Topics: Paris climate summit, Great Barrier Reef, Blue Carbon
Well I want to welcome everybody to Oceans Day at COP21. As part of Australia’s contribution to Oceans Day there are really three things I'd like to announce and address briefly.
First is that under the Reef Trust we are announcing and releasing the investment strategy for stage three. That will be an overall allocation of $58 million.
So the Australian Government is today announcing the release of $58 million for investment in reef water quality and coastal protection.
The second thing is the progress on the Blue Carbon partnership which Australia and the IUCN are developing.
And the third is the work that we are doing with the IPCC in relation to Blue Carbon accounting and recognition.
With regards to the Reef Trust I'm absolutely thrilled were going to have Russell Reichelt here, who of course is the head of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, and also to acknowledge the presence of Fanny Douvere, who is the oceans expert at the World Heritage Committee and has played an incredible role in the secretariat there at the centre.
So let me say this – there are three areas on which we'll focus with regards to the $56 million of the $58 million under the Reef Trust allocation plan.
The first is with regards to reduced erosion and increased erosion control. So we are reducing gullies, we are increasing erosion control, we are making funds available in particular for remediation and mitigation of damage that may come through grazing practices.
We're working with the farm community – it only works by working with the farm community. We have specifically set up under the Reef Trust a partnership with the farming, grazing and cane communities, and so I thank them for their work.
Secondly we will be reducing runoff from cane farming practices, again only with the consent and voluntary participation of the farming community, but we already have extremely strong signs and extremely strong participation.
I met with cane farmers myself in Cairns very recently, and they were enthusiastic and engaged, and they have specifically been incorporated into the design and the work of both the Reef Trust, but also the Tropical Water Quality Hub. And so they are doing a tremendous job.
The third area for investment under the water quality improvement is in relation to ensuring a decreasing sediment, nutrient, and pesticide runoff from our grains industry, and for other associated elements – with relation to dairy and horticulture.
So together this allows us to be on track, to meet and beat our water quality targets that are enshrined in our Reef 2050 Plan – and the work that we are doing with the World Heritage Centre and the World Heritage Committee.
I know that the current chair of the World Heritage Committee, Minister Maria Böhmer from Germany, recently visited the reef and was extremely impressed and enthusiastic about the work of Russell and his team, the farm community, and the scientists.
We've set up a financial panel, and we've set up a community panel and a scientific panel. And so between the three there is very strong advice and support for the work of the Reef Trust.
The last thing I want to do is announce that there's a $2 million partnership for restoring coastal wetlands, that is with Greening Australia, and they will be helping to lead that process. And these are for practical coastal wetland restoration projects, effectively operating as the cleansing system for the reef.
The net goal here is to continue reducing sediment, nitrogen, and pesticides. We've seen significant progress today, but working with the Queensland Government, and successive Queensland Governments, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, the scientists, the communities – particularly Indigenous communities, and many others – we will be able to achieve these goals.
The second broad element that I want to address is in relation to the Blue Carbon partnership. We launched the Blue Carbon partnership at the recent discussion on Blue Carbon – the Blue Carbon panel here at COP21.
The IUCN is deeply engaged, along with the International Oceanographic Commission, and other international environment organisations.
So we will be working to help ensure that there is better monitoring and verification of Blue Carbon opportunities and stores, and by that I mean mangroves, salt bush or salt marsh, and seagrass.
And then secondly that there are protection and rehabilitation programs which are assisted throughout the Asia-Pacific region. And in particular you can imagine that this would be a project, or a type of project, that would fall in the remit that the Prime Minister announced with our $1 billion commitment on Monday. Also the work of the Global Environment Facility, and I discussed that with the executive director yesterday, and also the work of the Green Climate Fund, and Australia is co-chair, and this is particularly something where there could be significant carbon abatement opportunities.
That then leads me to the third announcement and that is that Australia has met with, and I met with today, Professor Lee Hoesung, the chair of the IPCC, to cooperate with and encourage the IPCC to prepare a special report on Blue Carbon stocks, both in terms of as sources of emissions, and sinks for emissions.
And I'll work constructively, and we will work constructively, with the IPCC – they will go through their processes to determine whether that’s something they will do, but I think it’s something which Australia is working on now with the IUCN and the International Oceanographic Commission, and also encouraging the IPCC to do.
So Russell if you wanted to say something briefly about the Reef Trust, then we'll open up for questions on the Reef Trust and anything else after that.
Thank you Minister. I'd just like to assure you that the work that the Reef Trust is doing is fundamentally important to the Great Barrier Reef and its future.
It's an innovative finance mechanism. In my 40 years of working with the Great Barrier Reef in one way or another, this is the most exciting long term thinking that I've seen put in place to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
The Long Term Sustainability Plan – we call it the Reef 2050 Plan – that the Australian Government has put in place in partnership with all of the other governments and stakeholders – includes mechanisms to improve water quality, the Reef Trust is the way that that is being funded.
And so it's terrifically important, and I thank you Minister for the innovation and the initiative to actually back the Reef 2050 Plan with such an exciting funding mechanism. Thank you.
So with that I am delighted to officially launch the Reef Trust Investment Strategy phase three, accompanied by the release of $58 million. Alright, happy to take any questions. Peter?
Peter Hannam from the Herald. Just one question about the IPCC. In your meetings today, does Australia support an IPCC special report into the sub 1.5 degrees – what that would be – I understand the small island nations are quite keen on that.
That is something that would be constructive, and we have also raised that with the IPCC as a potential area of study for them.
So Australian would support that?
So this is about the analysis that needs to be done. Our mandate is obviously very clear. But in terms of the analysis, that is something that we have encouraged the IPCC to consider as a constructive element to working towards overall Paris agreement.
Thanks. And in relation to the ratification of Kyoto Protocol second stage, is that…
I did read something on this…
Now, I understand obviously the talks are still going on, and there's optimism that there will be a resolution perhaps by the end of today.
But can I just clarify that the lack of clarity can account to was one of the reasons that Australia had held off ratification previously, and if the definition were to be – that excluded deforestation from emissions, would that be a red line for Australia would be unacceptable to some?
Well let me deal with this, and I want to be very clear. The Prime Minister was categorical that we would ratify Kyoto.
I am categorical that we will ratify Kyoto.
Australia will ratify the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, full stop. There's no question or doubt about that.
Alright, others? Lenore?
Yes, two questions. What exactly is it that we partner with IPCC to do on Blue Carbon accounting, and what end do we want that to serve?
And secondly, the latest Pitt and Sherry data show emissions – overall emissions in Australia and emissions from fossil fuel – rising. When do you think the emissions from fossil fuel generation in Australia will start coming down?
Sure. Well let me deal firstly with Blue Carbon. So what we've encouraged the IPCC to do is to conduct what's called a special report on Blue Carbon stocks and then its role as a potential source of emissions, if there is clearing or destruction of mangroves, seagrass and salt bush, or as a potential sink for emissions.
And there's a great deal of preliminary work which has been going on the extraordinary CO2 reduction capabilities, as well as the impact on reducing ocean acidification, as well as the biodiversity effect of enhancing mangroves, enhancing sea grass and enhancing salt bush.
So what we have gently encouraged the IPCC to do is to consider a special report on Blue Carbon. One of the things that is emerging out of this conference, I think more than any other COP of which I am aware, is there is naturally and rightly a focus on reducing the emissions that go up from industrial activity and energy activity.
Secondly, there is now I think a greater focus still on what the chair of the IPCC described to me as the carbon cycle – and that is the bringing of emissions down through land sector, landscape and also through the work of the oceans and their role as stores of Blue Carbon.
Now, the second question – okay, so I haven't seen that report, I apologise. But what I can refer to is the last quarterly inventory from the Department of the Environment showed that we had the lowest quarterly net emissions for Australia in over a decade.
And I can also refer to the fact that we released our update on our national projections in relation to the pre-Paris position, and that showed last week categorically that we're going to meet and beat our targets.
So we've actually just had our lowest quarterly emissions since – in over a decade.
And those are the official national figures, and I don't think they'd be disputed by anybody.
Yeah just as a follow on to that question – isn't it important though for the Australian economy to decarbonise in part from the industrial economy?
I understand that there's offsets and forestry credits et cetera, but if industrial emissions, electricity emissions continue to rise, won't that ultimately make the economy uncompetitive?
So I think the critical thing for the country is meeting our targets of reducing our overall emissions.
And the evidence from last week was clear and categorical, and it was, I would say, conservative estimates. So it is likely that we will see potentially further write downs or reductions in our emissions projections going forward, but we have taken the worst-case scenario in preparing our projections in terms of emissions.
And again and again, what we've seen is progressive reductions in Australia's forward projections. So I don't expect that that pattern will change, I think that we are now currently on track to a minus 28 million tonne outcome for the period out to 2020, so for the second Kyoto period.
I think that we are likely to do better. But of course we'll wait and see how that goes, but the evidence is strong that we have taken conservative estimates.
So what matters for the country is that we achieve our targets, and what matters for the planet is the overall net balance of emissions.
And the latest figures, both from the Department with regards to the quarterly inventory, and from the Department – and the affirmation from the Climate Change Authority – that we are going to meet and beat our 2020 targets, are clear and absolute.
Yesterday, James Hanson and a number of other really eminent scientists were saying that renewable energy alone would not be enough to reduce carbon emissions in time even to keep within the two degree temperature goal.
Obviously Australia is having this sort of discussion via the South Australia Royal Commission at the moment, but what those scientists were saying is that we should really be funding new nuclear technologies which can be rolled out more quickly, and also which can reduce the waste issue by burning fuel that would traditionally be waste.
Would the Government consider funding research into those sorts of advanced nuclear technologies with a view to keeping an eye on whether that might be an option we consider in the future?
Look, the world needs all of the different sources of emissions reductions they can find. Other countries are involved in nuclear generation, obviously Australia is not.
It's not something that is on our agenda at this point in time, and I'll let the South Australian Royal Commission run its course.
I understand the South Australian Premier and a very large delegation will be here in the coming days, and so I'll let you approach the South Australian Premier on that particular question.
Minister Hunt, the G77 have made a couple of statements in different formats in the past few days saying that any push to increase the donor base for financing is effectively a red line for them here at these negotiations.
I understand Australia is one of a handful of developed countries that are pushing hard the other way with language around this. Is that a red line for Australia? Would Australia – does Australia insist on expanding the donor base for financing?
And just a second question. I also understand Australia is one of the group of three countries, Canada and the US as well, that pushed against that language around developed countries taking the lead on emissions cuts. Is that correct, and why are we taking that position, and thirdly is that a red line as well?
Sure. Let me start on both the issues of financing and emissions cuts and make these points. On financing we're being very constructive. And our goal is to make sure that financing is included in the final agreement.
We welcome the report of the OECD, I will let them speak to their own report, I won't try to parse or analyse their report or their circumstances, but I think that was an extremely important contribution.
I'm not going to go into our specific details here because there is a negotiation, and that negotiation is ongoing. But clearly we are being very, very constructive on that front and in these negotiations, and that applies also to the issue of emissions reductions.
The nature of the INDCs is that over 180 countries have put forward their emissions reductions, and I think that process is working very well.
It won't get us of and in itself to the two degrees, but that's why we have supported the concept of a review process, so as Paris produces a process that achieves the two degrees.
Alright. I thank you very much, and we'll catch up with you later.