ICYMI – eco news round up, 30 November 2019

Australian national airline announces ambitious sustainability plan

Australian national airline Qantas, which flew its first zero-waste flight earlier this year in May, has outlined its plan to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. This makes the company the first Australian airline to commit to a net-zero emissions target.

Qantas revealed they will take immediate measures to work towards their goal, which involves investing 50 million dollars over the course of ten years into a sustainable aviation fuel industry.

CEO of the airline, Alan Joyce, said the announcement was “ambitious but achievable”, reflecting Qantas’ ongoing commitment to curbing climate change. “We’re effectively doubling our carbon offsetting program from today and we’re capping our net emissions across Qantas and Jetstar from 2020 so that all new flying will be carbon neutral.”

The airline has committed to collaborating with governments and other various other organisations to reduce carbon emissions. “Qantas will work with industry, research institutions and governments to develop the long-term solutions to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the aviation industry over the next three decades,” said the company in a statement.

Australia needs policy to deal with the effects of climate change

Labor’s health spokesman, Chris Bowen, says Australia needs to develop policies and structures to prepare for the health impacts of climate change because the country is not moving quickly enough, domestically or internationally, to reduce emissions and mitigate the risk.

Bowen claims what is missing from the public debate in Australia is an understanding that climate change isn’t just about extreme weather events, but also threatens our food supply, economy, security and health. In a copy of a lecture he prepared for Sydney University, he writes “As some have put it, climate change is so dangerous to health that it threatens to unwind 50 years of progress in improving public health outcomes, as well as adaptation to already unavoidable impacts from climate change.”

In September, the Australian Medical Association formally declared climate change a health emergency, pointing to “clear scientific evidence indicating severe impacts for our patients and communities now and into the future.” It’s therefore not surprising that Bowen argues Australia needs to “set out a road map for dealing with it.”

From Alaska to Australia, anxious observers fear mass shearwater deaths

Migratory short-tailed shearwaters are Australia’s most numerous sea-bird, but washed-up carcasses, late arrivals and low numbers are worrying conservationists.

In July, residents around the Bristol Bay area of Alaska found thousands of dead short-tailed shearwaters washing up on remote beaches. “We collected about 100 birds for testing and they didn’t test positive for any diseases or toxins,” says Dr Kathy Kuletz of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. “They were severely emaciated. The birds had starved.”

Two months later, it emerged that the shearwaters had arrived extremely late to the south-east of the continent, where they migrate to, and in lower numbers than usual. Kuletz says the most likely cause of the deaths and change in migration patterns is the unusually warm ocean temperatures, caused by global warming.

Sean Dooley of BirdLife Australia fears for the seabird’s future, saying “If they don’t do well this year, then are we going to go from probably the most common sea-bird, to something that’s rare, in the space of a couple of generations. I’m very, very concerned.”

Australia’s science academy attacks ‘cherrypicking’ of Great Barrier Reef research

The Australian Academy of Science has told a Senate inquiry into the reliability of Great Barrier Reef Science that it is “greatly concerned” over a trend to cherrypick and misrepresent scientific evidence.

The inquiry is looking at the evidence linking pollution from farm runoff to degradation of the reef. This comes after a controversial speaking tour by scientist Dr Peter Ridd, who disputes that humans are causing climate change, argues mass coral bleaching on the reef is natural and claims the reef is not being damaged by farm pollution.

In his submission to a Senate inquiry, President of the Academy, Professor John Shine, wrote: “The Australian Academy of Science is greatly concerned about a recent tendency to ‘cherrypick’, dismiss, misrepresent, or obscure scientific evidence or smear individual scientists.”

“A commonly used tactic in opposing or advocating for policy positions is to ‘cherrypick’ scientific findings rather than consulting and analysing the body of literature systematically.” Shine added that cherrypicking evidence is “dangerous” and will only lead to “poor outcomes.”

Koala factcheck: have the Australian bushfires put survival of the species at stake?

Concerns over Koalas have skyrocketed as hundreds of koalas were killed and millions of hectares of their habitat destroyed in the bushfires that have swept across parts of Australia this month. Forbes magazine has rendered the species “functionally extinct”, while other overseas publications, such as the Daily Mail and news.com.au, have expressed the same concern. However, the claim has been criticised by koala experts and science commentators for overstating the threat.

So, what do we believe?

Technically, koalas are not functionally extinct. Stuart Blanch from WWF Australia says, “Generally animals that are considered to be functionally extinct are down to a few hundred, or dozens, like the Sumatran rhinoceros. For koala populations, there are disputes about how many are on the east coast, but the best evidence we have is 15,000 to 28,000 koalas in New South Wales.”

Reports on the impact of the bushfires on koalas are also varied. “I have seen estimates as to how many koalas have been killed, but I don’t think anybody knows. Or how much habitat has been burnt,” Blanch says.

However, one guarantee is the huge threat climate change poses to the animals. James Tremain, a spokesman for the NSW Nature Conservation Council, says koala decline has been happening “slowly and silently”. “Koala numbers have plunged over the past 20 years and if we don’t turn the trend around they won’t be ‘functionally extinct’, they will be actually extinct,” he warns.

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