Ben Courtice

The geologically recent volcanic activity across western Victoria created a landscape with rich, but often shallow, soils, that supported a unique grassland ecosystem.

Climate, soil, herbivory and fire history, among other factors, have combined to maintain tussock grasses, such as kangaroo grass, as a dominant species, with small herbs including diverse orchids, daisies and lilies growing in the spaces between tussocks and few or no trees over large areas.

More than 2000 People's Climate Marches were held over the weekend of November 27 to 29. In Australia more than 140,000 people took to the streets to show they care, passionately, about climate change. They are also angry at government inaction, as illustrated by the many homemade placards and props.

These marches were the biggest national anti-government mobilisations for many years. The Melbourne march — a huge 60,000 people — was the biggest street march there since the anti-Work Choices protests of 2005.

Should the climate movement call for the restoration of a safe climate, rather than just zero emissions?

According to a recent paper, Striking Targets, by climate writer Philip Sutton, greenhouse gas concentrations are already too high to avoid dangerous global warming, so the zero emissions goal is inadequate.

Australian governments have always encouraged extractivist industries, particularly coal mining. These industries now face a well-organised environment movement, which is challenging environmentally damaging projects and calling for an end to coal mining.

The federal government under PM Tony Abbott took attacks on the environment movement to a new level, by introducing legislation to restrict environmentalists’ influence.

In the same week that it approved the huge $1.2 billion Shenhua Watermark coalmine in prime agricultural land on the Liverpool Plains, the Abbott government has directed the Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) to end all investment in wind farms and small-scale solar projects. These are just the latest salvos in a series of attacks on the renewable energy sector that seek to protect their friends in the coal industry.

Scandal has erupted in Victoria as GDF Suez, the majority owner of the Hazelwood coal-fired power station, refuses to pay an $18 million bill to the Country Fire Authority. The bill is for the firefighting effort at last year's coalmine fire that blanketed local towns with soot and smoke for 45 days.

On June 23, Australia's parliament voted to reduce the Renewable Energy Target for 2020 from 41 to 33 terawatt hours of renewable electricity, following a long struggle by the government to win support from minor party Senators for the cuts.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he “would frankly have liked to reduce the number a lot more”.

The deal he cut in the Senate will see the potential for “wood waste” from logging of native forests to be burned to generate “renewable electricity” as part of the target.

The French government has joined the Australian government in ignoring its own reports that say a transition to 100% renewable energy is feasible and involves little extra cost.

Mediapart obtained a report from the French government’s environment and energy agency body ADEME that showed shifting to 100% renewable energy by 2050 is materially and technologically feasible. The report found it would cost relatively little more than the existing electricity supply, which is 75% nuclear.

A new report on unconventional gas development from the federal Department of Industry and Science has been released.

Its stated aim is “to ensure the responsible development of coal seam, shale and tight gas resources for the benefit of Australians and position Australia to remain an energy superpower”.

In order to achieve this, the report notes at the outset that state governments, and Indigenous landowners will need to be dealt with – though the report uses prettier words.

The onshore gas industry in south-east Australia is in trouble. Public opposition, low international oil prices and projected supply shortfalls have combined to cast doubt on the profitability of the industry.

The international finance company Credit Suisse has indicated that the LNG (liquefied natural gas) export facilities at Gladstone in Queensland may fall short of meeting their export contracts in coming years, by up to 30%.

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