ALEC purpose is to protect nature and support ecologically sustainable development in the arid lands. To work toward our vision of healthy futures for arid lands and people, ALEC is prioritising these key areas of focus over the next few months:
Energy and climate change mitigation
To help meet the Northern Territory Government’s renewable energy target of 50 per cent by 2030, ALEC is part of Alice Springs Future Grid, a two-year project led by the Intyalheme Centre for Future Energy to transform the power system to support more renewable energy. ALEC is leading Future Grid’s Community Solutions sub-project. ALEC will be rolling out household solar batteries to specific areas of town and working with the community to establish the Northern Territory’s first Virtual Power Plant to more effectively integrate stored renewable energy into the Alice Springs grid.
To work toward achieving a zero net emissions economy for the entire Northern Territory, ALEC will continue to support the Repower NT campaign which aims to fulfil the NT's potential to become a renewable energy superpower. ALEC is also calling on the NT Government to introduce a Climate Change Act to legislate a target of net zero emissions by 2050 as well as carbon targets for all sectors of the economy. The NT Government must show leadership on decarbonising the economy in order to harness the opportunities of the transition towards carbon neutrality.
ALEC is staunchly opposed to hydraulic fracturing and the development of any new onshore gas infrastructure in the Northern Territory. Fracking will exponentially increase NT carbon emissions and is incompatible with Australia’s obligations under the Paris Climate Agreement. Furthermore, government subsidies to support new fossil fuel infrastructure will become stranded assets in a world that is rapidly moving to renewable energy. Gas is a job poor, carbon intensive and environmentally degrading industry. Investment in more won’t help lower electricity prices either.
ALEC will strategically focus efforts on preventing the proposed Amadeus to Moomba Gas Pipeline (AMGP) from going ahead, holding the government to account to implement the 135 recommendations from the NT Scientific Inquiry into Hydraulic Fracturing and building the capacity of the community to organise itself including working together with local action groups such as the Central Australian Frack Free Alliance.
Climate Ready Central Australia
Alice Springs can become a Climate Ready town
The impacts of climate change are already here. In Central Australia, this means more extreme heat days, longer heatwaves, elongated droughts and more intense and frequent wildfires. In addition to putting pressure on rapid mitigation, ALEC is also focused around what we can do to address climate impacts happening right now. With climate impacts disproportionately affecting Aborginal people living in remote communities and vulnerable groups, it is essential that communities are supported to adapt to the changing conditions in just and equitable ways. Climate adaptation is relevant to all sectors and spaces; the Government has a responsibility to act.
Becoming ‘Climate-Ready’ involves taking practical actions to help our communities and ecosystems cope with a changing climate in order to reduce harm and vulnerability, and make use of opportunities. For example, that means having a climate-ready health sector, tourism industry, housing, agriculture and land management approaches.
The Northern Territory is well-placed to become a national leader in climate adaptation due to our unique climatic context. However, we are many years behind other Australian States and Territories in planning and action.
To best support all sectors and communities that make up the Territory, ALEC considers it a matter of urgency that the NT Government develop their own Climate Adaptation Plan, in addition to implementing Regional Adaptation Plans and Sector Adaptation Plans across the Territory. These strategies need to be informed by local knowledge and people to ensure our communities are strong and prepared.
Buffel grass and land management
Buffel grass is one of the worst invaders of arid ecosystems worldwide, and in Australia this single species has contributed to the destruction of once diverse communities of native grasses and wildflowers across vast landscapes.
New research into the impacts of buffel grass in Central Australia shows just how damaging it is to landscapes, ecosystems, biodiversity and Aboriginal culture. This aggressive weed is now considered a greater risk to the ecology of arid environments than changed fire regimes; predation of wildlife by foxes and cats; overgrazing by cattle and camels and soil degradation by rabbits.
ALEC wants to see the Northern Territory follow South Australia’s lead in declaring buffel grass a weed. Management of buffel must include funding for buffel-free sanctuaries to protect our rangelands from invasion, containing the spread of buffel in areas that have already been impacted and increased support for Aboriginal ranger groups to care for and manage Country. The NT Government can support low-carbon, place-based jobs by establishing a buffel management program in Central Australia, similar to the successful Gamba Army in the Top-End.
Protecting our water
Water underpins human wellbeing and is crucial for healthy natural ecosystems. The issue of water security is of critical importance in arid Central Australia, where climate change will increasingly impact on the availability and quality of our ground and surface water supplies. Currently, water allocations do not consider how the impacts of climate change will affect water resources. This needs to change.
The Northern Territory currently has a discriminatory water regime that disadvantages remote Aboriginal communities. Many remote communities do not have legal rights guaranteeing access to clean drinking water. There is increasing public awareness of the need for legislated water security safeguards, such as a Safe Drinking Water Act. ALEC will continue to stand alongside the Land Councils and other groups to push for outcomes that ensure all people in the Territory have fair and equitable access to clean water.
The Northern Territory is the only Australian State or Territory that doe not currently have a water pricing regime. As a result the Territory Government continues to give water away public water to corporations for free.
Issues with water all converge around a water licence application at Singleton Station. The NT Government is considering granting the largest water allocation in the Territory, some 40 billion litres per year for 30 years, to Fortune Agribusiness to develop a 3,500-hectare irrigated horticulture farm, 120 kms from Tennant Creek.The development has the potential to cause significant, long-term damage to the environment and sites of cultural significance. This development may negatively impact the drinking water of 1000 people in nearby communities, is modelled to lower the groundwater table by 50 metres after 30 years, will result in the destruction of groundwater dependent ecosystems, fails to include climate change impacts in its modelling, does not account for the impacts of the thousands of tonnes of dissolved salts that will be brought to the surface, and generally lacks scientific rigor in its water licence application.
ALEC is concerned that if approved, the decision to grant the licence would set a precedent for the industrialisation of water resources and pastoral land, providing a signal to developers that we are willing to give away billions of litres of public water for free to prop up profits.
Transition to a low-carbon economy
Source: Gamba Army, Territory NRM
The Territory Economic Reconstruction Commission (TERC) Final Report includes some positive suggestions for decarbonising the Territory’s economy however we strongly oppose the major focus on gas production, gas infrastructure and petrochemical developments.
The expansion of the gas industry in the Northern Territory will have severe carbon impacts, create only a small number of specialised jobs and cause degradation to the land and water resources. Investing in gas will not generate a viable economic return for the Territory and will only result in stranded assets.
The Territory Government has the opportunity to invest in sectors and industries that will bring long-term, low-carbon jobs. As the TERC acknowledges, there are huge opportunities in the decarbonisation of the Territory and new low-carbon industries which are emerging, on top of those that already exist. This includes: hydrogen energy, solar energy, battery storage, green manufacturing opportunities, electricity and water infrastructure upgrades, carbon farming, land management programs, housing repair and maintenance and other climate-ready programs.
Strategic Regional Environment and Baseline Assessment
A baseline pilot of the stygofauna and microbial assemblages of the subterranean groundwater dependent ecosystems of the Beetaloo sub-Basin and Roper River system, NT was one of the recommendations of the Fracking Inquiry (2018).
Strategic Regional Environment and Baseline Assessment (SREBA) is the vital core element of the Pepper Inquiry. Many of the impacts of fracking upon the Beetaloo Sub-basin are not known and further research is needed before we can properly understand, and assess, the risks that are posed to the NT. The SREBA is about undertaking the critical research needed before a final risk assessment about fracking is made. Through the SREBA, we are learning about the Beetaloo’s surface and groundwater systems, biodiversity in the region, as well developing social, cultural and economic baselines.
ALEC has significant concerns around the direction and oversight of the SREBA. The Onshore Shale and Gas Community Business Reference Group essential for oversight and input was stopped, independent and private consultants ‘Circle Advisory’ responsible for the Strategic Regional Assessment, and social cultural and economic baseline studies have been sacked, and recommendations from the Fracking Inquiry are being watered down.
The SREBA needs a robust governance structure, overseen by an independent steering committing. It must be a transparent and inclusive process for reporting and decision-making and be completed independently of the Northern Territory Government. ALEC will continue to monitor the Northern Territory Government’s progress toward and commitment to implementing the 135 recommendations from the Pepper Inquiry, including the 32 that are related to the SREBA.
Environmental mining regulatory reform
McArthur River Uranium mine, source: Turgan via Wikimedia Commons.
We are at a unique juncture where the Northern Territory’s mining laws are undergoing major reform for the first time in 20 years. The NT’s mining laws have historically been weak, outdated, clouded in secrecy and have failed to protect the environment.
Examples of the regulatory regime failing to protect the environment in recent times include the McArthur River Mine and Frances Creek Mine, while historical issues with mining are prevalent with legacy mines such as Rum Jungle, Redbank and many others. Decades of poor mining practices having been legitimised by the regulatory process substantially impacting the public’s view of the industry. Robust, transparent and a trusted regulatory system is key to ensuring effective environmental mining regulations. The current effort to reform the mining industry, will have significant impacts for the environment, industry and communities across the Territory.
The updated laws propose a major shift in the management of environmental mining regulations from the Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism (DITT) to the Department of Environment, Parks and Water Security (DEPWS). This is a significant change and one in which ALEC strongly supports. Mining has severe environmental impacts and they ought to be regulated by the department responsible for environmental protection. It is important that no environmental regulatory responsibilities are left with the department (DITT) responsible for the promotion and expansion of mining activities. It is integral that any such changes are matched with additional resourcing to DEPWS. It is also vital that the NT Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) is adequately resourced. Compared to the billion dollar developments they oversee, the NT EPA has a tiny budget of $750000 per year. Adequate resourcing will provide the Department and the NT EPA the ability to ensure effective monitoring, compliance and enforcement.
Mining activities across the Territory have left scars in the forms of legacy mines and toxic waste sites littered across landscapes, emblems of failed regulations of bygone eras. These new reforms must address issues around who is accountable for environmental degradation. If it is industry and corporations that are creating environmental damage, it is industry that must pay the price. This can be managed through rigorous planning around mine closure, rehabilitation and care and maintenance. It is vital that securities, chains of responsibility legislation and residual risk payments are embedded into the mining reforms and these reflect industry best practice.
The mining industry has been clouded in secrecy, with mining management plans only becoming publicly available in recent years. Reform of environmental mining regulations must be transparent. The public must be duly informed about mining activities and information must be publicly available. In addition, it is important that merits reviews are available to third parties to challenge key mining approvals.
In light of the Juukan Gorge disaster in Western Australia, it is integral that mining reforms are inclusive of Aboriginal people. Reforms must acknowledge and recognise that mining activities often occur on Aboriginal land and can have significant impacts for Aboriginal communities and their culture. Aboriginal people should be included in the co-design of the mining reforms and that Aboriginal engagement is rigorous. The reforms must also ensure adequate protections for sacred sites and areas of cultural heritage.