and financial situation creates further uncertainty for companies relying on its ability and willingness to import coal, with its associated implications for inflation, current account deficits, economic instability and energy security’.

He also said that “imported coal would require double the current price of India’s wholesale electricity, which categorically discredits the nonsense argument that it might alleviate India’s energy poverty.” Buckley has produced detailed reports on Adani and GVK.

Whitsundays tour operator Tony Brown joins the rally in Germany (Photo: Market Forces)

Various environmental and civic groups have written the Deutsche Bank not to lend Adani.  Australian-base civic groups also linked with their European counterparts to “pressure” the bank. Some travel operators in Queensland further travelled to Germany to join the rally.

At the end of the AGM on Thrusday, the bank released the Deutsche Bank’s Environmental and Social Reputational Risk Framework (ES Framework), which stipulates the bank’s  environmental and social due diligence as an integral part of the approval process for doing business.

One of the specific guidelines recently adopted addresses activities in the close proximity to World Heritage Sites. It precludes transactions within or in close proximity to World Heritage Site unless there is a prior consensus between the relevant Government and UNESCO that such operations will not adversely affect the Outstanding Universal Value of the Site. This implies that we would not consider a request to finance an expansion unless we had the assurance of both the government and UNESCO that it would not adversely affect the Value of the Site.

Read: Deutsch Bank official stand and UNESCO’s State of Conservation

Blog Link: The Green Journal/ Asian Correspondent

Queensland’s Newman declares “war” on native forests

What’s hot this week? Here’s to re-post Queensland’s new forest controversy:

The South East region of Queensland is home to a vast reserve of native forest providing a sanctuary for various kinds of flora and fauna. It is a bioregion known for its significant number of rare, threatened, and endemic species– the highest numbers of all regions assessed around Australia under the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) process.

QLD Premiere Campbell Newman (Photo: SBS)

The Queensland State Government has been highly commended for its conservation efforts marked by the historic South East Queensland (SEQ) Forestry Agreement signed  in 1999 to stop logging in protected areas. The pact protects an additional 425,000 hectares in the conservation reserve system. It also envisions that all logging activities on native forest on public land will cease by 2024. Within 25 years, the area of forest reserved in SEQ is expected to be more than one million hectares.

There has been a ceasefire from forest wars over the past 14 years. The forest remains undisturbed by commercial activities– until recently the Campbell Newman government stirred the hornet’s nest.
This week, conservationists uncovered a clandestine document (credits to Indymedia.org.au) signed by Agriculture Minister John Mc Veigh to re-open the protected areas for logging.

Greens Senator Larissa Waters warns logging will destroy koala habitat. (Photo: SMH)

Greens Senator Larissa Waters lambasted a leaked letter from Agriculture Department Director-General Jack Noye to National Parks Department Director-General John Glaister that says Agriculture Minister John McVeigh has approved the logging. The letter also notes that the proposed logging would be conducted without Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service approval for codes or harvest plans.

Green peace is under threat and if logging resumes, it will affect southeast Queensland, the western hardwoods area, cypress regions in the west, central Queensland and north Queensland—all habitats of threatened species.

The Glossy Black Cockatoo is now listed as “vulnerable” in SEQ. (Photo: Supplied)

A report from Daniel Burdon both published in the Sunshine Coast Daily and Gympie Times said McVeigh had offered new 25-year contracts to 14 licensed timber companies to log cypress forests across state forests in southern and central Queensland.

Rod McInnes, Timber Queensland CEO (sic), said the renewal of the sales permits was essentially guaranteeing a longer contract for companies which already have an allocated licence to log such areas.

“Anyone who’s already got a Crown Wood Allocation now simply has a 25-year sale guarantee for their allocation,” he said.

“That doesn’t actually change how much timber is logged in the cypress forests each year, just how long the contracts are.

“What I’d be expecting in the next few years, are that rather than each of the 14 companies keeping their contracts, they might sell them now they are long-term, and four or five bigger commercial operators will take those allocations on, through amalgamations.”

Greens Senator Larissa Waters blasted Queensland Premier Campbell Newman for orchestrating the move which she said was tantamount to initiating forest destruction. She noted the forests as an important habitat for vanishing species.

A survey of endangered species in the SEQ bioregion

Wilderness Society denounces the move

Wilderness Society National Director Lyndon Schneiders denounced the move saying, “This is a short-sighted and counterproductive decision by the Queensland Government that undermines past agreements between conservation groups and the timber industry.”

He called on the Newman Government to stop sending chainsaws into up to two million hectares of high conservation value forests throughout Queensland.

A timber industry spokesperson said the forest was used to be harvested for sustainable logging and shutting it down all these years had hurt badly the timber industry. The spokesperson added that the state needs to create more jobs.

The Wilderness Society said, “Timber imports and the high dollar are challenging enough for the industry without stoking a conflict that was resolved a decade ago.

“If logging occurs in these areas, Queensland timber will become synonymous with forest destruction. The market has little taste for wood sourced from native forest destruction, and the Queensland timber industry will lose markets.

“We understand access to existing hardwood plantations is a key issue. The Wilderness Society will work with key stakeholders, including SEQFA signatory Timber Queensland, to convince the Queensland Government to abandon this foolhardy path.”

Houn Valley Environment Centre decries forest destruction

Green activists denounces Ta Ann’s involvement in “forest destruction. (Photo: The Observer Tree)

Meanwhile, the Houn Valley Environment Centre continues to decry Tasmania’s “forest destruction.” The Centre expressed fears over the State Government’s permission to allow logging operations in a World Heritage nominated site to supply wood exports. The Centre has been contentious about the logging operation of Forestry Tasmania who supplies wood to Malaysian-based Ta Ann Group.

Centre spokesperson Jenny Weber said, “Ta Ann asserting that they won’t receive timber from the World Heritage nominated forests is one thing, but a commitment by Forestry Tasmania that they will not deliver wood from these coupes has not been officially announced. Until the guarantee that the timber from the proposed logging areas in the Huon district is given by Forestry Tasmania, the assertion by Ta Ann cannot be verified.”

Weber claimed Ta Ann had previously admitted that they have to take what Forestry Tasmania supplies them regardless where the wood products were sourced out.

Blog Link: Asian Correspondent

Guided tours to conservation properties in the southern hemisphere

Would you like to visit private conservation properties this spring?

Then join us for our ‘Spring into Nature’ events across Victoria, for guided walks through beautiful protected properties that are home to native plants and wildlife.

Starting from 15 September, there will be 17 “open days” across the state, giving you the chance to enjoy nature and talk to landowners and Trust for Nature staff about private land conservation. This will be a great opportunity to see wildflowers and threatened wildlife in their natural habitat. At one event, there will be a presentation on the Trust’s newly developed State-wide Conservation Plan. This is an opportunity to hear about our conservation direction for the future.

Click here to download the full list of properties and open days. If you would like to know more about a specific event, please get in touch with the contact listed under RSVP or call Trust for Nature on  (03) 8631 5888

This information is also on the Spring into Nature page of our website:  http://www.trustfornature.org.au/whats-new/spring-into-nature-2012/

Some properties have restricted numbers, so get in quickly to reserve your place and start planning some spring outings today!

Level 5/379 Collins Street, Melbourne, Victoria 3000 Australia

Ph: (03) 8631 5888 Fax: (03) 9614 6999 Freecall: 1800 99 99 33 trustfornature@tfn.org.au