Australian news, and some related international items

Mirrar people at last have control of Jabiru, as Ranger uranium mining set to end operations

   Traditional owners regain control of Jabiru as historic land rights law passes Senate Natasha Emeck, NT News, 3 Sept 20 HISTORIC land rights legislation that will allow the traditional owners of Jabiru to regain control of their township has passed through the Senate.

Amendments to Aboriginal land rights laws passed through the upper house of federal parliament pm Thursday, returning the ownership of Jabiru to the Mirarr people and allowing for a long-term township lease.

The mining town was built in 1982 to service the Ranger uranium mine, which will cease operation in January 2021, heralding a new era for the town and surrounding Kakadu National Park.

Senator Malarndirri McCarthy said today’s historic moment had been a “long time coming” for the Mirarr people, who had been campaigning for this for 20 years.

Senior Mirarr traditional owner and Kakadu resident Yvonne Margarula, pictured in Kakadu National Park.

Mirarr senior traditional owner Yvonne Margarula said her people were glad to see the legal changes finally happen.

They are essential to ensuring the vibrant post-mining future of Jabiru and the Kakadu region that Mirarr have been planning for,” she said.

We look forward to welcoming visitors from all around the world to our beautiful country.”

Gundjeihmi Aboriginal Corporation, who represents the Mirarr traditional owners, have crafted a masterplan to turn Jabiru into an Indigenous-led tourism and services town.

This bipartisan change to the legislation is an essential step to correct the historical exclusion of the town of Jabiru from Aboriginal ownership and allow Mirarr to take the legal control they need to enact their vision,” chief executive Justin O’Brien said.


September 3, 2020 Posted by | aboriginal issues, Northern Territory, uranium | Leave a comment

Renewable energy can save the natural world – but if we’re not careful, it will also hurt it

Renewable energy can save the natural world – but if we’re not careful, it will also hurt it
 September 2, 2020    Laura Sonter, Lecturer in Environmental Management, The University of Queensland, James Watson, Professor, The University of Queensland, Richard K Valenta, Director – WH Bryan Mining and Geology Research Centre – The Sustainable Minerals Institute, The University of Queensland

A vast transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is crucial to slowing climate change. But building solar panels, wind turbines and other renewable energy infrastructure requires mining for materials. If not done responsibly, this may damage species and ecosystems.

In our research, published today, we mapped the world’s potential mining areas and assessed how they overlap with biodiversity conservation sites.

We found renewable energy production will exacerbate the threat mining poses to biodiversity – the world’s variety of animals and plants. It’s fair to assume that in some places, the extraction of renewables minerals may cause more damage to nature than the climate change it averts.

Australia is well placed to become a leader in mining of renewable energy materials and drive the push to a low-carbon world. But we must act now to protect our biodiversity from being harmed in the process.

Mining to prevent climate change

Currently, about 17% of current global energy consumption is achieved through renewable energy. To further reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this proportion must rapidly increase.

Building new renewable energy infrastructure will involve mining minerals and metals. Some of these include:

  • lithium, graphite and cobalt (mostly used in battery storage)
  • zinc and titanium (used mostly for wind and geothermal energy)
  • copper, nickle and aluminium (used in a range of renewable energy technologies).

The World Bank estimates the production of such materials could increase by 500% by 2050. It says more than 3 billion tonnes of minerals and metals will be needed to build the wind, solar and geothermal power, and energy storage, needed to keep global warming below 2℃ this century.

However, mining can seriously damage species and places. It destroys natural habitat, and surrounding environments can be harmed by the construction of transport infrastructure such as roads and railways.

What we found

We mapped areas around the world potentially affected by mining. Our analysis involved 62,381 pre-operational, operational, and closed mines targeting 40 different materials.

We found mining may influence about 50 million km² of Earth’s land surface (or 37%, excluding Antarctica). Some 82% of these areas contain materials needed for renewable energy production. Of this, 12% overlaps with protected areas, 7% with “key biodiversity areas”, and 14% with remaining wilderness.

Our results suggest mining of renewable energy materials may increase in currently untouched and “biodiverse” places. These areas are considered critical to helping species overcome the challenges of climate change.

Threats here and abroad

Australia is well positioned to become a leading supplier of materials for renewable energy. We are also one of only 17 nations considered ecologically “megadiverse”.

Yet, many of the minerals needed for renewable energy exist in important conservation areas.

For example, Australia is rich in lithium and already accounts for half of world productionHard-rock lithium mines operate in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

This area has also been identified as a national biodiversity hotspot and is home to many native species. These include small marsupials such as the little red antechinus and the pebble-mound mouse, and reptiles including gecko and goanna species.

Australia is also ranked sixth in the world for deposits of rare earth elements, many of which are needed to produce magnets for wind turbines. We also have large resources of other renewables materials such as cobalt, manganese, tantalum, tungsten and zirconium.

It’s critical that mining doesn’t damage Australia’s already vulnerable biodiversity, and harm the natural places valued by Indigenous people and other communities.

In many cases, renewables minerals are found in countries where the resource sector is not strongly regulated, posing an even greater environmental threat. For example, the world’s second-largest untouched lithium reserve exists in Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni salt pan. This naturally diverse area is mostly untouched by mining.

The renewables expansion will also require iron and steel. To date, mining for iron in Brazil has almost wiped out an entire plant community, and recent dam failures devastated the environment and communities.

We need proactive planning

Strong planning and conservation action is needed to avoid, manage and prevent the harm mining causes to the environment. However global conservation efforts are often naive to the threats posed by significant growth in renewable energies.

Some protected areas around the world prevent mining, but more than 14% contain metal mines in or near their boundaries. Consequences for biodiversity may extend many kilometres from mining sites.

Meanwhile, other areas increasingly important for conservation are focused on the needs of biodiversity, and don’t consider the distribution of mineral resources and pressures to extract them. Conservation plans for these sites must involve strategies to manage the mining threat.

There is some good news. Our analyses suggest many required materials occur outside protected areas and other conservation priorities. The challenge now is to identify which species are most at risk from current and future mining development, and develop strong policies to avoid their loss.

September 3, 2020 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, energy | Leave a comment

Murray-Darling River system; mysterious loss of more than 2 trillion litres of water

The mystery of the Murray-Darling’s vanishing flows, ABC By national science, technology and environment reporter Michael SlezakMark DomanKatia Shatoba, Penny Timms and Alex Palmer 3 Sep 2020

It might be the biggest whodunnit — or what-dunnit — in Australia.

More than 2 trillion litres of water — enough to fill Sydney Harbour four and a half times — has gone missing from our largest and most precious river system — the Murray-Darling Basin.

And it’s happened in what was already one of the driest periods the basin has seen.

According to an investigation by some of Australia’s top water scientists, shared exclusively with the ABC, 20 per cent of the water expected to flow down the rivers from 2012-2019 was simply not there. That’s despite almost $7 billion being spent to protect the health of the system’s rivers and ecosystems that rely on them.

Was it stolen? Was it lost? Has climate change made it go up in steam? Or was it simply never there in the first place?

There are clues scattered up and down the rivers but one simple message is clear in the scientists’ findings. For the first time, they provide evidence that the Murray-Darling Basin Plan — the most expensive environmental program in Australia’s history — is delivering much less water than was expected.

And the implications could be huge……. EXCELLENT INTERACTIVE GRAPHICS HERE

…..“It’s a huge discrepancy to be missing a fifth of the water that’s meant to be in the rivers,” said Jamie Pittock from the ANU. He’s an expert in water management and a co-author of the Wentworth Group’s report.

“It means that there are all sorts of things that Australians value that won’t be sustained … like more water for towns … the floodplains, growing grass for sheep and cattle, in terms of biodiversity being conserved, waterbirds, red gum forests and conserving our fish.”…………

there are clues. Lots of them. We’ve seen water go missing up and down the river with clear explanations before. And looking closely at the new report, many of those explanations are consistent with the new data.

Clue one: tampered meters and criminal prosecutions

One possible explanation for the shortfall is that some of the missing water has been stolen.

An investigation by Four Corners in 2017 put water theft in the spotlight — much of it around the Barwon-Darling catchment in the Northern Basin.

Irrigators there, according to official figures, use 3 per cent of all the water taken from the entire Murray-Darling Basin.

But on top of those official figures, there has been significantly more water taken in that area. The Murray-Darling Basin Authority itself estimated that in the Northern Basin, as little as 25 per cent of surface water take has been metered.

Some of the water that went unmetered was stolen.

Peter Harris, who was named in the 2017 Four Corners, was this year found guilty of water theft just upstream from those gauges at Brewarrina.

Anthony Barlow, another person named in the program, was found guilty and fined $190,000, for water theft just upstream again.

Since the Natural Resources Access Regulator (NRAR) was formed in NSW in 2018, 15 additional charges have been laid in these locations across the state for water theft and related actions, according to an NRAR spokeswoman.

Emma Carmody, a lawyer at the Environmental Defenders’ Office, said the criminal prosecutions do not represent how widespread water theft has been.

“I’d actually go so far as to say that this situation pre-2018 was catastrophically bad in those northern catchments in relation to compliance and enforcement,” Dr Carmody said………..

Clue two: shadow take

Travel further upstream along the Macquarie River towards Dubbo, and you land in the internationally protected wetlands of the Macquarie Marshes………

In a landscape so flat, structures like roads, engineered channels and small levee banks can divert staggering volumes of floodwater — potentially shepherding it across a farmer’s fields where it is left to soak into the ground, or even pumped into dams.

This water taken by irrigators and graziers from the floodplains — rather than from the rivers — has hardly ever been measured.

Using satellite imagery, flood paths appear guided by seemingly innocuous structures, or completely cut off by others.

Richard Kingsford is a river ecologist at the University of New South Wales who has studied the Macquarie Marshes and the impacts of floodplain harvesting.

He says water that spills over floodplains often drains back into rivers, and interrupting its flow can have big impacts, including contributing to the missing flows.

“There are very few places where we have an accurate estimate of how much water is being taken from the floodplain. And to me, this has been a yawning gap in the policy,” he said…………

Clue Three: The cash splash

If we head all the way to southern NSW, we see a completely different clue.

Billions have been spent subsidising “efficiency measures” to help farmers save water there.

That can be done by upgrading old irrigation systems to deliver water directly to roots, or lining water channels, for example. Then about half of the water saved by the farmers gets handed to the government for the environment.

But according to some experts, the “inefficiencies” prior to the upgrades just meant some of the water used by irrigators flowed back into the rivers. The upgrades mean that “return flow” stops happening………..

In a report published in 2019, Professor Williams estimated that at least 280 billion litres of water per year might have been lost from the rivers — and are unaccounted for — due to this problem.

“That must be a major reason that we’re not getting the flow regimes that we need,” Professor Williams said.

The MDBA commissioned its own analysis of the issue and concluded the loss of return flows was reducing water in the rivers by 121 billion litres a year.……..

Clue Four: Climate change

There is one issue, however, that most experts do agree is a major reason for the missing water in the basin.

“The MDBA considers a changing climate to be the primary contributory factor,” said the MDBA’s Vicki Woodburn.

Since the basin plan was introduced, heat records across the area have been broken in four of the eight years. The last three years have been the hottest ever recorded in the basin.

According to the South Australian royal commission into the Murray-Darling basin plan, the MDBA “completely ignored climate change” when determining how much water needed to be saved.

If true, that means the overall target may have been set too low — that more water needs to be recovered from irrigation to save the river system.

But the same models used to set those targets have also been used to manage the rivers, and now to calculate how much water should be in the rivers. And by inadequately accounting for climate change, those models are likely over-predicting how much water is being recovered.

Climate change means more water is likely being lost between gauges, as it flows along — lost into the dry river beds and the hot air…………..

Clue five: The water was never there

In a twist worthy of any whodunnit, could it be that some of the missing water was simply never there in the first place?

According to the Wentworth Group, the government modelling used to predict how much water we should see in the river has some fundamental flaws which likely exaggerate the volumes.

For example, in 2018, the Murray-Darling Basin Authority found its modelling “has trouble predicting low flows”.

That meant that when water stopped flowing in the river, the model would still show water flowing — something that could have been particularly problematic over the past seven years when low flows were very common………….

What it all means

If there’s less water in the rivers than we ever planned for, what’s to be done about it?……………..

Professor Vertessy, who advises the MDBA, thinks this sort of shortfall could contribute to a rethink of the long-term water recovery targets.

“We may have to — I think everyone would accept that these sustainable diversion limits aren’t quantities which you ossify for posterity,” he says.

“They’ve got to be adjusted to fit in with the new climate realities and the social preferences of the day.”

And the scientists say whatever the response to the findings, something has to give.

“The current basin plan tries to pretend that we can do everything with a smaller and smaller cake,” says Professor Pittock.

“What this really means is that society is going to have to make some hard choices. How much irrigated agriculture do we want as a society versus how much do we want to retain by way of wetlands and ecosystems [or] of sites of cultural value to Indigenous people?”

September 3, 2020 Posted by | AUSTRALIA - NATIONAL, environment | Leave a comment

Repower WA with Renewables: 90% by 2030

September 3, 2020 Posted by | energy, Western Australia | Leave a comment

More than $A4 trillion to be invested globally in renewables in “crucial decade” — RenewEconomy

US research predicts $A4 trillion-plus will be invested in global renewable energy sector over what analysts say will be a “crucial” decade for the industry. The post More than $A4 trillion to be invested globally in renewables in “crucial decade” appeared first on RenewEconomy.

More than $A4 trillion to be invested globally in renewables in “crucial decade” — RenewEconomy

September 3, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

September 2 Energy News — geoharvey

Opinion: ¶ “What It’s Like To Live In A City That’s Had Three ‘Once In A Lifetime’ Climate Disasters In Twelve Years” • In 2008, Cedar Rapids was completely underwater in a flood considered to be one of the country’s worst natural disasters. But a similar flood came in September, 2016. Last month brought 140 […]

September 2 Energy News — geoharvey

September 3, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

NAIF backs 10MW solar and battery plant in Northern Territory — RenewEconomy

Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility backs 10MW solar and battery power station south of Darwin, and a neighbouring gas plant. The post NAIF backs 10MW solar and battery plant in Northern Territory appeared first on RenewEconomy.

NAIF backs 10MW solar and battery plant in Northern Territory — RenewEconomy

September 3, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Battle lines drawn over future of CEFC, as Taylor gets wires crossed on gas — RenewEconomy

Labor to oppose efforts by Coalition to push CEFC into fossil fuel projects, as energy minister Angus Taylor gets wires crossed on the corporation’s gas investments. The post Battle lines drawn over future of CEFC, as Taylor gets wires crossed on gas appeared first on RenewEconomy.

Battle lines drawn over future of CEFC, as Taylor gets wires crossed on gas — RenewEconomy

September 3, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Victoria seeks 600MW wind and solar to power hospitals, schools and trains — RenewEconomy

Victoria kicks off new VRET auction process that will take its own operations to 100% renewable and will seek 600MW of new solar and wind farms. The post Victoria seeks 600MW wind and solar to power hospitals, schools and trains appeared first on RenewEconomy.

Victoria seeks 600MW wind and solar to power hospitals, schools and trains — RenewEconomy

September 3, 2020 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment