Renewable Energy: a mess or a hope?

Joining us on the blog today is our colleague Eva Medianti, who writes informatively on the current state of renewable energy, the importance of switching from fossil fuels, and what is required in order for this change to occur.

Facts of energy usage

The world’s energy consumption has increased significantly, aligning with the growth in human population and development. 5 billion people on our planet enjoy energy to support their activities, but more than 1 billion people still lack this access. The biggest contributors to energy consumption are heating, cooling, transportation, and power. Energy use for heating and cooling accounted for more than 50% of world energy consumption in 2016. This heating includes water heating, space heating, and cooking. Oil use accounted for 32.9% of global energy consumption, which mostly related to transportation sectors. High dependency on private transportation significantly boosts demand for oil. Power demand, though not as significant as the other two, is also a large source of demand for energy.

Unfortunately, in 2015 the source of the world’s energy generation was dominated by fossil fuels energy (80.7 %), while renewable energy only provided 19.3 % of supply. The majority of this fossil fuel use concerned coal and oil. High dependency on non-renewable energy has numerous disadvantages. It produces carbon emissions, which increase global warming and trigger climate change. Climate change causes detrimental effects such as increased variability of climate, which increases the intensity and frequency of extreme -weather events; rising sea levels, leading to island erosion, which can result in climate refugees; and coral bleaching that threatens the marine life ecosystem and the fisheries industry. In addition to its severe impacts on the environment, fossil fuels such as oil are declining significantly. Therefore, the natural resources created over billions of years has been extracted and will soon vanish, all because of human activities in the past few centuries since the industrial revolution begun. Like it or not, the world must transform its energy supply to renewable energy. Otherwise, we will be unable to continue to enjoy modern development as we understand it.

The current progress of energy generation in the world

Renewable energy offers safe, environmentally-friendly energy, and is self-sustaining. Global renewable energy in 2016 was 19.3%, and within the last decade, it only increased by 2.8 percent on average, mostly by hydropower, solar power, and wind energy. However, its growth is only slightly above demand growth in energy demand due to the high increase in global population. The question is how to supply the energy demands of 6 billion people with renewable energy. Technology, funds, and politics will underpin the change required, not to mention the switch of mindset in energy preferences. It is a battle between the rising new industries and the enormous fossil fuel industry.

Where is Australia?

Australia is one of the highest per capita users of carbon emissions in the world (McCarthy, Eagle, & Lesbirel, 2017). It also depends highly on coal, both as its main electricity generator, contributing 63% of its electricity, and as a national income generator, with 90% of black coal production being exported. In addition, in 2016 38% of energy consumption came from oil. These numbers show the significant role of fossil fuels in the Australian energy portfolio. This highlights the importance of funds, stakeholders, and policy in the industry.

On the other hand, Australia has the natural resources for renewable energy supplies. Its abundance of sunshine and wind are two of its most valuable potential resources. However, it has not optimised these resources to its full capacity. Australia’s renewable energy generation only contributes to 17.3 percent of total energy generation. Its main resources for renewable generation come from hydropower, wind, and solar, which contribute 42.3%, 30.8%, and 18.3 % respectively. In relation to the rest of the world, Australia is ranked fifth together with Greece for solar PV capacity per capita category. Renewable energy sectors in Australia in 2016 provided employment for 11,150 people, with the biggest contribution coming from solar and hydro energy. However, country-level reports do not identify the progress of renewable energy by state. South Australia, ACT, and Tasmania lead the rest of the country in their energy policies and implementation, while Western Australia and Northern Territory’s programs are still in their infancy. Speeding up the renewable energy growth in all states is a major challenge. Increasing the rate of change is necessary to boost renewable energy performance in competing with the fossil fuels business.

In conclusion, shifting from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy requires considerable effort and well-planned strategies. It also demands that all levels of society make an energy preference decision, not just major actors with access to power, large funds, and technology. In other words, this change should happen on both a global and household level. Australia is an example of the struggle for change in energy preference decisions in the world. There is a long way to go, but it is not impossible. Energy generation strategy development should include social, economic, and environmental dimensions to create sustainability in human development. This is necessary in order for the luxury of energy to be able to be enjoyed by future generations.

Eva
Sustainability Officer (2017)

Saving States: Why the Future of Small Island Countries Demands Global Sustainability

Joining us today is the blog’s newest Content Editor, Anthony Huber. A fellow MIDP student, Anthony writes a powerful call to arms for a cause that is very close to his heart: ensuring a safe future for Small Island Countries.

In September 2014 Apia, the capital of Samoa, hosted the Third International Conference of Small Island Developing States (SIDS). The four day conference shone a spotlight on countries in which sustainable development is of particular importance in strategies of coping with their unique vulnerabilities. The conference produced the Samoa Pathway, which largely reaffirmed previous commitments and called for increased partnerships and collaboration between people, governments, civil society, and the private sector. A wide and diverse body of actors (including UNICEF, the IMF, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, and representatives of ninety countries), released similarly strongly-worded statements that highlighted an awareness of the severity of the environmental challenges SIDS faced, and committed to assisting them in managing these issues. It is noticeable that the same purposeful, wholehearted rhetoric that has been present in official statements and declarations on combating climate change for decades is also being employed here. The world is sympathetic, but sympathy won’t stop the sea from swallowing up people’s villages. It hasn’t so far.

sids

For a number of low-lying island countries, the situation could not be more urgent. Their state, society, and the continuation of their culture as it exists today, are all under exceptionally grave threat. The intergovernmental panel on climate change has identified the following states as being distinctly at risk of ‘permanent inundation’: the Marshall Islands, Kiribati, Tuvalu, the Maldives, Tonga, the Cook Islands, Micronesia, and the islands of Antigua and Nevis, of Antigua and Barbuda and St. Kitts and Nevis respectively. The Solomon Islands have already lost five islands to the sea. Some Ni-Vanuatu villagers have been forced to evacuate their homes and flee to higher-ground islands. According to the UN Department of Public Information (1999), an 80-cm-rise in sea levels would leave two-thirds of Kiribati and the Marshall Islands immersed. States in the Global North will not suffer from these kinds of catastrophic ramifications of climate change for many years yet. As a result, the substantial changes required in order to save these states and improve global sustainability are not yet being effectively undertaken. The international community needs to work harder to reduce their contributions to rising sea levels. The people of SIDS are desperate, and their leaders have made headlines with public pleas to the international community to step up and take responsibility for solving problems that they created.

In the absence of sufficient political capital, even united as intergovernmental organisations such as the Coalition of Low-lying Atoll Nations on Climate Change and the Alliance of Small Island States, they have been forced to resort to appealing to people’s notions of justice. This has proven predictably unsuccessful. But it is indeed intolerably- unfair that the people causing the least negative impacts on the planet are the ones who are bearing the brunt of the consequences of the unsustainable habits of others.

So far, the international response has been a disconcerting litmus test of their will to act to prevent such disastrous, foreseeable, and preventable outcomes from taking place. We must face the fact that there are some development issues that, tragically, will not be realistically resolved before their worst impacts materialise. Then-president of Kiribati Anote Tong declared in 2015 before the UN General Assembly that, for the low-lying atoll islands, it was ‘already too late’. He lamented that “there’s a limit to how many times you can tell a story people are not listening to”. In Australia later that year he also issued a demand to Australians to cease their avoidance of the issue: “I challenge people, leaders in Australia to face the reality. Or let them say ‘I don’t care’ and then go to church next Sunday.“. Kiribati’s government have bought a 5,500 acre package of land in Fiji for relocation.

The future is still undetermined and the SIDS that face existential threats from rising sea levels have the ability and the ingenuity to come up with (and carry out) their own solutions to protect their islands. Many would disagree with Anote Tong’s pessimistic view. There are no boundaries to the ingenuity of humankind. Furthermore, there are many actions that can be taken by a number of different stakeholders to significantly affect the outcome; the disappearance of these islands is not inevitable.

States like China, Singapore, and the Netherlands have long engaged in successful land reclamation efforts, but the momentous scale of the task required to protect SIDS from rising sea levels would be extremely cost-intensive, well beyond the financial capabilities of most SIDS. It appears more likely that the international community will share the burden of incorporating the thousands of climate refugees, than the likelihood of every stakeholder banding together to build the infrastructural safeguards and land reclamation practices necessary to conserve the islands. Only time will tell. If the former comes to pass, it will likely signal a substantial blow to the faith that impoverished people affected by climate change have in the probability that the world will come together to prevent climate change-related calamities before they eventuate. The world is excellent at uniting for disaster relief, far less so for preventing disaster in the first place. This needs to change immediately. If the pleas of islanders desperate to prevent their homes and societies from going under are not enough to compel us to adapt our sustainable lifestyles, what will be? Make no mistake: continued procrastination will equal catastrophe.

References:
United Nations Department of Public Information (1999). Press Kit on Small Islands: Issues and Actions. New York, NY: UN.

Anthony Huber
Content Editor (2017)

Square Peg, Round Hole: A Cursory Autopsy of Victoria’s Wildlife and Nature Tourism Strategy

In March, the Monash Sustainable Tourism Association (MSTA) organized a tour to the You Yangs Regional Park with the Koala Clancy Foundation and Echidna Walkabout Tours for a glimpse into conservation-oriented tourism. The aim was to unify participants under a common goal towards proactive participation and more sustainable tourism practice. The conservation day involved walking, weeding, and watching Clancy, the world’s most famous koala and the Foundation’s poster boy.
What set out be a narrative of the day, composed to demonstrate the links between conservation, tourism, and regional development, turned into an accidental journey down a rabbit hole. The examination precipitated four pivotal questions regarding Victoria’s approach to wildlife and nature tourism.

koala2

Why wildlife tourism?

Victoria’s biodiversity includes over 200 regionally and nationally endangered species whose habitats are at risk from habitat degradation, bush fires, and weed invasion. Despite the watertight argument for the instrumental and intrinsic values of wildlife and its protection, the reality is that wildlife is going to have to pay for its own survival.

Correctly managed wildlife tourism is one relatively harmless way of tackling this problem. Wildlife tourism presents a strong case for conservation, as it offers people a chance to consume a product and understand its value. It provides a long-term source of employment and income, and bridges the growing gap between people and planet.

Tourism has the capacity to cover a share of the investment required to sustain local wildlife and their habitats. The Foundation testifies to tourism’s potential to harness the good intentions of tourists and volunteers, who are more willing to invest in consuming such a product. They believe it is easier to stimulate tourist interests with a novel experience, which is augmented by knowledge of the scope of their contribution.

“Through interpretation, understanding; through understanding, appreciation; through appreciation, protection.”

tour

Why does Victoria not capitalise on its assets?

Native Australian wildlife is unlike any other and attracts visitors from around the globe. However, Tourism Victoria primarily promotes wildlife tourism in controlled environments like Werribee Open Range Zoo and Melbourne Zoo. We believe that if the state supported alternative wildlife tourism as well, it would encourage innovation and product diversification which create more jobs for the industry. In the contest between Melbourne and the rest of Victoria for tourism numbers and revenue, the You Yangs appears to fall through the cracks. It is significantly underfunded and underpromoted by the industry and the private sector.

Why does Victoria insist on developing artificial tourism products instead of taking advantage of its existing assets? Is the priority to import animals to rehabilitate endangered wildlife in Africa, when its own wildlife population is being overwhelmed by deforestation and mining? Let’s face it, baiting an international audience with international wildlife is just silly. Nobody travels to Australia to see lions.

What is stopping community action?

Community action, or the lack thereof, was a major point of our discussions with Janine and Kirby, as one of the biggest challenges faced by conservationists outside the conventional tourism sector. Perhaps, the immediate goal should be to engage Australians with their own wildlife to encourage conservation.

Community inaction can be partially attributed to the classic “local” reluctance to pay to consume one’s own neighbourhood as a tourist. The other, said Kirby, is that people are aware and in support of the local koala population, but are content with making a small, one-off donation instead of a long-term commitment to the cause.

koala

Where does wildlife fit in development?

Many developing countries see nature tourism as a path towards to poverty alleviation and social inclusion. Even in developed economies, the natural environment is at odds with human activity. The loss of habitat and the consequent extinction of species would impact the ecotourism industry and the jobs it creates, and tourism is a far more preferable alternative to employment in mining and timber. Tourism integrates various industries and enterprises like farming, textiles, and handicrafts.

Along with Clancy and his friends, the park is close to a sacred aboriginal site, and the Foundation works closely with the region’s indigenous community. It paves the way for social inclusion and cohesion within the communities that live in the region, simultaneously contributing to the protection of not just its natural assets, but its cultural heritage too. It converts the resultant product to one greater than the sum of its parts.

Divya Sahasrabuddhe
Alumni, Master of International Sustainable Tourism Management
Alessandro Frau
Student, Masters of International Sustainable Tourism Management

Biodiversity Conservation in Indonesia

Earlier this year I spent six weeks in Jakarta, Indonesia interning at the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation (also known as KEHATI). Initially, I felt very pessimistic about working for an NGO. I also did not  speak the language and therefore had minimal expectations about my time there. Even though I was extremely passionate about what I was studying in my Environmental Management & Sustainability degree, the nature of current Australian and US politics , as well as regulations, conflicting stakeholder interests, and general ignorance amongst the public left me feeling dubious about environmental conservation.

Moving to Jakarta would also come with a new set of challenges.. I was well aware of the amount of waste and pollution that plague the city. Jakarta, located on the island of Java in central Indonesia, has a population of 10 million people, with almost 4 million people traveling in and out of the city on a daily basis. It is notorious for heavy traffic jams, pollution, not to mention unsafe  tap water. As a country in the throes of economic development, I was extremely interested in how this would affect biodiversity conservation.

It only took a week in Jakarta for my skepticism to rapidly vanish. Yes, pollution and traffic were just as bad as I had expected, the air was humid and sticky, and I was confronted with a different reality.  However the food was cheap and delicious, the people at  my organisation were dedicated, strong willed, and passionate, and the challenge that lay ahead excited me.

 

A little bit about my organisation…

Following the Rio Earth Summit and the Convention of Biological Diversity, a memorandum of understanding was signed by the  the US and Indonesian governments in order to increase efforts of biodiversity conservation in Indonesia. As a result, the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation (most commonly known by its Indonesian acronym, KEHATI) was established in January 1994 as an independent, not-for-profit, self-sustaining institution dedicated to funding biodiversity conservation activities. Through an endowment fund invested in stocks and bonds, the return on investment was able to be distributed across Indonesia to implement conservation activities.

 

A little bit about my role…

The internship itself was very self-directed, which could be quite frustrating at times. However I was also able to research what I wanted. One of the programs administered by KEHATI was an organisation called Tropical Forest Conservation Action in Sumatra. Established in 2009, this program was set up under a debt-for-nature swap agreement between the governments of Indonesia, the US, and Conservation International. A debt-for-nature swap involves restructuring the outstanding debt of a developing country with a creditor organisation or government, in exchange for conservation activities within the debtor country. The Tropical Forest Conservation Act 1998 (USA) was passed specifically for agreements with the United States in nations with tropical forests. Nowadays, Indonesia  has two such agreements in the islands of Sumatra and Kalimantan.

My curiosity regarding debt-for-nature swaps peaked. This sounded almost too good to be true! If a developing nation could have its debt restructured, the economic burden of the debt would not only allow for increased funding towards conservation, but also for economic development within local communities. Deforestation and forest degradation has historically been of national concern for Indonesia, as well as around the world. In the last 30 years, Sumatra has lost a considerable size of it’s primary forest cover through land conversion into rubber and oil palm plantations, infrastructure developments, agriculture, as well as the timber industry. Poverty has exacerbated existing rifts between local communities and forests: natural resource exploitation, illegal hunting and illegal logging are not uncommon.

My main objective was to investigate the correlation between foreign aid, conservation activities and economic development under the context of a debt-for-nature swap in Sumatra. In hindsight, this task was probably too ambitious for the time-frame that I had allocated myself. However, between reading project proposals and researching debt-for-nature swaps, I was able to glean information on the conservation activities being implemented. Some of these activities included empowering local communities through microfinance by managing the surrounding forests sustainably, building and protecting forest corridors for the inhabiting wildlife, and setting up jungle cameras to monitor the tiger population.

 

A little bit about my future…

Although I was not able to obtain the feedback I specifically wanted for my project, the six weeks in Jakarta gave me an invaluable perspective on my future. For the first time, I am considering pursuing further education in the form of a PhD. I also hold  ambitions to end up working for an organisation like KEHATI. Most importantly,  I feel infinitely more optimistic about the world state of affairs, particularly seeing first hand the dedication for biodiversity conservation in a developing country; while Indonesia still has a long way to go, the drive and energy dedicated towards sustainability is positive and unyielding.

 

Sophia
Master's of Environmental Management and Sustainability Student

Get inspired… World Wildlife Day

 

wwd_logo_englishOur global environment and wildlife are highly impacted by human consumption. A clear example is how plastic in the ocean has severely affected aquatic wildlife. In order to pay tribute to World Wildlife day, the MIDPA has chosen to focus on this current global issue.

More than 250 million tons of plastic products are manufactured each year. While this number might initially seem outrageous or unrealistic, when we think about it, most of our daily routines involve use of products that either contain plastic or are wrapped in plastic. Food, cosmetics, soap, kitchen equipment, computers, and toys are just some examples. The use of plastic is so widespread that even washing our clothes made of polyester means that microplastics are being washed out into the oceans!

We can no longer ignore the impact that plastic and microplastic has had on wildlife- not just aquatic but also birds and even humans that might ingest these microplastics through seafood. If you find the previous statement quite hard to digest (pun intended) then the following video by National Geographic might give you a better understanding of this particular issue:

If you are still not convinced or would like to know a little bit more on this topic, the MIDPA has selected some relevant videos and organisations of interest to further expand your mind.

To give you more context, World Wildlife day is one of United Nations International days. You can read more about the campaign on wildlifeday.org or follow WWD2017 on Twitter.
The United Nations also lists ‘Life Below Water’ as Sustainable Development Goals number 14 which is why they are currently championing a campaign to beat the microbeads in our products.

World Wildlife Foundation is probably one of the best known organisations working to save endangered species. 

However, this issue is not reserved for the third sector alone. As a matter of fact, corporations have also seen business opportunities and a potential market in putting value on discarded plastic products. Saltwater Brewery is an example of how innovation and rethinking can address sustainability problems while still being profitable and business oriented.

The Ocean Cleanup is another project that tries to address the problem.

Last but not least, ABC’s documentary Oceans of Plastic is a fantastic and thought-provoking way to ponder and debate on what we should all be doing on World Wildlife Day: http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2017/02/27/4624878.htm

We certainly hope this will inspire you to #DoOneThingToday to save and improve our wildlife!

#DoOneThingToday, #youth4wildlife, #YoungVoices,  #WorldWildlifeDay, #EndWildlifeTrafficking #BeatTheMicrobeats #TheOceanCleanup #WWF #WorldWildlifeFoundation #SDG14