But the fish aren’t jumping in the Darling River basin and the cotton is not as high as it would normally be in central-northern NSW and southern Queensland as horrendous drought conditions grip much of eastern Australia.
Dead fish in Darling River
How bad is it?
Eighty per cent of NSW is officially in drought.
Concerns about severity have moved well beyond the obvious and substantial impact on grazing and cropping industries.
The big worry now is the critical impact on water reserves, riverine habitats and sub-soil moisture content.
Drinking water is being trucked into Walgett because there is almost no flow in the nearby Barwon and Namoi.
South-east of Broken Hill, the Menindee Lakes, an extraordinary chain of freshwater lakes fed by the Darling, contain just three per cent of their capacity – and will probably fall dry this week as temperatures soar above 40 degrees.
Near Weir 32, a crucial water-holding and measuring station near the town of Menindee, many thousands of fish perished in recent weeks after extreme temperature changes and toxic algae blooms depleted already low oxygen levels in the water.
Fingers are being pointed up river and down in a bid to lay blame.
Cotton irrigators draw too much water, many say.
The cotton industry rejects any blame.
The water management system is a mess, say others, blaming water authorities for poorly timed and excessive releases from water-holding areas along the Darling.
Think we’ve been here before?
It was less than a decade ago.
The 2012 Murray-Darling Basin Plan, which was intended to resolve the complex tussle for precious water resources, has “failed at its first drought”, as a senior water researcher at the Australian Institute aptly noted.
The Bureau of Meteorology last week released data showing 2018 was Australia’s third-warmest year since a national records database was established in 1907.
The bureau says nine of the 10 warmest years have occurred since 2005.
The bureau also released a monthly drought report last week, showing vast areas of central and western NSW and central Queensland have recorded severe rainfall deficiencies for almost two years.
In some areas, this marks the driest period on record.
Here, again, we have evidence that global climate change is affecting the way we live.
Extreme weather conditions such as drought, severe storms and soaring temperatures, are causing regular disturbances and huge commercial losses in rural and city regions alike.
The insurance industry recognises it, businesses are alert to it, and the greater agricultural community has responded by changing cropping, grazing and water management practices.
So what is it with some federal members that they simply will not accept the science, or choose to ignore it?
For reasons of political power-gaming, trenchant commercial stubbornness or blind ideology, some conservatives would have you believe that climate change science is a fiction propagated by leftists.
Our planet is warming.
Our land is drying.
Our seas are rising. And we need our leaders to confront the problem.
Bipartisan decisions must be made now to implement practical, substantial and genuine reductions in carbon emissions, and to tackle the crisis in our waterways.
BoE governor Mark Carney is right to suggest adding global warming to stress tests
Most central bankers make a virtue of the narrowness of their remit, remaining circumspect on issues deemed to go beyond it.
Not Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, who, despite facing criticism for exceeding his mandate, has suggested the risks arising from climate change should form part of itsannual stress testsfor banks from 2019.
The suggestion is timely.
It comes a few days after rules governing how to implement the Paris climate agreementwere approved, against significant odds, by nearly 200 countries at the COP24 talks in Poland.
It is also uncontroversial — it does not require a change to the regulatory framework, but simply adds a risk to the list that banks are already meant to measure. Furthermore, the Bank of England is suggesting including climate change as an exploratory scenario, which banks can neither pass nor fail.
They are required only to scrutinise whether they are doing enough. For that reason, many climate activists will consider the proposal, much like the Paris agreement itself, does not go far enough.
The measure should at least help to convince financial sector actors of the potential impact they face from climate issues.
The latest warnings about global warming are sobering.
The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Changereportnoted that on current trends, average global temperatures are set to rise by 3-4C from pre-industrial levels by 2100.
Failure to take action to curb that rise creates multiple risks.
Extreme heat events are likely to multiply.
So, too, are the frequency and intensity of heavy rain and floods, and of droughts.
Actions taken to mitigate climate change also carry risk.
New policies aimed at limiting average global temperature rises, in line with the Paris agreement, will make it harder for hydrocarbon-intensive industries to operate profitably.
This could leave companies with stranded assets worth billions, and the banks that lent to them with enormous unpaid debts.
Whatever the source of the risk, a core function of a central bank is to ensure that money is being safely lent.
Lenders are moving slowly because unlike the insurance sector they are less directly exposed to the destructive power of extreme weather. But they are not immune — and should be paying more heed.
A report by insurance company Swiss Re found the total economic loss from natural catastrophes and man-made disasters nearly doubled to $337bn in 2017, from $180bn the year before.
Lloyd’s of London this year posted its first loss in six years, citing the impact of a series of natural disasters.
Axa, the large insurer, has warned that more than 4C of warming this century would make the world “uninsurable”.
The consequences for the whole financial system would then be catastrophic.
Any move by the Bank of England to incorporate climate risks in stress tests would be the first by a central bank of a major financial centre. Butothers are alertto climate change risks.
In 2017, the Dutch central bank published a report entitled “Waterproof?”, which concluded that financial institutions should factor in the consequences of a changing climate and the transition to a carbon-neutral economy.
Such steps alone will not prevent the oceans rising, climate-induced mass migration or extreme weather.
The “tragedy of the horizon”, as Mr Carney puts it, is the danger that by the time climate change is recognised by enough actors to be a defining issue for financial stability, it may already be too late to manage it.
The 2018State of the Climate report, released yesterday, again highlights the risk to human wellbeing from our love affair with fossil fuels. Coal, oil and gas have underpinned the incredible advances in affluence, population size, and health since development of the steam engine. But fossil fuel use has an optimum dose, which is now well past.
We are metaphorically drowning in carbon dioxide, the invisible, odourless waste product of burning fossil fuel. As the report notes, this is increasing heatwaves, acidifying the oceans and raising the sea level. It is also lowering themicronutrient concentrationsof food.
The report cites growing effects on human and animal health, including from increased fires and flooding, and says extreme heat days are rising alarmingly. This month, dozens of Australians were rescuedfrom the Hume Highway, stranded by intense rainfall. Record heat and fire ravaged north Queensland. A third of the spectacled flying fox populationdied from heat, possibly exposing animal rescuers to viral diseases.
In November, San Franciscoairwas worse than Delhi, due to fires that ruined the Californian city of Paradise, recently home for 30,000 people.
Earlier this month, at the Katowice conference, held in the heartland of Polish coal seams, David Attenborough called climate change the greatest threat to humanity in thousands of years. He warned that, without action, “the collapse of our civilisations, and the extinction of much of the natural world, is on the horizon”.
Attenborough’s warnings have a distinguished pedigree. In 2010, Frank Fenner, the great Australian scientist who helped eradicate smallpox,warnedthat humans risked total extinction due to overpopulation, resource over-consumption, environmental destruction and climate change. Martin Rees, a past president of the world’s oldest scientific organisation, the Royal Society, has warned this century might be ourlast.
It might be comforting to dismiss these warnings as the fantasies of old men, and some wise old women, such asJane Goodall. Optimists might argue that a rise of even 2 degrees in average global temperature is trivial, or point out that you could walk to Tasmania during the Ice Age. The sea-level rise of 10 thousand years ago was easily adapted to, and today our technological and social capacity is immeasurably greater. A fever of 2 extra degrees is uncomfortable, but we have paracetamol.
Such responses are deceptive and dangerous. The unprecedented complexity, connectivity and power of modern civilisation is also its weakness.Sea-level rise on the US east coastis already depressing the market value of homes and could help trigger a future financial crash. The UN’s Food and Agricultural Organisation is increasingly concerned about climate change, conflict and future food security. The 2010 heatwave and drought in Russia, which led to the temporary banning of Russian wheat exports,helped sparkthe Arab Spring and the Syrian civil war. The Australianwinter harvest of 2018was poor, especially from the eastern states, due not only to drought, but heat, reduced soil moisture and a lengthening frost season.
But the collapse of civilisation is not inevitable. Collapse might be avoided by a strong dose of preventive medicine, such as replacing coal with wind and solar, anelectric bus revolutionand reduced meat consumption (also good for health).
As with a real vaccine, which requires a tiny dose of something potentially harmful (technically known as an antigen) we seem to need a dose of poison (in this case fear) before we act; but too much fear is paralysing. We also need hope, such as provided by the NSW government’s recognition of ouroverdoseon fossil fuels.
The physical climate is changing, so fast that more and more people, including manychildren, can now recognise it. If we can harness the internet, new technology, and the common sense of ordinary people then we will we at least have a reasonable chance. Recognising the validity of these warnings is a vital step if we are to survive.
It was once touted as Australia’s biggest coal mine and a mega project that would create 10,000 jobs but the oft-promised construction of Adani’s Carmichael mine still seems unlikely despite recent announcements.
Last month there seemed to be a breakthrough. After struggling to secure finance to build the mine, Adani announced it would self-fund a scaled-back version andsuggested work could begin this year.
This week a spokeswoman for Adani Australia told news.com.au that “preparatory works at the mine site are imminent”.
“We are working with regulators to finalise the remaining required management plans ahead of coal production, some of which have been subject to two years of state and federal government review,” she said.
“This process is expected to be complete and provided by governments in the next few
The Australianreported on Friday that bulldozers, graders and service vehicles were sent to the site this week.
Earth moving equipment at Adani site.
However, there’s scepticism about the suggestion work on Adani’s mine is about to get started as it has made premature declarations before.
More than a year ago, in October 2017, Adani scheduled a ceremony to break ground on the coal mine’s rail link.
Even at 1.5C warming most of the world’s coral reefs including the Great Barrier Reef would be lost.
Meanwhile, Adani may be able to start “preparatory works” but there are a few other issues that need to be resolved before it has clear air to move forward.
MORE APPROVALS NEEDED
Adani is not required to submit a new Environment Authority application for its smaller mine but there are approvals it doesn’t yet have.
A spokeswoman for the Queensland Department of Environment and Science said “significant disturbance cannot commence until the required environmental plans for the mine are approved and in place”.
Adani has been asked to update its groundwater dependent ecosystems management plan after the CSIRO, Australia’s peak scientific organisation, identified serious flaws, according to theABC.
The CSIRO was asked to review Adani’s plan by the Federal Department of the Environment and Energy. Geoscience Australia has also been asked to look at it.
Adani will now have to update its plans to identify the source of the aquifer of the Doongmabulla Springs Complex and measures it will take to protect the springs.
The plan must be approved before the Adani can start excavation of the first box cut, which is a small open cut that acts as an entrance to an underground mine.
The entrance to the box cut at Jabiluka Uranium Mine. Picture: Rohan Kelly. Picture: Supplied
The Queensland department spokeswoman said the state will also take the scientific reviews into consideration as part of its assessment.
“Preliminary advice from CSIRO requires Adani to update the plan,” the spokeswoman said.
She said the department had told Adani it would not continue its assessment until an updated version was submitted and noted there was no “statutory time frame” for assessment to happen.
“The Queensland Government takes environmental protections very seriously and will consider the advice of the (federal department), CSIRO and Geoscience Australia when assessing the plans,” she said.
Both the groundwater plan and a black-throated finch management plan will need to be signed off by state and federal governments.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Department of Environment and Energy told news.com.au the Carmichael biodiversity research fund mechanism would also need to be approved before Adani could start “mining operations”.
The Queensland Government granted Adani a water licence last year to allow it to take up to 12.5 billion litres of water a year from the Suttor River.
The Federal Government is also required to look at projects likely to have a significant impact on water resources but Federal Environment Minister Melissa Price chose this year not to activate the “water trigger” that would have required a full environmental impact assessment.
Instead only preliminary documentation was considered.
This month the Australian Conservation Foundation launched legal action for a judicial review of this decision. No court date has yet been set.
Until this action is resolved, Adani won’t be able to take water from the Suttor River system although Adani has said this won’t stop it from starting work on the project.
Adani has yet to finalise a royalty agreement with the Queensland Government.
It had been in negotiations to allow it to defer payments for the first few years but the deal was never signed. Then in May last year the Palaszczuk Government unveiled a new policy for all developments in the Galilee and Surat Basins and the North West Minerals Province.
The new resources framework allows royalties to be deferred but insists that interest is paid and companies must also ensure “security of payment” is in place.
Eligible projects are required to provide jobs, common-user infrastructure and to have a positive impact on the state’s finances.
However, the government will only enter into an agreement with approved projects and Adani’s mine has not yet been approved.
A spokeswoman for the Deputy Premier Jackie Trad told news.com.au Adani would pay royalties like everyone else.
“No taxpayers money will go to toward this project,” she said.
NATIVE TITLE ACTION
The Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council has been fighting Adani’s indigenous land use agreement (ILUA) saying a vote to approve it had been a sham. The council disputes that 294 people voted for the agreement and only one against.
The W&J lost its legal action but is appealing the decision in the Federal Court. This week it was ordered to pay $50,000 by the end of January as part of a security of costs order to show it was capable of paying Adani’s legal costs if it lost the appeal.
The appeal was due to be heard in February but has now been delayed until May.
W&J traditional owner and lead spokesman Adrian Burragubba said for Adani to act before the appeal was decided would be to “deny our rights and open the way for a grave injustice”.
“Without our consent, the mine is not ready to proceed,” he said.
Adrian Burragubba outside the Federal Court in Brisbane, Friday, August 17, 2018. Picture: Darren England/AAP
RAIL LINE NEGOTIATIONS
Another question remains over whether Aurizon has approved Adani’s request to connect to its existing railway line.
An Adani spokeswoman said Adani had submitted a conceptual operation plan for its new narrow gauge rail line and was working through the “regulatory process”.
“Once it is complete we will commence construction of the rail line,” she said.
When asked whether an agreement had been reached, an Aurizon spokeswoman said it had to treat all requests confidentially.
“Therefore we cannot comment on any discussions that may occur with any third-party,” she said.
Over the Christmas weekend Adani is moving heavy earth moving equipment into the Adani Mine site.
It’s time to wage war on Adani!
Our politicians are ignoring the Australian people.
Now Adani is going ahead despite the overwhelming majority of Australians who are against the opening of the Carmichael Basin.
We’ll believe it when we see it!
By Felicity Caldwell
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has expressed scepticism about Adani’s announcement that construction on its Carmichael coal mine would begin.
Adani Australia mining chief executive Lucas Dow on Thursday announced the scaled-back project would be “100 per cent financed” from within the Adani conglomerate.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says she will believe the Adani project is going ahead when she sees it.AAP Image/ Darren England
Ms Palaszczuk said the announcement was “very different to what we have been seeing” and she wanted more details.
“There is no taxpayers’ money going into the building of that railway line, they have to have agreements with Aurizon, we haven’t seen any of that evidence as of yet,” she told the ABC on Friday morning.
“And, of course, we will believe it when we see it.”
Ms Palaszczuk said the success of Adani’s project would depend on whether the company met its milestones.
“We’ve got a lot of companies that come and say we’ve got finance to begin things and it doesn’t happen,” she said.
“I will believe it when it starts happening.”
Adani was previously seeking a $1 billion taxpayer loan from the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility to finance a 388-kilometre rail line needed to move its coal to port for export.
However, Ms Palaszczuk announced she wouldveto the NAIF loanduring the state election campaign.
In September, Adani announced it would save $1.5 billion by scaling down the rail line. It will now build a shorter narrow gauge line to connect with Aurizon’s existing rail plans.
Speaking from Gladstone, Resources Minister Matt Canavan said Adani’s investment plans were fantastic news for the region.
“It’s still, here in central and north Queensland, difficult economic times, the unemployment rate in this region is 6.8 per cent over the last 12 months and that’s well above the national average,” he said.
“What this region needs is jobs and it needs big investments like this.
“My hope now is that we can all work together to create these jobs, deliver this opportunity.”
Senator Canavan said it was the first of six mines that might go ahead in the Galilee Basin.
“All together they could deliver 15,000 jobs in central and north Queensland and deliver opportunities for decades,” he said.
“Adani have said they’ve got the money and it’s up to governments now to come together and support investment in our state.
“There’ no public money going towards this, so the project has been improved and gone through all of the processes, in fact it’s probably been the most assessed project in our nation’s history.
“It’s gone through 12 court cases, all of them they’ve won.”
On Twitter, Mr Canavan described Adani, which has its headquarters in India, as a “little Aussie battler” that “just keeps chugging along”.
Adani ordered to pay almost $12m for work on scrapped Carmichael rail line
Adani has been ordered to pay almost $12m owed to engineering firm AECOM for work on a scrapped rail line to theCarmichael coalmine.
A judgment in the Queensland Building and Construction commission details how “payment difficulties” emerged in a contract between AECOM and an Adani subsidiary company. The1,862-point commission adjudicationsays Adani had “anticipated” receiving government support that did not materialise, including a $1b federal loan to build the rail link between Carmichael and the Abbot Point port.
The loan was vetoed by theQueenslandgovernment in November last year. The contract to design the rail line was suspended about six months later.
Soon after AECOM lodged a claim with the QBCC alleging it was owed $20m for the work. Adani countered by offering $325,000.
Large Galilee Basin coal projects could be in doubt with Labor EPA
THE LABOR Party may use changes to the Australian Environment Act to enforce provisions concerning the water trigger for dams and pipelines associated with large coal mines to stymie the development of coal projects being proposed for the Galilee Basin in Queensland by Clive Palmer.
Clive Palmer’s Waratah Coal has two projects earmarked for the region – the Waratah Galilee Coal mine and the Galilee Coal Project (Northern Export Facility) mine.
Adani’s controversial Carmichael coal mine in the Galilee Basin has already been approved by the federal government as has Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Coal’s proposed Alpha and Kevin’s Corner mine projects.
Shadow environment minister Tony Burke said the Labor Party would create an Australian Environment Act and establish a Federal Environmental Protection Agency, which could also impact on the development of large coal projects by making the protection of the Great Barrier Reef a priority.
“Labor will also establish a new agency, a federal EPA, with the mission to protect Australia’s natural environment,” he said.
“It will be informed by the best available scientific advice and, ensure compliance with environmental law, and have the ability to conduct public inquiries on important environmental matters.
“The new legal framework will compel the Australian government to actively protect our unique natural environment and demonstrate national leadership.”
According to Burke, Labor will establish a high powered working group of experts including scientists, environmental lawyers and public policy thinkers to refine the clear concepts that underpin this reform.
“The current environment act is now 20 years old and has never been significantly reformed,” he said.
“It is time to bring it into the 21st century.
“In 2018, it is bizarre that the national environmental law does not properly factor in climate change.
Policymakers have severely underestimated the risks of ecologicaltipping points, according to a study that shows 45% of all potential environmental collapses are interrelated and could amplify one another.
The authors said their paper,publishedin the journal Science, highlights how overstressed and overlapping natural systems are combining to throw up a growing number of unwelcome surprises.
“The risks are greater than assumed because the interactions are more dynamic,” said Juan Rocha of the Stockholm Resilience Centre. “The important message is to recognise the wickedness of the problem that humanity faces.”
It then cross-referenced the 30 types of shift to examine the impacts they might have on one another and human society.
Only 19% were entirely isolated. Another 36% shared a common cause, but were not likely to interact. The remaining 45% had the potential to create either a one-way domino effect or mutually reinforcing feedbacks.
Among the latter pairings were Arctic ice sheets and boreal forests. When the former melt, there is less ice to reflect the sun’s heat so the temperature of the planet rises. This increases the risks of forest fires, which discharge carbon into the air that adds to the greenhouse effect, which melts more ice. Although geographically distant, each amplifies the other.
By contrast, a one-way domino-type impact is that between coral reefs and mangrove forests. When the former are destroyed, it weakens coastal defences and exposes mangroves to storms and ocean surges.
Thedeforestation of the Amazonis responsible for multiple “cascading effects” – weakening rain systems, forests becoming savannah, and reduced water supplies for cities like São Paulo and crops in the foothills of the Andes. This, in turn, increases the pressure for more land clearance.
Until recently, the study of tipping points was controversial, but it is increasingly accepted as an explanation for climate changes that are happening with more speed and ferocity than earlier computer models predicted. The loss of coral reefs and Arctic sea ice may already be past the point of no return. There are signs the Antarctic is heading the same way faster than thought.
Co-author Garry Peterson said thetipping of thewest Antarctic ice shelfwas not on the radar of many scientists 10 years ago, but now there was overwhelming evidence of the risks – including losses of chunks of ice the size of New York – and some studies now suggest the tipping point may have already been passed by the southern ice sheet, which may now be releasing carbon into the atmosphere.
“We’re surprised at the rate of change in the Earth system. So much is happening at the same time and at a faster speed than we would have thought 20 years ago. That’s a real concern,” said Peterson. “We’re heading ever faster towards the edge of a cliff.”
The fourth most downloaded academic research of 2018 was theHothouse Earthpaper, which considered how tipping points could combine to push the global climate into an uninhabitable state.
The authors of the new paper say their work goes beyond climate studies by mapping a wider range of ecological stress points, such as biodiversity loss, agricultural expansion, urbanisation and soil erosion. It also focuses more on what is happening at the local level now, rather than projecting geo-planetary trends into the future.
“We’re looking at things that affect people in their daily lives. They’re things that are happening today,” said Peterson. “There is a positive message as it expands the range of options for action. It is not just at an international level. Mayors can also make a difference by addressing soil erosion, or putting in place social policies that place less stress on the environment, or building up natural coastal defences.”
Rocha has spent 10 years building a database of tipping points, or “regime shifts” as he calls them. He urges policymakers to adopt a similar interdisciplinary approach so they can better grasp what is happening.
“We’re trying to connect the dots between different research communities,” said Rocha. “Governments also need to look more at interactions. They should stop compartmentalising ministries like agriculture, fisheries and international relations and try to manage environmental problems by embracing the diversity of causes and mechanisms underlying them. Policies need to match the scale of the problem.
“It’s a little depressing knowing we are not on a trajectory to keep our ecosystem in a functional state, but these connections are also a reason for hope; good management in one place can prevent severe environmental degradation elsewhere. Every action counts.”
Nine MDBs – the African Development Bank Group, the Asian Development Bank, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the European Investment Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank Group, the Islamic Development Bank, the New Development Bank, and the World Bank Group – issued a declaration announcing a joint framework for aligning their activities with the goals of the Paris Agreement, reinforcing their commitment to combat climate change.
The MDBs plan to break the joint approach down into practical work on six core Paris Alignment areas, including ramping up climate finance, capacity building support for countries and other clients, and an emphasis on climate reporting. At next year’s COP25 gathering, the MDBs will report back on their progress with the six building blocks.
For the first time, the World Bank, along with six other MDBs and the CIFs shareda dedicated pavilion.The common space served as a convening and networking hub to promote, discuss and share climate solutions with global leaders, media and online influencers. It also hosted popular dailyFacebook Live interviews.
A Significant Boost for Climate-Smart Development in Sectors.
For cities:Anew IFC reportwas published which found that cities in emerging markets alone could attract more than $29.4 trillion in climate-related investments in six key sectors by 2030. It analyzed cities’ climate-related targets and action plans in six regions and identified opportunities in priority sectors such as green buildings, public transportation, electric vehicles, waste, water, and renewable energy.
For energy:According to thenew RISE report, the number of countries with strong policy frameworks for sustainable energy more than tripled – from 17 to 59 – between 2010 and 2017, and many of the world’s largest energy-consuming countries have significantly improved their renewable energy regulations since 2010. Aseparate studyfound that in Poland, host country of COP24, scaling renewable energy sources could provide major benefits for the economy, health and environment. And the report,Managing Coal Mine Closure: Achieving a Just Transition for All, outlined how governments can prepare for and manage coal mine closure, particularly the social and labor impacts, and implement the transition to cleaner, less polluting energy sources.
For food and land use:From 2015-17, 51 countries provided approximately $590 billion in public support for agricultural producers. Anew reportexamined realigning agricultural support to deliver public goods outcomes and promote climate-smart agriculture.
For Infrastructure.Low-carbon, resilient infrastructure has a central role in ensuring development, economic and climate objectives are met. Ajoint report with OECD and UN Environmentlaid out what public and private actors can do to align financial flows in infrastructure.
For Transport.Atechnical paper on Electric Mobilitywas published to help support countries ensure that climate and environmental concerns as well as regulatory, labor, and fiscal implications were taken on board as they embark on e-Mobility pathways. The report was welcomed by the Polish government who will provide support to a trust fund that will support cutting edge research on e-mobility.
Now that the “Paris rulebook is in place, we can move forward on bold implementation.
The big messages that will resonate clearly into 2019 are that the needs for climate action and ambition are great, the opportunities of climate-smart growth are bigger, and our commitment on climate, as the WBG, is as strong as ever.
An extreme heatwave in far north Queensland last month is estimated to have killed more than 23,000 spectacled flying foxes, equating to almost one third of the species in Australia.
The deaths were from colonies in the Cairns area where the mercury soared above 42 degrees Celsius two days in a row, breaking the city’s previous record temperature for November by five degrees.
Ecologist, Dr Justin Welbergen from the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment (Western Sydney University) iscollating the numbers of bat deathsand said it was the second-largest mass die-off of flying foxes recorded in Australia and the first time it had happened to this species.
“These are certainly very serious wildlife die-off events and they occur at almost biblical scales,” he said.
“[The biggest] was in south-east Queensland back in 2014 where about 46,000 animals (predominantly black flying foxes) died.
“The population size of the spectacled flying fox in Australia is estimated to be about 75,000 individuals, give or take, so for all intents and purpose that means we have lost close to a third of the entire species in Australia.
“Losing a third of the species on a hot afternoon I would argue certainly strengthens the case for both the Federal and Queensland Governments to consider lifting the species from ‘vulnerable’ to ‘endangered’, if not ‘critically endangered’.”
Dr Welbergen said it was also the first time there had been mass deaths of flying foxes from heat stress in far northern Australia where conditions were typically hot and humid but usually remained below 40 degrees.
“Science pretty much agrees this is a sign of things to come,” he said.
“Extreme heat events are increasing in frequency, also in terms of intensity and duration, and we can expect more extreme temperatures to occur increasingly frequently further north.
“A certain proportion of such an extreme event can certainly be statistically attributed to climate change for sure. I think the jury is no longer out on that.”
Wildlife carers overwhelmed
Flying foxes dropped dead from roosting trees around Cairns during the heatwave with some residents forced to leave their homes due to the smell from thousands of rotting carcasses.
With no official protocols in place on how to deal with such an event, the task of removing the dead bats was largely left to an army of wildlife volunteers.
Wildlife carer Rebecca Koller said almost 850 bats were rescued and she was looking after about 200 on her property at Kuranda.
“None of our carers were prepared for the numbers we would have. We already had 500 orphans in care prior to this event,” she said.
“To find places for another nearly 850 orphans was just not something that we would ever in a million years anticipate.
“Not having experienced this before, we went in flying blind.”
‘Canaries in the coal mine’
Dr Welbergen said Australia was now averaging one major flying fox die-off (in excess of 1,000 deaths) each year.
“Since our paper in 2008where we had identified more than 30,000 casualties going all the way back to settlement, we have evidence for at least nine other major events [where] the number of casualties combined is now more than 100,000 individuals,” he said.
“So this is very clearly a very serious issue for the long-term conservation of flying foxes in Australia.”
He said climate change impacts on bats were highly visible given they often roosted near urban areas.
“These sorts of events really raise concerns around what is happening to other species, especially wildlife that have more solitary and cryptic lifestyles,” he said.
“If 30 per cent of all koalas die in a forest, who will be there to see them and count the dead bodies?
“Flying foxes are Australia’s canaries in the coal mine.”