Just prior to Christmas 2015, the state government released for public comment its ‘Embracing the Climate Challenge: Tasmania’s draft climate change action plan 2016-2021’ (Draft Plan). However, as the TCT’s submission pointed out, the Draft Plan has major blind spots when it comes to forestry, native forest clearing for agriculture, population increase and management of biodiversity.
Forestry and forest clearing
Upon release of the draft plan, Minister for the Environment Matthew Groom highlighted the fact that Tasmania had reached its legislated carbon emissions reduction target decades early (by 2013 we had reduced emissions by 90% below 1990 levels). The Draft Plan credits this result almost entirely to the reduction in the extent of forestry and forest clearing (and the subsequent increased carbon sequestration).
The Draft Plan also canvasses the possibility of Tasmania becoming a zero net carbon emitter. However, the plan includes no action on forestry and forest clearing, not even suggesting that the current rate of logging and clearing will be retained, let alone reduced. We are therefore left extremely concerned that this rate could increase again. For this reason, the TCT’s submission cast doubt on the government’s sincerity in regard to reducing carbon emissions.
It seems that the minister wants to make political gains from promoting Tasmania’s success at reducing its carbon emissions, while avoiding possible criticism from the forestry and agricultural industries. The government’s stance is doubly cynical given the failure of the plan to mention two important decisions it is soon to take, regarding forestry and clearing:
• to reduce carbon emissions through the current review of the Permanent Native Forest Estate Policy (the state’s native forest clearing policy)
• to reduce Forestry Tasmania’s scale of logging, to address non-compliance issues related to its application for Forest Stewardship Certification.
The Draft Plan makes the unsubstantiated claim that Tasmania has no major constraints to population expansion. The government’s population strategy aims to increase Tasmania’s population by another 150,000 people by 2050. Yet the draft plan gives no consideration to the emissions these people will produce. The plan was released before the current electricity crisis and predictably failed to address how future shortages could be averted with a growing population.
Furthermore, the Draft Plan states that Tasmania ‘does not have any shortages of land or water’ or ‘the same congestion issues that some cities in mainland Australia are facing’. Hobart’s recent traffic problems and Taswater’s $1 billionwater and sewerage upgrade program shows that we have a long way to go to provide essential services for the existing population, and that there are no plans to accept for an additional 150,000 people.
The TCT recommends that the government reviews its population target to determine a truly sustainable population for Tasmania. Population policy must take into account the impacts of climate change on our capacity to accommodate more people, and their consequential carbon emissions, including from building more houses, roads and other infrastructure and their likely consumption during their lifetime.
Managing natural values
The draft plan proposes no concrete actions to increase the resilience of biodiversity in a changing climate, proposing only that government provide information and advice for those who wish to do so.
The TCT made a series of recommendations to improve the resilience of natural values, including through:
- better management of the reserve system
- expansion of the reserve system, in particular in the marine environment and on private land, to provide better protection of poorly reserved values and those more vulnerable to climate change
- implementation of policies that restrict other key drivers of biodiversity loss or decline, in particular by ceasing broad-scale clearing and conversion of native forest
- a review of Tasmania’s fisheries management system to determine whether it is adequate for ensuring sustainable management in a changing climate
- establishment of a statutory requirement that all lakes used for electricity production are managed to maintain water levels within a range that ensures the maintenance of critical ecological values.
Reducing emissions from waste
While we support the commitment to review the Tasmanian Waste Management Strategy, the government must commit to some key waste management objectives that would assist with emissions reduction, such as:
- acknowledging that diversion of waste from landfill can reduce emissions, by diverting methane-producing compostable material and reducing demand for new materials
- supporting the need for landfill diversion targets and committing to a strategy to establish them
- supporting an increase in the landfill levy to fund greater investment in waste reuse, recycling and reprocessing.
The TCT questions the Draft Plan’s assumption that energy-efficiency in homes will result in a reduction in electricity consumption.
It is reasonable to suggest that owners of more energy-efficient appliances, for example, may increase their use of those appliances, negating any efficiency gain. For example, better heating and insulation may lead home owners to heat and occupy more of their house and for longer each day.
We recommended that research is needed to determine whether energy efficient systems in fact lead to lower electricity consumption and therefore a positive environmental outcome.
The TCT’s submission recommended a major revision of the Draft Plan, in particular addressing the major gaps identified in this article.
The TCT’s submission did not focus on the electricity crisis that has occurred over the last summer, other than addressing the environmental impacts of low lake levels. However, it is hoped that the state government responds to the enormous community concern that has resulted for the energy crisis. It should not just amend the Draft Plan and finalise it, but instead should release a revised version for further public comment. The government would be well advised to await the outcome of the planned inquiry into the energy crisis before revising its climate action.