hands holding dirt and worms sustainability

THE OXYGEN FILES: your weekly round up of sustainability news and what it means  – We often hear that regulations are all very well, but without enforcement they’re  fairly ineffective. So is it good news or bad news that AGL made headlines in the business sections of media this week for a $3 million slap on the wrist for not surrendering its mandated quota of Victorian Energy Efficiency Certificates?

The Victorian Essential Services Commission issued the fine following a significant shortfall to the tune of more than 64,000 VEECs not handed over in 2017.

At this stage we do not know whether this indicates it didn’t earn enough, so possibly was a bit slack on the efficiency activities front, or whether it was an administrative failure to deliver the VEECs.

In the report, AGL wholesale markets executive Richard Wright apologised and called the shortfall an “oversight”.

ASIC says report climate risks, or else [except, there’s no “or else”]

While GRESB and the latest Dow Jones Sustainability Index have garnered praise for some of Australia’s leading listed property trusts, ASIC has expressed displeasure at the lack of reporting of climate change risks by a significant proportion of the ASX top 300.

The Climate Risk Disclosure by Australian Listed Companies report, published September 20, gives four key recommendations for listed companies: consider climate risk; develop and maintain strong and effective corporate governance; comply with the law; and disclosure useful information to investors.

The coverage of the report noted that among the companies surveyed by ASIC, most of the ASX 100 had considered the potential risks of climate change, but that disclosure of these risks to investors “considerably fragmented, with information provided to the market in differing forms across a wide range of means of disclosure”.

“In some cases, the review found climate risk disclosures to be far too general, and of limited use to investors,” ASIC said in a statement.

Other findings were that outside the ASX 200, few listed companies have been disclosing climate risks to their investors, and that climate change-related content in annual reporting by all listed companies has fallen from 22 per cent of reports in 2011 to 14 per cent in 2017.

To raise the dam or save more water?

The NSW government proposal to raise the wall of Sydney’s primary water reservoir, Warragamba Dam, was making waves this week.

The proposal is to raise the wall by 14 metres, to reduce the risk of flooding in the catchment. However, there’s a catch quite beyond the billion-plus dollar price tag of the project, such as destruction of Aboriginal cultural sites, and elimination of protected ecological communities in a World Heritage Area. Environmental advocates plan on having the matter raised with the UN W9orld Heritage Committee.

It’s always interesting to get a feel for sentiment by scanning the letters to the editor in The SMH. Among the issues raised were hydro [as in, why have more hydro that will be costly and destructive when we could have more solar and wind where it won’t hurt anything], the desalination plant [as in, why not just spend the money on more desal, and also, why spend the money, look what a lemon that big desal turned out to be] and, why increase the dam capacity when encouraging people to save water is cheaper.

The correspondent pointed out that during the last drought, Sydney Water put information on comparative water use on the bills – which in the spirit of competition tends to make people want to use less than the average Joe Bloggs is supposedly using.

But when the drought broke, that was quietly discontinued.

A while back we heard that a similar thing happened with Melbourne Water, where that simple low-cost measure of adding a graphic to the bill showing the user’s consumption compared to other “average” households was scrapped. Lo and behold, water consumption went up – even though nothing else of note had changed.

Who’s pulling the planning strings?

Another interesting item that caught our eye was a revelation delivered in an investigation by The Guardian into New Corp’s influence on policy-making, that the newsroom of The Daily Telegraph has been coming up with wishlists for development projects in Western Sydney and then pushing them at the government and public.

Is it urban planning and infrastructure planning by stealth?

The article claims the premier would be presented with a list of demands in the form of projects the newspaper wanted the government to adopt.

“Those ideas come out of a 10-minute add-on to news conference,” former Australian newspaper correspondent Imre Salusinszky told The Guardian.

“You’re suddenly informed that we need to build a bridge from Parramatta to Neptune immediately.

“You look at the crazy list and give a few of the least crazy ideas to the bureaucrats to explore.”

The paper then allegedly demands exclusives on the project announcements, and uses its subsequent media campaign to sign up corporate sponsorship for the associated event.

“They bully the government into certain projects so they can beat their chests and show they can deliver outcomes,” Salusinszky said. “Then they bank it, in the form of corporate sponsorships. I think it’s another example of the dysfunctional relationship between tabloid media and the political class in NSW.”

News Corp responded that: “The Daily Telegraph’s campaigns for western Sydney are focused on achieving better services and facilities for the people who live in this great region. The commercial support for the campaigns shows that those businesses also care for western Sydney and support its residents. Their commercial support does not influence the direction or objectives of the campaigns.”

What Sydney voters actually want… is somewhat surprising

Making headlines in The SMH this week, the results of a poll of Sydney residents on which of 35 transport infrastructure projects across road and rail they would make the top priorities.

A fast train connecting Newcastle and Sydney was the most highly ranked project in the survey, followed by a Sydney West Metro from the CBD to Parramatta.

Seems like there are a lot of people have twigged to the idea 21st century public transport might improve their lives more than yet another 20th century-style Bloody Big Road.

The SMH article quoted a spokesman for Committee for Sydney suggesting the interest in the Newcastle fast train link was driven by the number of young people priced out of the Sydney market and moving into the central coast area but still needing to commute to work in Sydney.

We can’t help but wonder whether there might not also be a significant number of people who would move out of Sydney in a flash if it were possible to have a less lengthy commute back in to earn the daily crust.

There’s a reason places like Daylesford and Mount Macedon in Victoria; Gosford, Bellingen and Byron Bay in NSW; Mount Tambourine in Queensland and Margaret River in WA are popular – and it’s not low house prices or because people have retired. It’s called lifestyle, that dream of having a life outside of work that involves a great level of amenity, community and nice views of nature and not a two hour each way commute to make ends meet.

Taking the pulse of the bush

The Fifth Estate donned a pair of Rossi boots and visited the Henty Machinery Field Days last week. It’s the state’s largest agricultural field days, so a good chance to take a reading on how the drought is affecting the rural sector, and what traction regenerative practices and sustainability tech is gaining.

According to Henty locals, the impact of the drought could be seen in lower attendance numbers across all three days. Stallholders also commented that people were simply buying less, or were buying smaller cheaper items rather than expensive ones.

Many people appeared to have purchased next to nothing, a real contrast to previous years when most attendees would be leaving the site weighed down with purchases.

Very few people were buying plants and trees – perhaps a reflection of concerns around having the water to keep them alive – and the number of stalls selling such things was also fewer.

On a bright note, stalls such as worm poo fertiliser, solar and geothermal technologies, compost for broadscale applications and solar powered electric fences and solar powered LED yard lights were saying they had experienced a greater interest in both inquiries and customers.

A conversation with one of the Corowa Landcare representatives at the big Landcare NSW shed cast some light on this, as she said that there was a growing interest in sustainability, including regenerative farming approaches and also carbon farming for both its environmental value and its potential to generate an income stream.

The drought is making both more attractive to a particular group of farmers, she says, the ones who plan on holding the land through to the next generation and beyond.

The big industrial operations and corporate farms, however, are less likely to be looking at upping the sustainability ante.

However, the Landcare rep said that even for the farmers that are dead keen on carbon farming, there’s a major obstacle to it becoming another viable agricultural enterprise on the farm – lack of policy.

There is just no easy to access market yet for carbon credits generated through on-farm revegetation and regeneration efforts, or for carbon sequestered through regenerative farming.

Climate change as an impact on farms is hitting the radar of many, she says. The drought is definitely ringing some alarm bells in that regard.

At the same time though, she says that for many farmers it is hard to think more than one season ahead, because a farm income and viability is for so many a season-by-season proposition.

It seemed that rural industry group, NSW Farmers, should be all across the whole climate resilient farming trend given the severity of the drought. So a visit was made to their tent at the HMFD.

“Hi, have you got any information on climate smart farming?” we ask the bright, bubbly Akubra wearing meet-and-greeter.

[Climate Smart Farming is a movement led by the amazing Anika Molesworth, a grazier from Western NSW and also a multi-award winning influencer in the agriculture space.]

The NSW Farmers rep looks confused. The smile fades a bit. “Ah…” she says. “Not that I’m aware of. What was that again?”

“Climate smart farming, you know, practices to help adaptation to climate change?”

“Er… ahhh… sounds like something maybe our policy person might know something about? [she glances around as if they might appear in a puff of magic smoke and rescue her] But…. I am really not sure we do that.”

On that dispiriting note, we bid that tent adieu, and head off, shaking the head somewhat, to see a bloke about some worm poo. They had free samples!

A few words of advice about your greenery

With water reservoirs getting ever lower, and the drought declaration now covering all of NSW and the ACT, parts of Queensland and also creeping into parts of Victoria, saving water needs to be everybody’s business.

At the same time, having increased plants around whether that’s pots on the patio, landscaping on the roof of the apartment block or trees on the street is a key part of mitigating the impact of summer’s expected heatwaves. Plus, as experts have now proven, having plants around is beneficial for mental health and overall wellbeing.

ABC Gardening guru Costa Georgiadis had some good advice this week for caring for existing plants and suggestions for any new planting efforts folks might have planned for spring.

Willow Aliento is associate editor, The Fifth Estate. Send tips and feedback to willow@thefifthestate.com.au

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