Friends of the Earth Australia News from the May 2020 edition of our national magazine, Chain Reaction. www.foe.org.au/chain_reaction
Guardians of the Wet Tropics
The catastrophic bushfires in recent months and the untold impact on communities, wildlife and biodiversity highlights the need for local community-based actions that care for and protect the land. The failure of governments to appropriately address climate change and protect our precious environment has created space for communities to take powerful action that make a difference. Here in the Wet Tropics there are many such community-based initiatives.
Friends of the Earth Far North Queensland (FoE FNQ) are focused on the people working to protect and regenerate those lands on the edges of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. FoE FNQ are calling these people Guardians of the Wet Tropics and have commenced a project to link and support the initiatives of 'guardians'.
A CSIRO report of a 2013 regional conservation leaders workshop identified that "landholders have innovative land management actions and can implement changes quickly", recommending creating "opportunities for landholders to lead conservation innovation". The report further identified three requirements for successful community-based biodiversity conservation: (1) public participation & mobilisation, (2) social collaboration and (3) adaptive leadership and co-management.
These key findings shape the FoE FNQ Guardians project, which will link 'innovative' landholders with neighbours and First Nations people to identify and carry out projects addressing threats to biodiversity.
FoE FNQ is well placed to conduct the Guardians project. With a grassroots focus and a strong volunteer base we can work effectively for community engagement and mobilisation. FoE FNQ is connected with a range of individuals and community groups across the Wet Tropics and has a particular commitment to engage with First Nations people. Our priority is to build credibility, trust, long-term relationships and incentives to work together in finding practical, innovative solutions that appeal to landholders. The goal is a resilient and adaptive social-ecological system supported by science to create an ecological and social buffer for a changing environment.
If you want to get involved, please contact Ingrid Marker at FoE FNQ, 0438 688 229, [email protected]
Waste to energy
The Victorian Liberal party has come out in support of 'waste to energy'. This is a confusing issue for many people. It seems to promise renewable energy and a solution to the waste crisis. However, FoE Australia campaign Transform Waste is concerned that there are serious problems with waste to energy.
Our major concern is that it isn't "clean energy". In a report prepared for the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change, it is noted that burning waste doesn't cause it to disappear – 15-25% of the waste that goes in remains as ash at the end. The report further says that the incineration process produces highly toxic filter cake, which will need to be disposed of in hazardous waste landfill. In the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, researchers highlighted "significant risks associated with waste incineration as a form of waste management."
We're also worried that waste to energy will get in the way of better solutions. Our society relies on massive consumption of single use packaging and very low levels of recycling. Waste to energy gives us the impression we can keep on with business as usual, but we need to make massive changes in how we make, consume and re-use resources. We need to transition rapidly away from our reliance on mass production of waste into a 'closed loop' system with greatly enhanced resource recovery and effective recycling systems, better regulation to reduce the production of waste and stronger requirements around corporate responsibility.
More information: www.transformwaste.org.au
China and India dominate pesticide import breaches on food
Friends of the Earth campaigner Anthony Amis has written a report investigating breaches to Australian food import regulations between the years 2017‒19. The data was compiled from 'Monthly Failing Food Reports' produced by the Department of Agriculture.
The main findings include:
- There was a total of 400 pesticide detections at or above Maximum Residue Limits (MRLs), with a total of 47 different pesticides breaching MRLs.
- China was the country with the most pesticide breaches (148), followed by India (93), Vietnam (44) and Thailand (35).
- 201 of the pesticide breaches were insecticides, with 199 of the pesticides being fungicides. The most frequently used pesticide in the world, glyphosate, was not tested for.
- 132 companies transported food to Australia which breached pesticide MRLs.
- Food types with the most MRL breaches included jujube (Chinese dates) 69, red chilli 40, lychees 35, spinach 28, longan 17, okra 17, green chilli 14, and Indian flat beans 13.
- 235 of the pesticides (about 59% of the total) breaching MRLs are defined by the Pesticide Action Network as being "Bad Actors" ‒ pesticides known to be carcinogens, reproductive or developmental toxins, cholinesterase inhibitors, groundwater contaminants or pesticides with high acute toxicity.
The report is online at www.foe.org.au/china_and_india_dominate_pesticide_import_breaches_on_food
ANZ ‒ the largest financier of fossil fuel industries in Australia
Emilia Martin, a volunteer with FoE Melbourne, writes:
In November 2017, a number of NGOs in the Netherlands successfully brought the first climate change complaint before the Dutch National Contact Point (NCP). It was made against the ING bank for its investment in fossil fuel industries. The Dutch NCP in its final statement expressed the need for ING to steer its portfolio towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and ING committed to completely phase out investment in the coal industry by the end of 2025.
Inspired by this, early this year, Friends of the Earth Australia along with a number of bushfire victims brought a similar claim against the ANZ bank, the largest financier of fossil fuel industries in Australia. The basis of the claim is ANZ's breach of OECD Guidelines, a set of principles and standards for multinational enterprises. Australia is a signatory to the OECD Guidelines and the Australian NCP is the body responsible for hearing complaints in relation to corporations' alleged non-observance of the OECD Guidelines.
The OECD Guidelines require that businesses set their environmental targets in line with international standards. Thus the claim argues that the most current and relevant international standard is the Paris Agreement and as such ANZ must bring its environmental policies in line with the Agreement.
The Australian government is a signatory to the Paris Agreement but has not yet passed any legislation to implement the provisions of the Agreement into Australian law. ANZ has also publicly acknowledged the aims of the Paris Agreement to limit the increase in global average temperature to 1.5°C which requires a transition to net-zero emissions of greenhouse gases by mid-century.
The complaint demonstrates that while ANZ has publicly endorsed the Paris Agreement, its environmental policies contradict the bank's publicly stated commitment to the Agreement in a number of respects and that ANZ's overall conduct only reflects a partial commitment to the targets set out by the Agreement. For instance, ANZ remains the biggest financier of fossil fuels among the big four Australian banks at A$6.36 billion.
ANZ's financing of fossil fuel stands higher than the combined spending of National Australia Bank and Westpac. Furthermore, ANZ's exposure to coal mining increased 27% percent in 2018 and another 7% in the first half of 2019. In the same period, ANZ has only lent A$964 million to the renewable energy sector, which provides a ratio of 7.70:1 between fossil fuel and clean energy spending.
The complaint also raises the ANZ's lack of transparency in relation to its indirect greenhouse gas emissions and argues that this lack of transparency is misleading to consumers and prevents them from making informed decisions about whether or not to engage with the bank.
The complainants demand that ANZ honour their environmental commitments by bringing their policies in line with the Paris Agreement which means divesting from fossil fuels and fully and clearly disclosing their emissions. The complainants also raise the insufficiencies of Australia's current legislative framework which provides a particularly low standard in relation to calculation of emissions and has failed to implement any domestic legislation to implement the Paris Agreement provisions in Australia.
The complaint is online at tinyurl.com/anz-complaint
Koala crisis in south-west Victoria only just beginning
13 Feb 2020: A recent visit to South West Victoria has deeply troubled Friends of the Earth. Perhaps the most haunting image of the crisis facing koalas in the region was a mother and baby holding on to a dead bluegum plantation tree, as Wedge Tail Eagles circled overhead. Thousands of similar scenarios are playing out across the region. The plantation in question had been logged about one year ago.
Last week's discovery of hundreds of dead and starving koalas near Portland is likely to be repeated across the region. Tens of thousands of hectares of retired bluegum plantations are currently being converted back to farmland across the region. The culprits of last week's koala massacre may not be the only landholders in the region responsible for koala deaths. Bluegum plantation companies generally leave a very small proportion of their plantation as habitat trees. This isn't always the case with private landholders, who have also been observed poisoning thousands of coppicing bluegum trees.
The koala population has exploded since the planting of 170,000 hectares of bluegum plantations since the mid-1990s. Almost every bluegum plantation visited by Friends of the Earth over the past couple of days had signs of koala skats and the animals themselves. Tens of thousands of animals are likely to be populating bluegum plantations, with many animals remaining after the logging is completed. Remnant isolated clumps of bluegums may be the only remaining habitat after a plantation is clearfelled. Friends of the Earth has been warning about this crisis since 2014 and has been alarmed at the explosion of bluegum plantations across of the region since the 1990's.
Remnant vegetation along roadsides near plantations and in the plantations themselves appears to be dying due to overbrowsing by koalas. The recent koala disaster in 2015 at Cape Otway where hundreds of translocated koalas had to be euthanased due to overbrowsing could be repeated across a much larger landscape of south-west Victoria in the near future. The Victoria Government needs to come up with an action plan immediately to stop untold suffering to thousands of animals. The major causes of the problem are translocated koala populations, and planting of 170,000 hectares of koala feed in the form of bluegum plantations.
Please sign the petition at www.melbournefoe.org.au/koala
Strzelecki Koala Action Team, www.melbournefoe.org.au/skat
KUR-World is KURputt!
Stopping this mega resort, planned in the ecologically sensitive Myola valley close to Kuranda near Cairns in Far North Queensland, was a great win for the Kuranda community. The campaign was a huge team effort spearheaded by local community group KUR-Alert and supported by Friends of the Earth Far North Queensland together with other community, environmental and land care groups in the region. Thank you to everyone who put in submissions about KUR-World and for the technical and logistical support from FoE Australia.
Thousands of submissions were sent to the Queensland Coordinator General ‒ including from international environmental groups such as the Forests and Biodiversity team in FoE International. This is a great win but the fight is not over: the developer has been given permission by the local council for a subdivision on this land. The Kuranda community continue to look for ways to stop this happening and so protect the habitat of the irreplaceable wildlife in this area.
Beyond Coal Alliance launched
Coal power generation is the single largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in Australia. Retiring every coal-burning power station over the next decade ‒ and replacing them with clean energy generation and storage ‒ is one of the most effective ways for Australia to reduce greenhouse emissions. That's why Friends of the Earth Australia has joined together with six other community-based groups to launch the Beyond Coal campaign.
The Australia Beyond Coal alliance member groups represent more than one and a half million Australians. The mission is to empower everyday people with information about the risks of coal-burning power stations, and urge governments and businesses to work with communities on developing a plan for the accelerating transformation in our energy market.
More information: www.beyondcoal.org.au
Food for bushfire affected wildlife
Friends of the Earth Melbourne is working on a mutual aid project to help wildlife and support locals in bushfire affected areas. There's plenty of ways to help out and we're looking for anyone who can help either on a regular or one-off basis. We're currently looking for drivers, nest-box installers, wildlife feeders and also people to source food. This is a great opportunity to help those who have been affected by the bushfires, and to build relationships that can hopefully continue to grow into the future and be drawn upon if need be! To get involved visit FoE's Food for Wildlife page www.melbournefoe.org.au/ffw_melbourne or email [email protected]
Click and collect with FoE Melbourne's Food Co-op & Café
The Food Co-op and Cafe is a not-for-profit social enterprise. That means every cent you spend in-store or donate goes right back into keeping us running and supports the environmental campaigns at Friends of the Earth. The FoE Food Coop team continues to provide healthy, affordable food during the COVID-19 crisis, and is open for bulk food shopping and takeaway, with hygiene protocols in place. Visit www.foefood.org
In a hugely disappointing turn of events, the Victorian Andrews Government made the decision to end the hard-won moratorium on conventional onshore gas mining and exploration. The moratorium was achieved by the same huge, community-powered campaign that won the ban on unconventional gas mining (fracking), recently legislated. Due to the announcement coming hot on the tail of the federal government's ban on events of over 500 people, a "conventional" rally was not the answer. Instead, we called a digital rally, calling on supporters of the moratorium to post a selfie with their placard on social media. Click here to find out more and join the e-rally: www.melbournefoe.org.au/snap_action_fossil_fuels_vic
In a new booklet released ahead of International Women's Day in March, Friends of the Earth International explain the key concepts that help us talk about, understand, analyse and strategise within this area of work. It is the result of three years of collective work, with the contributions and analysis of the Gender Justice Dismantling Patriarchy Working Group of Friends of the Earth International, together with national member groups, regions and international structures.
With reflections and stories from different regions, the booklet shows how gender inequality and injustice impact women in our organisations and how patriarchy interlinks with other systemic oppressions – racism, capitalism, class oppression, neocolonialism, heteronormativity – to structure our societies to the benefit of certain social groups.
We hope this booklet will be a useful and accessible tool for capacity-building, training and political formation. It includes practical ideas for strengthening gender justice, challenging power relations and dismantling patriarchy in your work and organisation.
The booklet ‒ titled Why Gender Justice and Dismantling Patriarchy? ‒ is online at tinyurl.com/smash-patriarchy
Uranium in NT drinking water
For several years, Friends of the Earth Australia has been investigating water quality data, from water authorities across the country, with the goal of better understanding which communities are at most risk from drinking water and what substances are regarded as being the most commonly detected in terms of potential health outcomes. The initial results of the work are online at https://water.australianmap.net
One of the concerns arising from this work is that a number of communities in the Northern Territory are consuming drinking water with elevated levels of naturally-occurring uranium. The communities most impacted appear to include Laramba, Wilora, Willowra and Kings Canyon. The combined population of these four communities is about 1,100 people.
Ideally, alternative sources of water need to be located and water treatment options provided by the NT government. As a short-term measure, water could be trucked into the communities at most risk and stored in water tanks, where community members could access water.
Please email NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner and express your concerns about people being exposed to unsafe levels of uranium in drinking water. There's an email template at this webpage: www.foe.org.au/uranium_free_water
Adelaide Green Cities Handbook
The original Green Cities Handbook was first published in 1991 by Friends of the Earth as a discussion starter on how we might change cities to be better for people and the environment. It was published a year before the Ecocity 2 conference held in Adelaide, and was inspired by ideas from Peter Berg (Planet Drum Foundation), Richard Register (from Urban Ecology in the US, convenor of the first ecocity conference), and Peter Newman, who identified the benefits of a low energy, car-free city.
Paul Downton, architect of Christie Walk, a fragment of eco-city, was involved with the Green Cities Project team, comprised of students from the Mawson Graduate Centre of Environmental Studies at the Uni of Adelaide.
The Handbook has been out of print for the past two decades, and the only copies available were photocopies of photocopies. Friends of the Earth Adelaide decided to reprint the original, as a start to revising and updating the handbook for the new millennium. We scanned the original copies, OCRed the scans, then edited and corrected the resultant text. Some things have changed since it was published, but a lot of the information in the Handbook is still relevant.
We invite you to check out the original, and share your thoughts on how we might improve and update it. FoE Adelaide will be holding a number of workshops to discuss the update: let us know if you're interested in getting involved.
The Green Cities Handbook is online at adelaide.foe.org.au/greencities
Super funds still destroying the planet
23 April 2020: Major super funds in Australia are continuing to vote against the majority of shareholder proposals that would improve companies' climate risk management. By investing our retirement savings in company shares, super funds get a say in how those companies are run. The latest analysis by Friends of the Earth affiliate Market Forces shows 10 of the largest super funds in Australia supported just 38% of the climate resolutions they voted on at Australian and international companies throughout 2019. Just three of the 10 funds supported more than half of the resolutions, while four funds voted for a quarter or less.
Earlier this year, Market Forces hit a major milestone with over 10,000 UniSuper members signing the open letter calling on the fund to divest from coal, oil and gas companies. Market Forces made sure the campaign received the exposure it deserves by publishing the open letter as a full-page ad in the Australian Financial Review and there was media coverage in the Sydney Morning Herald, Yahoo Finance, Bloomberg and Financial Standard.
Read more about Market Forces' work at www.marketforces.org.au