ABC boss Michelle Guthrie urged to abandon ‘perplexing, alarming’ NT broadcast decision

ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie. Photo: Alex EllinghausenABC managing director Michelle Guthrie is facing conflict on a new front after two Labor MPs demanded the national broadcaster reverse a decision over the future of broadcasting in the Northern Territory.

Senator Malarndirri McCarthy and member for Lingiari Warren Snowdon have expressed “deep disappointment” and concern about the plan to end shortwave broadcasting in the NT from the end of January.

“Your decision to cease this shortwave service has caused consternation and alarm across the Northern Territory, particularly as it was not foreseen and had not been the subject of any discussion or consultation of any kind,” Senator McCarthy and Mr Snowdon wrote in a letter on Monday.

“Subsequent to the announcement no reasonable explanation has been forthcoming. This has led to the conclusion by some that the ABC as the national public broadcaster has lost sight of its responsibility to provide services that are accessible regardless of where people live or who they are.”

The ABC is continuing to broadcast via FM and AM frequencies, the viewer access satellite television (VAST) service and online streaming but various NT figures have argued the shortwave transmitters – in Katherine, Tennant Creek and Roe Creek – allow remote listeners to access radio and are a crucial platform during natural disasters.

A group of Indigenous rangers told the ABC last week that ending the shortwave service could be life-threatening because, when operating remotely, the service is the “only way of getting the weather reports” that can warn of incoming cyclones.

The ABC has said services in coastal areas should remain available through FM broadcasts and distress frequencies during emergencies.

The Labor MPs said they were aware of challenges flowing from government funding cuts and expressed appreciation for the ABC’s dedication to rural and regional areas but called for the outlet to to remain accessible, responsible and accountable to remote listeners.

“We ask that you visit the Northern Territory and engage with relevant stakeholders to better understand the impact of this decision on the community,” Senator McCarthy and Mr Snowdon wrote.

Their intervention comes as Ms Guthrie marks an intense first year in the job, with staff at Radio National recently passing a no confidence motion in management.

An ABC spokesman said the broadcaster would consider Monday’s letter and respond in due course.

Employer groups warn against underpayment and an uneven playing field

Frances Johns thought she had gained a job but in fact was doing an unpaid “trial” shift at Bella Portofino in Wollongong. Photo: Janie Barrett Blake Roberts worked at Bella Portofino in Wollongong, where he was underpaid. Photo: Janie Barrett

Ashleigh Mounser was underpaid in numerous jobs in Wollongong Photo: Janie Barrett

Peak employer groups have warned business owners against systematic underpayment of workers because it is creating an uneven playing field for those paying lawful wage rates.

Responding to Fairfax Media’s investigation into the rampant underpayment of young people in restaurants, cafes and retail, James Pearson, chief executive officer of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry said employers should fulfil their legal requirements to avoid creating unfair competition.

“Thankfully most employers do the right thing, but employers that cut corners hurt operators that play by the rules, posing unfair competition,” Mr Pearson said.

“Workplace regulation is a complex web of rules and requirements that many small business owners struggle to navigate without legal help, so non-compliance is not always deliberate.”

Businesses that breach national employment standards and awards face penalties of up to $54,000, back payments and damage to reputation.

Australian Retailers Association executive director Russell Zimmerman said his organisation was also concerned about the creation of an “unlevel playing field”.

“It does make it very difficult if you are paying the right amount of money in wages and costs to compete with someone who is not,” he said

Mr Zimmerman said the payment of wages in cash meant employees were also in a precarious position in relation to workers’ compensation.

While not excusing the exploitation of young people on under-award wages, Mr Zimmerman said one of the reasons it was happening was because “the cost of labour is so expensive”.

“We do believe Sunday penalty rates are too high, but that is not an excuse for what they are doing,” he said.

Jo-anne Schofield, the national secretary of United Voice, the union representing hospitality workers, said the underpayment of young people in Wollongong was part of a national problem.

“Wollongong is not isolated, it is a systematic problem,” she said.

“Employers are increasingly building systematic underpayment into their business model.

“In hospitality there is a double whammy where people are being ripped off and on the other hand there is a concerted effort from employers to cut weekend rates.”

Ms Schofield said the rights of unions to inspect the books have been wound back in the past decade.

“As union rights around responsible right of entry and inspection and also being able to talk to workers are being wound back, we are just seeing an explosion in exploitative work practices,” she said.

“It also punishes companies doing the right thing.”

Federal Minister for Employment Michaelia Cash said exploitation of workers in Australia, whether domestic or foreign, is “unlawful, wrong and will not be tolerated”.

“That is why the Coalition has implemented, and will continue to implement, a range of measures to ensure that workers are aware of their rights and employers who seek to exploit workers are investigated and punished appropriately,” she said.

“The Government’s Policy to Protect Vulnerable Workers includes amendments to the Fair Work Act to provide strengthened protections for vulnerable workers, an additional $20 million to the Fair Work Ombudsman to enforce workplace laws, and a taskforce chaired by Professor Alan Fels to identify and rectify instances of the exploitation of migrant workers.”

Federal Labor’s workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor said the government had failed to stop companies doing the wrong thing.

“Worker exploitation in Australia is systemic and occurring far too often, yet for three years the Abbott-Turnbull Government had the chance to legislate changes to ensure workers do not get ripped off, and they failed,” Mr O’Connor said.

“At a time when youth unemployment is at record highs, wage growth is at record lows, only Labor has introduced legislation to prevent workers being exploited”.

Fairfax Media has reported on the underpayment and non-payment of young workers on trial shifts after University of Wollongong graduate Ashleigh Mounser untapped a deluge of complaints from more than 60 students who have shared similar stories of underpayment in Wollongong cafes and restaurants. Academics say the underpayment and unpaid work trials is a growing national scandal.

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Sydney mayor Clover Moore orders urgent action on climate change

Clover Moore has ordered urgent action to address climate change. Photo: Daniel Munoz Sydney lord mayor Clover Moore (front row, second from right) with other mayors at the C40 Mayoral Summit in Mexico. Photo: Supplied

As the Turnbull government struggles to implement a clear and effective climate change policy, the City of Sydney will redouble its efforts to reduce emissions in a bid to bypass the federal impasse.

Lord mayor Clover Moore, who returned from C40 Mayors Summit in Mexico earlier this month, said the climate conference had alerted her to the scale and urgency of the action required by cities to address climate change.

Cr Moore said she now believed the city needed to do “twice as much in half the time” and, at Monday night’s council meeting, called on the council to accelerate its existing targets and re-allocate funding if necessary.

“It was clear from the conference that we need bolder action at a faster rate if we are to play our part in meeting the Paris Agreement,” Cr Moore stated in her report from the summit, which was tabled at Monday night’s council meeting.

At the meeting, she called on council staff to come back to council in February “with actions to accelerate our emissions reductions over the next four years”.

Fast-tracking the city’s move towards zero-carbon buildings, including developing a clear target date by which building standards should be in place, were key priorities, she said.

She also called on City of Sydney chief executive Monica Barone to bring forward the city’s Draft Environmental Action Plan to the council’s first meeting in 2017 with a clear list of priorities in line with the C40 Summit.

Cr Moore said research presented at the summit provided cities with clear targets which, if adopted, would deliver 40 per cent of the savings need to achieve the ambition of the Paris Agreement.

Cr Moore’s report and recommendations were adopted unanimously by council.

The focus of Monday night’s council meeting on climate change policy comes after the Turnbull government’s beleaguered week in the policy arena, which culminated in a fractious meeting with state premiers at Friday’s Council of Australian Government meeting.

The week was dominated by Coalition intransigence on climate change, even as a report by chief scientist Alan Finkel warned Australia had no clear path to meeting the 2030 emissions target taken to the Paris climate deal under existing policies.

This report was preceded by a policy capitulation by Environment Minister Josh Frydenberg, who promptly dumped plans for a review of the Coalition’s direct action policy to examine whether to introduce an emissions intensity scheme for the electricity industry – a form of carbon pricing – after vocal opposition from the Coalition backbench.

Fairfax Media then revealed the Turnbull government had been sitting on advice that an emissions intensity scheme would save households and businesses up to $15 billion in electricity bills over a decade.

The Paris Agreement commits signatories, including Australia, to “hold average temperature increase to well below 2 degrees and pursue efforts to keep warming below 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels”.

From beer man to milk man: Murray Goulburn gets Ari Mervis as its new chief for $1.5m

Ari Mervis will start as Murray Goulburn CEO on February 13, 2017. Photo: suppliedAfter a turbulent 2016 Australia’s biggest dairy processor Murray Goulburn has appointed Ari Mervis, a former top brewery executive, as its new CEO on an annual package of $1.5 million.

The employment agreement includes potential short-term and long-term incentive payments on top of fixed remuneration and are performance-based.

The appointment comes after a comprehensive international search, which finished with the choice of someone who lives in Melbourne.

Most recently Mr Mervis was the CEO of Carlton and United Breweries in Melbourne, and the managing director of brewing giant SABMiller in the Asia Pacific region.

His switch to the dairy industry comes after a 27-year career with SABMiller, where he gained vast experience in the beer, soft drinks and fruit juice categories.

Mr Mervis’ major challenges will be to rebuild relationships with Murray Goulburn’s large number of dairy farmers who supply milk to the co-operative, as well as relationships with the wider dairy industry.

Murray Goulburn burnt relationships with its dairy farmers, some of them carrying large debts, when it announced it would slash payments to farmers for their milk.

In a tumultuous day in April, it also announced a profit downgrade, and revealed that its then CEO, as well as its then chief financial officer would step down.

Because of the turmoil some dairy farmers dumped Murray Goulburn and supplied other processors with milk, while some launched stinging criticism of MG.

In an interview with Fairfax Media before he commences as Murray Goulburn CEO and managing director in February 2017, Mr Mervis said he would work to build relationships of trust, confidence and mutual respect with dairy farmers.

“It is quite clear that we do need to stabilise the supplier base, we need to ensure that there is still confidence in the co-op of our suppliers particularly, but all stakeholders,” he said.

“We need to reinvigorate that confidence and that trust and we need to rebuild what is a tremendous and iconic Australian entity.”

Asked how he would rebuild relationships with dairy farmers, he said: “I think the first one is get out and about and meet them, and hear from them, to listen to them.

“And my intention very much in the first 100 days is to actively engage as many of the stakeholders as we can. Then I can hear from them and they can meet me and hopefully what they’ll see is that they’ll find someone who is open, honest and transparent.”

Announcing the appointment of Mr Mervis, Murray Goulburn chairman Philip Tracy said the board wanted a leader with extensive operations and consumer goods experience.

“After a comprehensive international search, the board unanimously agreed that Ari was the ideal choice to lead MG at this critical juncture in its history,” he said. “We are delighted to have secured a candidate with a proven track record of delivering results and operational success across multiple geographies.”

Mr Mervis has lived in Melbourne with his wife and three children since 2011. He has been a non-executive director of the Melbourne Business School since 2012.

Mr Tracy also paid tribute to interim CEO David Mallinson, who he said led MG “with conviction and discipline during an exceptionally challenging period”.

Australia v Pakistan Test cricket: Matt Renshaw out to prove doubters about his scoring ability wrong

Stoic: Matt Renshaw and Usman Khawaja during the third Test against South Africa. Photo: Morne de KlerkHe demonstrated some vital Test match batting attributes on his debut – patience and the ability to survive in difficult circumstances being chief among them – but Matt Renshaw is hopeful he “stops all the doubters saying I can’t hit the ball off the square” when he makes a first appearance for Australia at his home ground this week.

The opener’s Queensland captain Usman Khawaja said after Australia’s win in the third Test against South Africa that there was far more to Renshaw’s game than defence after the 20-year-old anchored a successful run chase on the fourth day in Adelaide.

Renshaw was unbeaten on 34 from 137 balls in Australia’s second innings there, and under lights in the first innings was undefeated through a tricky night session. But despite securing a much-needed win in his first Test outing there were questions in some quarters about his slow scoring.

He hopes they will be dispelled when the opportunity presents itself, potentially at the Gabba in the first Test against Pakistan which begins with the pink ball on Thursday.

“I haven’t really had the opportunity to show the free scoring [part of my game],” Renshaw told TAB radio on Monday. “I was more just trying to not get out really. Hopefully I can get that at some point and stop all the doubters saying I can’t hit the ball off the square.”

A tall and powerfully built left-handed Queenslander, albeit one born in Yorkshire and who arrived in the state via New Zealand, Renshaw has been compared to Matthew Hayden. Given his tender age it’s not surprising that he admits he didn’t grow up idolising the iconic ex-Test opener; he was, after all, only 12 when Hayden retired.

“Everyone keeps drawing these comparisons,” Renshaw said. “I’m still trying to work out whether I do bat like him. It’s nice to be known as someone who does bat like Matt Hayden because he’s got a tremendous record and if I can be anything like him it would be pretty special.”

Due to a knee injury Renshaw sat out Queensland’s opening Sheffield Shield contest against NSW under lights at the Gabba in October but is wary of what to expect in day-night conditions at the venue.

“I think it’s the swing … it swings at varying points, it’s not that consistent,” he said. “A ball will swing maybe one out of six and that ball will hoop. It’s about being ready for that one.”

Glenn Maxwell has leadership potential, says Melbourne Stars coach Stephen Fleming

Melbourne Stars coach Stephen Fleming sees leadership potential in Glenn Maxwell and is looking forward to spending time with the mercurial all-rounder on the golf course in coming days.

After a tumultuous few months, Maxwell has joined Stars teammates ahead of the Big Bash League, travelling with the majority of the squad to Albury on Monday ahead of practice matches against Sydney Thunder on Tuesday.

Fleming, who captained New Zealand in a national record 80 Tests, said he was looking forward to again working with Maxwell, with whom he forged a strong working relationship last summer – Fleming’s first as Stars coach.

Fleming said he didn’t want to pigeonhole Maxwell as hard to manage. Rather, he  suggested he could learn things from the at-times brilliant batsman, and that Maxwell had leadership qualities. “My relationship with Glenn is very strong,” Fleming told Fairfax Media.

“I enjoyed my time with him last season. We worked on some stuff away from the game just around the captaincy and leadership and other aspects, which I really enjoyed talking to him about.”

After winning Australia’s one-day player of the year award in January, Maxwell credited his rapport with Fleming for helping his growth as a cricketer.

Fleming said he relished the chance to discuss captaincy with the 28-year-old, who is touted as a possible inclusion for the upcoming Test tour of India. “Sometimes players who you don’t see as potential leaders are the ones who are most interested,” Fleming said.

“So that’s just one of the projects that we work on. And sometimes people surprise you about what some of their goals are. From my point of view it’s just understanding players, not boxing players into a certain category.”

Fleming did not rule out the prospect of Maxwell captaining a professional team in the future. “Maybe? Who knows? To me it’s about building leaders. It doesn’t matter whether they captain or whether they just lead themselves or lead others around them,” he said.

“Leadership isn’t just, we’ve got to groom them to be captain. Leadership is about how Glenn is perceived, what he works on, on and off the field, and what he wants to become.

“The workings of it can be quite interesting, both ways. And even for me to learn off Glenn, the way he goes about his cricket, is a lot different to how I played and how a lot of my contemporaries played.

“So it’s not just one-way traffic either. There’s a leadership aspect that we’ve been able to feed off.”

While they are yet to taste ultimate success, the Stars have made the top four in every BBL season to date, and have managed to fit divisive English superstar Kevin Pietersen comfortably into the side. The Stars generally feel that Maxwell is happy while with them, and Fleming agreed. “When he’s been with the Stars – certainly during my involvement – he’s been very good.”

The BBL window looms as somewhat of a sanctuary for Maxwell, who has endured a turbulent season  with both Victoria and Australia.

Having unsuccessfully sought a move to NSW in the off-season, the all-rounder was overlooked for the Bushrangers’ first Sheffield Shield match of the season. He was eventually recalled, but consistently batted below wicketkeeper and captain Matthew Wade.

When both were picked for Australia’s recent ODI series against NZ, Maxwell sensationally criticised Wade for placing himself above Maxwell in the batting order, suggesting it made Maxwell’s quest to return to Australia’s Test team more difficult.

Maxwell was subsequently fined by the Australian team leadership over the comments, and left out of the Australian XI for all three matches against the Black Caps.

Time, not money, the reason for split with Nine, says James Brayshaw

Now that James Brayshaw has hung up his two most prominent caps, at Channel 9 and as chairman of North Melbourne, he admits that having several of them jammed on his head at once took a toll that he hopes he can remediate.

The severest was on his family. Brayshaw, 49, is divorced with four sons, aged nine to 22. “I’ve got to get better at being a dad, and a partner, being around a bit more, not being stressed and knackered when I am,” he said. “That’s the part of my life I’ve got horribly wrong for too long. That’s priority No.1.”

There are also his parents, Ian and Joan, who he visited recently at their home in southern WA. “It was the first time I’d been to see them for two-and-a-half years,” he said. “That’s just appalling. I have no doubt I got the balance wrong.

“In our business, you do run the risk of becoming a bit lost in yourself. I have, anyway. I’ve been guilty of letting what I do dictate the life I lead. I have the chance to do better.”

Brayshaw needed time. This, he said, was the issue at Channel 9, not money. “I’ve never once argued with Nine about money in the whole time I was there,” he said. “None of this dispute had anything to do with money. The money was absolutely fine, right from the start.

“I wanted to have some flexibility to do other things. Nine were clear they weren’t comfortable with that. I understood their position. I don’t leave with any bitterness or resentment. I have enormous regard for the place, great friends and great memories. I wished them well on departure, as they did me.”

Brayshaw had 16 years in television, beginning at Channel 7, 11 years as co-host of Channel 9’s Footy Show, also calling cricket for the network, and nine years as Kangaroos chief. He still has his role as co-host of MMM’s Rush Hour, and a six-year contract to call footy for the station.

Brayshaw said the single highlight of his time at Nine was five years of calling live footy. Though he forged his name as an able first-class cricketer for a decade, this was his dream realised. “Live footy is a special thing,” he said. “It has its own rhythm, especially on TV.”

But sometimes, the broadcaster knew what only the footy club chairman should, and he slept uneasily. “There were definitely times when it was tough, especially when the brown stuff hit the fan,” he said. “You had to walk a fine line between doing what was right for the club and also being honest. There were times when that was very difficult.”

Brayshaw admits to having been an ingenue in the North job when it fell to him, having led the resistance to an AFL-engineered move to the Gold Coast. He is proud of what has ensued.

“We took over something that was in a pretty parlous state and it is now a very, very well-performed business,” he said. North didn’t win a flag in his time, but nor did 12 other clubs. “Otherwise, when you look at the health of the club now, I defy anyone to say it would have been a good option to leave,” he said.

Inescapably, Brayshaw has lived in, and enjoyed, a blokey world. At times, this has led to uncomfortable pinches, on the Footy Show and most recently in so-called Caro-gate.

Brayshaw said the football industry had only by degrees come to a realisation that women were not merely extras in the show. “When I started in the ’90s. there was no appropriate understanding of that,” he said. “There is now.”

His conscience was clear, he said. “I don’t think I have a misogynist bone in my body. I have great relationships with all the women in my life, including my ex-wife, my partner now, my mum, my sister when she was with us. I worship all those people for different reasons.

“But having said that, I continue to learn about the appropriate way to broadcast every day. I’m not arrogant enough to think I haven’t got lots to learn in lots of ways as a broadcaster.”

In the many-mirrored modern sports landscape, a broadcaster now is as much opined upon as he/she opines. “I can’t remember a time when there has been so much commentary on commentators,” Brayshaw said. Years ago, Ian Chappell said to him that he could only ever please half the people. Then, Brayshaw thought Chappell was exaggerating. Now he knows he was not, and accepts it.

“I will say that the one thing you can’t be in 2016 is vanilla,” he said. “You can’t sit on the fence. You’ve got to have an opinion. If people like it, great. If they don’t, great. But that’s so much better than not caring.”

A broadcaster also needed a thick skin, he said. Ten years of first-class cricket meant that he came to the job with the necessary hide. “I love Merv Hughes. I loved every minute of playing against him. He’s a great friend now,” Brayshaw said. “But if I took offence at everything he said to me on the cricket field, I’d still be sucking my thumb in the corner.”

University of Newcastle deal could double students in the city

PARTNERS: University of Newcastle Vice-Chancellor Professor Caroline McMillen, Chief Operationg Officer Nat McGregor and NSW Premier Mike Baird on the rooftop of the NeW Space building. Picture: Simone De PeakTHE University of Newcastle’s decision to movepart of its campusto two hectares of Honeysuckle and railway corridor land will double the number of students coming into the city in the coming years to 6000, Premier Mike Baird said.

The Newcastle Heraldrevealed on Mondaythat the new university site is across Hunter Street from itsNeW Space building, which isunder construction.

Broken into three parcels, the new sitehas height limits of 30 metres, or eight to nine storeys, and includes Honeysuckle’s Wright Lane car park next to the rail corridor.

In a visit to Newcastle on Monday, Mr Baird said the announcement that the university would “anchor” the redevelopment of the former heavy rail corridor marked “an exciting time for the city”.

“It has the potential to bring another 3000 students, so up to 6000 students that could be undertaking their studies right here in the city of Newcastle,” he said.

“The expectation is for additional facilities for students, potentially accommodation, we’re excited to be announcing that.”

The government still has work to do to get the corridor rezoning passed, but Mr Baird said the announcement marked an important point in the city’s regeneration.

“What you’re starting to see is how great Newcastle will be,” he said. “The trend around the world is very clear, the great cities are seeing great universities come back toward the centre.

“In terms of renewal and in terms of revitalisation, university campusesare leading that, the innovation to come, the energy, and the opportunities are boundless.”

The announcement marks the first confirmed use of the former heavy rail corridor, a stretch of land that hasbeen bitterly contested along party lines since the government announced it would run light rail down Hunter Street.

Butwhile protesters made their displeasure known outside Mr Baird’s appearance at a Property Council lunch, Newcastle’s Labor MP Tim Crakanthorp welcomed the decision.

“I’ll be happy to see the university in the city, I can only see that as a positive thing,” he said.

Mr Baird said the deal with the university should provide “assurance” to those opposed to the government’s plans, and that the university would anchor the future of the area.

University of Newcastle Vice-Chancellor Caroline McMillen said theagreement “builds opportunities for an integrated city precinct that could double the numberofstudents in theNewcastle CBD”.

She said that subject tothe finalisationofbusiness cases and development approvals, construction on the land could start from late 2018.

Sporting complex planned for Creek Road at Maryland if Newcastle Council approves Glencore land transfer

FORWARD THINKING: Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes, pictured at the site, said in 20 years it could a “showpiece” for the western suburbs. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

A MULTI-MILLIONdollar sport and recreation complex willbe built to servicethe growing population belt west ofNewcastle, under a plan set to go before Newcastle Council on Tuesday.

Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes said the long-term vision was to create a first-class sporting precinct inMarylandthat could rivalNational Park at Cooks Hill.

But the plans hinge on whether councillors agree to accept the transfer of a 15.5-hectare parcel of land at 40 Creek Road, that has been offered up by mining company Glencore free of charge.

Fletcher Parkwould also be absorbed into the precinct,taking itstotal size to about 20 hectares.

Including the construction ofa “special event venue”, thestaged development would takebetween five and 10 years.

A $12 million concept plan designed by ADW Johnson includes soccer and AFLplaying fields, cricket pitches, 180 parking spaces, a playground, cycle paths and an amenities block.

EXPANSIVE: A $12 million concept plan developed by ADW Johnson includes playing fields, cricket pitches, 180 parking spaces, a playground and amenities block.

However Cr Nelmes said it was only a“mud map” andwhat was offered at the complex would be decided after community consultation. Agrandstand, netball and tennis courts were also in the mix, she said.

“Because it is adjacent to the Hunter Wetlands National Park, we’re looking atthings like boardwalks through thelow-lying areas,” she said.

A masterplan would be developed to link thecomplex to the sporting facilities at Callaghan College, Federal Park and Wallsend pool, and to the Wallsend CBD through pedestrian pathways.

“This will give us enough land to create an area that we can turn into a showpiece of sporting facilities for all of the western suburbs of Newcastle,” Cr Nelmes said.

The city alreadyhas six large-scale sporting complexes, but the furthest west is at New Lambton.

If the deal goes ahead, the Wallsend New Lambton Pony Club will eventually need relocation and councilwill have to pay $5000 to $10,000 in land transfer costs. However astaff report stressed it was unlikely another suitable site could be found in the Fletcher/Minmi area, which is forecast to grow in population from over 11,000 in 2011 to nearly 28,000 by 2036.

‘Puzzling’: Potent greenhouse gas spike prompts calls for climate action

Agriculture, including animal husbandry, seems “to be a major, possibly dominant, cause” of the jump in methane emissions. Photo: Brendon ThorneRice paddies and flatulent cows appear to be behind a surge in the potent greenhouse gas methane over the past decade, a shift that threatens to counter efforts to curb global warming, scientists say.

After growing at the rate of half a part per billion annually for the first six years of this century, atmospheric levels of methane have “experienced puzzling dynamics”, increasing more than 10-fold since 2007, researchers said in a paper published Monday in Environmental Research Letters.

The team, including Pep Canadell from the CSIRO, said expanded agriculture including rice fields and animal husbandry seems “to be a major, possibly dominant, cause” of the jump in emissions.

The finding has implications for the ability to reduce humans’ impact on the climate, as well as “the need to balance food security and environmental protection”, the paper said.

“Keeping global warming below 2 degrees is already a challenging target, with most of the attention placed on carbon-dioxide emissions,” the paper said.

“Such a target will become increasingly difficult if methane reductions are not also addressed strongly and rapidly.”

Methane’s impact on warming can be as much as 100 times more than CO₂ over a couple of decades and 34 times the warming potential over a century.

Although CO₂ is about 200 times more abundant, methane has contributed about one-sixth of recent warming, NASA says.

While a consensus on the source of the extra methane remains elusive, the paper said agriculture, fossil-fuel related emissions and a decrease in biomass burning were likely the biggest contributors. (See chart below in annual methane emissions by region for the 2003-2012 decade.)

“While methane is not warming the planet for centuries like CO₂, slowing down the impacts in the nearer future will depend on us adopting a less meat-rich diet, and a transition to renewables rather than investments into gas as a temporary ‘transition fuel’,” said Malte Meinshausen, director of Melbourne University’s Climate & Energy College.

“Luckily, those switches can come with a number of benefits,” Professor Meinshausen said. “For one, a healthier diet, and in addition, the avoidance of sunken investments into a gas energy infrastructure that does not fit well with a zero-emissions future sketched by the Paris [climate] agreement.”

Natural methane sources include wetlands, particularly in the tropics. “Some scientists think tropical wetlands have gotten a bit wetter and are releasing more gas,” NASA said in an online methane feature.

Humans do not have a direct influence on methane sinks, unlike CO₂, in which extra tree planting can take some of that gas out of the atmosphere, Professor Meinshausen said.

Methane also has a positive feedback loop, in which the higher the concentration of the gas, the longer its atmospheric lifetime, he said.

While atmospheric CO₂ levels have increased about 30 per cent since the Industrial Revolution began, methane levels have roughly doubled. (See NASA chart below, showing levels now exceed 1800 parts per billion.)

Another feedback is expected to come if a warming world triggers, as expected, a thawing of methane-rich permafrost.

For now, though, the paper found “no significant increase from Arctic regions”.

Research agencies are stepping up efforts to get a better fix on the sources of the extra methane, with the Franco-German Methane Remote Sensing Lidar Mission satellite – dubbed Merlin – due for launch in 2020.

Dimitri Lafleur, a former Shell engineer and PhD researcher at Melbourne University, said debate continues about the contribution of methane from the fossil fuel sector, with emissions apparently varying widely from basin to basin.

“When US fossil-fuel related emissions can be seen on satellite images then the potential differences on a basin level become quite clear,” Mr Lafleur said.

“It would be really valuable if we would have more measurements in Australia to understand the methane emissions from the fossil fuel industry and agriculture,” he added. “Currently we don’t have a good understanding who is responsible for how much.”

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