12 Air Purifying Plants That Will Clean Your Air

We need fresh air to live a healthy and full life, but it’s fast becoming a luxury. Residents of many major cities around the world are plagued with smog and poisonous gases from motor vehicles, fossil fuel based power plants, and factories.

The good news is there is a simple solution you can use at home to make your air much cleaner. While air purifiers might help, air purifying plants are a great and natural way to clean your home’s air supply. In this article, you’ll learn more about air pollution, its dangers, and how to choose the best air purifying plants for your home.


The Pollutant Problem

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 4.6 million people lose their lives to air pollution-related diseases each year.

The World Health Organization also published research which showed that nine out of ten people in the world (that’s 92 percent) live in places where air pollution exceeds the recommended safe limit.

And it’s not just humans that are suffering. Our planet continuously experiences stratospheric ozone depletion due to the sheer number of pollutants released by humans.

There have been measures put in place to combat this issue, such as the 1970 Clean Air Act in the US, the switch to hybrid vehicles, and the adoption of solar energy in countries throughout the world. Yet there’s still a lot left to be done to improve the quality of the air we breathe.


A Novel Pollution Solution

Fresh air is one luxury money can’t buy… or can it? In May 2017, the BBC published a report about a company in China that compresses and sells bottled air. As weird as it sounds, it exists and there is a (perhaps necessary) market for it.

With air pollution presenting a serious problem worldwide, it’s no wonder people are willing to pay as much as $24 for an eight-liter can of compressed air or $75 for an anti-pollution mask.

And it’s not just China and India. These fresh air companies are sprouting up in the UK andCanada as well. The UK company Aethaer sells jars of air at £80 plus £12 shipping.


Indoor Air Pollution

Indoor pollution refers to the toxic contaminants we encounter daily in our homes, workplaces and schools.

A significant number of deaths from indoor pollution can be traced to prolonged exposure to smoke from cooking stoves. Additionally, environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is one of the leading causes of indoor pollution, which is composed of more than 7,000 chemical compounds.

Other sources of indoor air pollution include household solvents such as glues, degreasers, synthetic building materials, cleaning agents, pesticides, odorless and colorless radon gases, and carbon monoxide. This only gets worse when we’re constantly inside during the winter with the heating on full blast.

Research shows that living somewhere with little to no ventilation can lead to what is known as “sick building syndrome.” This is very common among office workers, with symptoms including nausea, fatigue, headaches, throat irritation and dizziness (just to mention a few). In severe cases, it can result in asthma, bronchitis and even cancer. 

The good news is the solution is simple. According to the NASA Clean Air Studywe can drastically improve air quality with the help of certain plants.

air purifying plants - healthy home with plants

Scientists have shown that certain plants are able to absorb gases such as benzene and even formaldehyde through the pores on their leaves. This process of cleaning the air using plants is known as phytoremediation.


The Science of Phytoremediation

Phytoremediation is the most sustainable solution for reducing indoor pollution. There are several forms this can take:

Phytostimulation – The improvement of microbial activity in the soil so as to hasten the degradation of contaminants.

Phytotransformation – Chemically modifying the substances in the soil, water and air via plant metabolism.

Phytovolatilization – Removing contaminants from soil or water using plants and releasing them into the air by means of transpiration.


Plants that Help Purify the Air

According to research, indoor plants have the potential to remove up to 70 percent of thevolatile organic compounds (VOC) in indoor air. Listed below are 12 indoor plants that can get you one-step closer to breathing fresh, clean air in your home.


1.  Aloe Barbadensis (Aloe Vera)

air purifying plants - Aloe Barbadensis - Aloe VeraIn addition to having healing properties, this perennial plant filters formaldehyde and benzene out of the air in your home. And green thumb or not, this plant will bloom with ease as long as it’s situated in a spot with plenty of sunlight.


2.  Gerbera Daisies/African Daisies (Gerbera Jamesonii)

air purifying plants - Gerbera or African DaisiesThis is another perennial plant scientists believe can improve indoor air quality by removing carbon monoxide and benzene. Gerber daisies have bright and colorful flowers. Yet unlike aloe vera, they’re not as easy to grow indoors, as they prefer outdoor conditions.

This beautiful flower that’s native to South Africa requires partial shade to full sun. If you’re in the North, you’ll want to place this flower in full sun. If you’re in the South, your best bet will be partial shade.

You should also know that this plant is expensive and requires well-drained soil that’s been enriched with compost. That being said, having clean air to breathe in your home is priceless.


3.  Areca Palm (Chrysalidocarpus Lutescens)

air purifying plants - Areca Palm - Chrysalidocarpus LutescensThis Madagascan native plant has a knack for absorbing benzene, carbon monoxide, and formaldehyde.

It’s a go-to plant for bright interiors with its bold, arching fronds that demand to be admired. It’s best to purchase this indoor plant while it’s still at table-top size. Keep in mind that it grows as much as six to ten inches annually and will reach six to seven feet indoors, and as much as 25 feet outdoors at full maturity.


4.  Dendrobium Phalaenopsis

air purifying plants - Dendrobium PhalaenopsisIf you’re trying to rid the air in your home of xylene, a pollutant that comes from glue and paint, then try placing these lovely orchids in your home.

This type of orchid is native to Australia and Southeast Asia. No need to worry if you’re not a natural gardener, this plant will bloom easily through the spring.

For best results, grow them under direct bright light. Leaving them in the shade will prevent them from growing straight up.


5.  Boston Fern (Nephrolepis Exaltata)

air purifying plants - Boston Fern - Nephrolepis ExaltataThe Boston Fern can absorb formaldehyde better than any other known air purifying plant. In addition to that, they are adept at ridding the air of other pollutants such as xylene and benzene, which can be found in paints as well as gasoline exhaust fumes.  

The Boston Fern needs weekly feedings in the summer and monthly feedings during winter. Take care to water them regularly to keep them blooming beautifully.


6. Spider Plant (Chlorohytum Comosum)

air purifying plants - Spider Plant - Chlorohytum ComosumThe spider plant, or airplane plant, is one of the top 3 houseplants NASA says is great at removing formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and other toxins from the air.

Spider plants adapt easily to any environment and don’t require too much attention. They love indirect but bright light, lots of water and well-drained soil. Misting the plant regularly will rid it of pests like spider mites and aphids.


7. Snake Plants (Sansevieria Trifasciata ‘Laurentii’)

air purifying plants - Snake Plants - Sansevieria Trifasciata LaurentiiAlso known as the mother-in-law’s tongue or viper’s bowstring, this is a flowering plant belonging to the Asparagaceae family of plants commonly found in Nigeria and the Congo.

It removes up to 107 known air pollutants including chloroform, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, xylene, benzene, nitrogen monoxide and trichloroethylene, just to mention a few.

The snake plant can be identified by its green bordered leaves while the mother-in-law species has a yellow border. This is a tough little plant – great for non-gardeners. Just make sure you don’t overwater it. You’ll want to keep this plant in the bedroom due to the large amounts of oxygen it emits at night.


8. Golden Pothos (Scindapsus Aures)

air purifying plants - Golden Pothos - Scindapsus AuresIf you require a fast growing, air purifying indoor plant that’s beautiful to look at, then this is the plant for you. It looks like a slimmer, less stiff version of the snake plant and is known for its formaldehyde absorption properties.

It doesn’t require any special type of light to grow and is equally easy to maintain. However, this is not a plant to have at home if you have small children, as it can be toxic when consumed.


9. Chrysanthemums (Chrysanthemum Morifolium)

air purifying plants - Chrysanthemums - Chrysanthemum MorifoliumThis plant is quite colorful and perfect for brightening up a dull looking space. They are seasonal, but when they bloom, they’re great benzene fighting plants. Scientists have tagged benzene as a carcinogen found in plastics, dyes, pesticides and detergents.

Chrysanthemums also aid in the removal of ammonia, formaldehyde and trichloroethylene, all commonly found in cleaning agents.

This plant requires a significant amount of sunlight to bloom, so for best results, place this in an area where it can get direct sunlight.


10. Peace Lily (Spathiphyllum)

air purifying plants - Peace Lily - SpathiphyllumAs classy and delicate as this plant looks, it packs a powerful VOC absorbing capability that makes it extremely useful to have in the house. It gets rid of benzene, trichloroethylene, formaldehyde and other pollutants in poorly ventilated areas.

It also eliminates mold spores so is perfect to have in the bathroom or kitchen. Peace lilies favor areas with low lighting conditions. But just like the Golden Pothos, this isn’t a plant you want in your home if you have children or pets running around, as the leaves are poisonous when ingested.


11. Schefflera / Umbrella Tree (Brassaia Actinophylla)

air purifying plants - Schefflera - Umbrella Tree - Brassaia ActinophyllaYou can identify this plant by its oval-shaped glossy looking leaves that almost look like they’ve been waxed. They are beautiful to look at, but are toxic and so not suitable for homes with pets and children.

However, the Schefflera has proven useful in the removal of benzene and toluene, making this the perfect plant for a smoker’s home.


12. Weeping Fig / Ficus Tree (Ficus Benjamina)

air purifying plants - Weeping Fig - Ficus Tree - Ficus BenjaminaKnown pollutants removed by the weeping fig include trichloroethylene, formaldehyde and benzene. It belongs to the family Moraceae and is native to Australia and Southeast Asia.

Be careful of where you place it indoors as it can grow up to ten feet tall. It requires little maintenance; all you need is an area with bright but indirect light and well-drained soil.


Safety Concerns with Plants

air purifying plants - health and yoga conceptIt’s important to consider the safety of your home and family when choosing and obtaining air-purifying plants. Some indoor plants can grow up to ten feet tall, so keep that in mind when shopping around.

Additionally, some plants are toxic when ingested (schefflera, peace lily and golden pothos) making them unsafe to keep in a home with pets and children. Some plants can even trigger allergies in both animals and humans, so do your research before investing in any houseplants.

You can look up the ASPCA’s list of toxic and non-toxic plants, which will be helpful in your research.

Finally, when getting plants for your home, be on the lookout for those that are easy to maintain, especially if you’re a frequent traveler or don’t have a green thumb. As effective as some green indoor plants are at purifying air, they may require a little extra care to thrive so invest in the right plant for your lifestyle.


Other Ways to Purify Air Indoors

There are other effective ways of making the air in your home safe for you and your family. These include:

– Avoiding the use of synthetic home cleaning agents and air fresheners. Instead, opt for natural cleaning agents such as:

  • White vinegar for cleaning mirrors, refrigerators, windows, kitchen and bathroom taps, shower heads, and microwave ovens.
  • Baking soda for eliminating odors from carpets and removing coffee stains.
  • Lemon for cleaning refrigerators, kitchen sinks, toilet bowls and shower doors.
  • Rubbing alcohol
  • Borax
  • Natural soaps and shower gels
  • Microfiber cloths

– Replacing synthetic air fresheners with essential oils such as jasmine, rosemary, lavender, cinnamon, geranium, and lemon.

– Candles made from beeswax also make great air purifiers as they release negative ions.

– Increasing ventilation in your home by replacing narrow windows with wider ones, especially in your kitchen. You can also install exhaust fans to help drive the pollutants outside.

– Vacuuming and mopping regularly to keep your floors clean.

Air pollution is a dangerous problem that affects millions of people worldwide. But no matter where you live, following the steps in this article and finding some air purifying plants that suit your home will go a long way to keeping your air fresh and clean.

by Kelli Gardener


Smart electricity meters are here, but more is needed to make them useful to customers

 Policymakers need to be smart about the 
smart meter rollout. AAP Image/David Crosling

Across most of Australia, the electricity industry is in the midst of a major rollout of so-called “smart meters” led by retailers – your household may very well have one already.

With the exception of Western Australia and the Northern Territory (and Victoria which has them already), all new and replacement meters will now be smart. This means that instead of simply recording electricity use for later checking, they can give retailers detailed consumption data, measured at 30-minute intervals or less – and also allow the supply to be turned on or off remotely.

Retailers can also offer to upgrade select customers’ existing meters to smart meters (again with the exception of Victoria, which has a blanket rollout), and consumers are free to accept or decline (except where a broken or ageing meter is being replaced).

This is an important testing ground for the soon-to-be legislated Consumer Data Right, which aims to give consumers better access to their own data, which in turn will help them save money.

But our research has found that under the current policy settings consumers are not getting the full range of benefits from the smart meter rollout, for a few main reasons.

Getting smart on bills

The main consumer benefit of a smart meter is to reduce electricity bills. But to do this, consumers need easy access to their daily electricity usage data, which can then be translated into useful information that enables them to compare tariffs. Consumers ought to be able choose such value-added services from third party providers by granting access to this data.

But consumers cannot currently access their daily electricity usage data when they need it free of charge. There is no common data format nor a simple way to authorise third-party access to the data, thus creating extra costs for third parties.

Retailers can charge a fee to access consumer data, effectively blocking rival companies that might be offering cheaper retail tariffs. But if consumers themselves could allow third parties to access their metering data, subject to security and privacy protections, it would give those consumers a much wider choice of tariffs and services.

Currently the federal government’s Energy Made Easy website (run by the Australian Energy Regulator) does not let consumers compare tariffs and services in a timely and user-friendly way. There are proposals to reform the website, and there is no shortage of good existing examples on which it might be modelled, such as the Victorian government’s Switch On and the North American Green Button initiative.

Getting involved

It is not enough that these tools simply exist; consumers must be actively encouraged to use them. This involves a wide-ranging, effective and ongoing consumer education campaign.

While there are highly active energy “prosumers” who generate and sell their own power and actively monitor and manage their energy use, most households do not fall into this category.

Most customers need information and encouragement to take up opportunities arising out of smart meter data. This will require much better communications by governments, retailers, networks, consumers and community organisations as an integral part of the smart meter rollout.

No one left behind

Electricity is an essential service, and policymakers need to ensure that the benefits of smart meters flow to everyone, not just the most switched-on customers.

Even with the help of the tools and campaigns described above, there are those who may still miss out on the benefits – such as, for example, vulnerable consumers who engage with smart meters but end up making poor choices through a lack of financial or digital literacy.

What’s more, remotely read meters make it easier to disconnect users, which again is likely to disproportionately affect the most vulnerable members of the community. Adequate consumer protections need to be built into the smart meter rollout. This involves ensuring that hardship provisions in the National Energy Customer Framework, concessions, and information provision keeps pace with developments in the metering market.

The retailer-led rollout is likely to be slow and could lead to a highly uneven patchwork of meters across Australia, and therefore uneven customer benefits. There are many reasons for this. Existing “dumb” meters have a long useful life and regularly last more than 30 years (some are more than 40 years old!); there is a lack of scale in the deployment by retailers who do not have contracts with all customers in a local area; certain customer groups may be deemed “uneconomic” by retailers and not offered new meters; and households in areas with poor mobile network coverage (most likely rural and regional areas) are unlikely to be offered a smart meter.

Such a large-scale rollout of new meters, which is piecemeal in some places and not in others, is bound to be difficult and there is no perfect model. The market for smart meters is in its infancy and needs careful monitoring and evaluation as it develops. But policymakers nevertheless need to get on the front foot and guarantee simple access to smart meter data and services for all consumers; actively encourage and demonstrate to consumers how these services can lower their electricity costs; and most of all ensure that no one is left behind in this emerging market.

This article was co authored by:
Sangeetha ChandrashekeranSangeetha Chandrashekeran – [Lecturer in Geography and Deputy Director Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne]
Gavin Dufty, Policy and Research Manager, St Vincent de Paul, and Dr Martin Gill, an independent energy consultant and consumer advocate who has previously developed smart metering products.




This article is part of a syndicated news program via





Australia’s Emissions Reduction Fund is almost empty. It shouldn’t be refilled

 The Emissions Reduction Fund is not capturing enough 
emissions from the most polluting industries. AAP Image/Dave Hunt

Australia’s flagship climate policy, the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), has come in for fresh questions over whether the emissions allowances offered to big businesses will wipe out much of the progress made elsewhere.

This voluntary scheme – the central plank of Australia’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030 – allows interested parties to reduce pollution in exchange for a proportion of the A$2.55 billion fund.

So far, through successive rounds of “reverse auctions”, the scheme has secured 191.7 million tonnes of emission reductions, at a price tag of A$2.28 billion.

As the budget for this scheme is nearly exhausted, it is important to ask whether it has been a success, or whether Australia’s carbon policy needs a radical rethink. Overall, the answer seems to be the latter.

Safeguards not so safe

Much of the problem stems from the ERF’s safeguard mechanism, which puts limits on the greenhouse emissions from around 140 large polluting businesses. Under the mechanism, these firms are not allowed to pollute more than an agreed “baseline”, calculated on the basis of their existing operations.

The mechanism is described as a safeguard because it aims to stop big businesses wiping out the emissions reductions delivered by projects funded by the ERF. But it doesn’t appear to be working.

The government has already increased the emission baselines for many of these businesses, for arguably specious reasons. Some firms have been given extra leeway to pollute simply because their business has grown, or even just because they blew their original baseline.

Worryingly, on February 21, 2018 the federal government released a consultation documentwhich favours “updating baselines to bring them in line with current circumstances” and suggests that “to help prevent baselines becoming out-of-date in the future, they could be updated for production more often, for example, each year”.

It doesn’t take a genius to realise that if baselines are continually increased over time, the fixed benefits of the ERF will inevitably be wiped out.

This underlines the importance of having a climate policy that operates throughout the economy, rather than only in certain parts of it. If heavily polluting businesses can so readily be allowed to undo the work of others, this is a recipe for disaster.

Contract problems

Even within the ERF process itself, many emissions reduction contracts have already been revoked. This is worrying but also avoidable if the contracts are written correctly.

It is important to note that these contracts run for around seven years, and thus it is possible that the planned carbon reductions never eventuate. Currently only about 16% of the announced 191.7 million tonnes of emissions reduction have actually been delivered.

For the ERF to work effectively, the government needs to know the “counterfactual” emissions – that is, firms’ emissions if they decided not to participate in the ERF. Yet this is completely unknown.

This means that projects that successfully bid for ERF funding (typically the cheapest ones) may not be “additional”. In other words, they may have established these emissions reduction projects anyway, with or without funding from the taxpayer.

Another problem with the ERF is that it is skewed towards projects from lower-polluting sectors of the economy, whereas heavily polluting industries are underrepresented. The largest proportion of signed contracts have involved planting trees or reducing emissions from savannah burning.

Meanwhile, the firms covered by the safeguard mechanism are largely absent from the ERF itself, despite these firms accounting for around 50% of Australia’s greenhouse emissions.

The bare fact is that Australia’s flagship climate policy doesn’t target the prominent polluters.

A different way

Australia’s climate policy has had a colourful past. Yet the economics of pollution mitigation remain the same.

If we want to reduce pollution in a cost-effective way that actually works, then we must (re-)establish a carbon price.

This would provide the much-needed certainty about the cost of genuine pollution reduction. This in turn would allow all major polluters to make strategic, long-term investments that will progressively reduce emissions.

Instead of spending A$2.55 billion to pay for modest emissions reductions that might be cancelled out elsewhere, creating a carbon price will allow for the generation of tax revenue that can be used for a host of purposes.

For example, distortionary tax rates (such as income and corporation tax) could be lowered, or the revenue could be used to fund better schools and hospitals.

A clear example of such a success can be taken from the northeastern states of the US. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative is a cap-and-trade market that sells tradeable pollution permits to electricity companies. Estimates have shown that US$2.3 billion of lifetime energy bill savings will occur due to investments made in 2015.

To tax or cap?

If the ERF is to be replaced, what type of carbon price do we want? Do we want a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade market?

While advantages exist for both, most evidence shows that carbon taxes are more efficient at driving down emissions. Moreover, taxation avoids the potential problems of market power, which may exist with a small number of large polluters.

A carbon price would also remove much of the political rent-seeking that is encouraged by Australia’s current policy settings. A simple, economy-wide carbon tax would be more transparent than the safeguard mechanism, under which individual firms can plead for leniency.

With the ERF fund almost empty, the federal government should ask itself a tough question. Should it spend another A$2.55 billion of taxpayers’ money while letting major polluters increase their emissions? Or should it embrace a new source of tax revenue that incentivises cleaner technologies in a transparent, cost-effective way?

This article was written by:
Image of Ian A. MacKenzieIan A. MacKenzie – [Senior Lecturer in Economics, The University of Queensland]




This article is part of a syndicated news program via


How media framing limits public debate about oil exploration

 Research found that media largely frame debate  
about oil and gas developments in New Zealand around how drilling should 
take place, rather than whether it should happen at all. Garry Knight

Throughout the world, people are taking direct action to tackle environmental problems – from Standing Rock in the United States, to the Carmichael coal mine in Australia, to the community groups standing against oil and gas exploration in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Some of the most important societal changes have been made because of direct action, but this isn’t always the story the mainstream media reports.

Our research has focused on the media framing of the debate surrounding oil and gas developments in Aotearoa New Zealand.

We found that it shifted discussions towards how drilling should take place, rather than whether it should happen at all.

Read more: Latest twist in the Adani saga reveals shortcomings in environmental approvals

Framing avoids real debate

We interviewed more than 50 people, including climate activists, representatives from non-government organisations and the oil and gas sector, and local government officers. We also analysed mainstream media coverage over a period of six years.

The research shows that mainstream media in Aotearoa New Zealand tended to present further fossil fuel development as something positive for the economy, and therefore society. Opponents have tended to be framed as irrational, few, and extremist.

For example, former prime minister John Key was quoted describing Greenpeace as “rent-a-crowd” or a 7,000-strong protest as a “few people wandering around the beach”.

One view that was commonly emphasised in reporting is that protesters are taking their democratic right to protest too far. This was illustrated in 2016, when the climate activist group 350.org organised direct actions throughout Aotearoa New Zealand, as part of a series of global Break Free events. They targeted branches of ANZ bank to inform customers about its NZ$13 billion investment in the fossil fuel industry.

A case study

In 2016, in the small university town of Dunedin, around 200 climate activists blockaded three ANZ branches. Many customers delayed their banking or went somewhere else, but some were encouraged by police to use “reasonable force” to climb over the protesters who were blocking the doors.

Until this point, mainstream media outlets had resisted negative framing of protesters, and had quoted activists at length in their reporting of the blockade. After police told bank customers to climb over the protesters, an elderly woman tried to make her way into the bank. Bank staff and activists encouraged her to use a side door, but police insisted on her going through the blockade.

Reporting of the protests quickly changed and activists were portrayed as disrespectful and taking the protest too far. Social media erupted, and 350 Aotearoa’s Facebook page attracted more than 2,000 comments within a few hours, including threats of violence against the blockaders.

Even though a protester reported being kneed by police, police were represented in the media as having been balanced and compelled to act in this way.

One of the activists later wrote:

In the media coverage, the burden of responsibility for that [elderly] woman’s distress was placed solely with us. The coverage successfully removed responsibility from ANZ and the police, who worked together to create that scenario.

The narrative that emerged pitched decent citizens against “unemployable”, “disrespectful” protesters, with the police as benign supporters of decency and the bank as an apolitical service provider. Broader debates about climate justice and corporate responsibility were not heard in these media reports.

Media coverage limits public debate

Such media reporting about oil and gas exploration and drilling focuses on how fossil fuel extraction should take place, rather than whether it should happen at all. For example, the idea that Aotearoa New Zealand has the highest environmental standards in the world when it comes to exploration and extraction was often reported. In these reports, climate activists were portrayed as ignorant about the risks.

Discussions about the ethics of further fossil fuel extraction in a rapidly changing climate were lost – at a time when we need to be debating how we might change our economy and society to avoid the worst of climate change.

Climate change does raise ethical dilemmas and climate justice activists are trying to get us to think about them. As one of the people involved in the ANZ blockade in Dunedin said:

People couldn’t quite register the fact that there’s a vast difference between us making the day of a couple of people a bit more inconvenient, versus climate change killing people, and making people lose their homes. That’s considerably more inconvenient than not being able to get into a bank for the day when there’s another one just down the road.

The new government in Aotearoa New Zealand has sent some positive signals about taking climate change seriously. Consultation on a zero carbon act will begin later this year. In-depth media coverage that engages a broad range of people including activists, and pro-democracy reforms, will be essential to developing good debate and the best possible response to climate change.

Media portrayals of environmental activists as hopelessly idealistic, irrational hippies are nothing new. But when mainstream media continues to repeat these ideas, and frames the status quo as common sense, the public is denied opportunities for genuine debate about solutions to tricky environmental problems.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of Sophie Bond Sophie Bond – [Senior lecturer in geography, University of Otago];
Image of Amanda ThomasAmanda Thomas – [Lecturer in Environmental Studies, Victoria University of Wellington]
Image of Gradon DiproseGradon Diprose – [Senior Lecturer in Social Sciences, Open Polytechnic]




This article is part of a syndicated news program via


Should Australia recognise the human right to a healthy environment?

 Australia is one of very few countries   
that does not recognise the right to a healthy environment. 
Jordan DavisAuthor provided

Australia is one of only 15 nations (a list that also includes Canada and the United States) that does not recognise the human right to a healthy environment at the federal level.

Last year, the Australian Panel of Experts on Environmental Law recommended that environmental democracy in Australia “must have as a foundation, respect for fundamental human rights and, in particular, an enforceable right to a clean and healthy environment”.

Suggestions have also been made by various academics and environmental protection organisations to recognise the right in existing and proposed state human rights charters, including the soon-to-be-developed Queensland Human Rights Act.

So should Australia heed these calls and recognise the right? The global experience with environmental rights recognition suggests that it could be beneficial.

Environmental protection

In 2012, Canadian environmental lawyer David Boyd published The Environmental Rights Revolution, an analysis of the dozens of nations which have already recognised the human right to a healthy environment in their constitutions.

Although there is no internationally accepted definition of the right, Boyd cites the Stockholm Declaration as its first formal recognition:

Man has the fundamental right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life, in an environment of a quality that permits a life of dignity and well-being, and he bears a solemn responsibility to protect and improve the environment for present and future generations.

His research found that across Latin America, Europe and Asia, the right to a healthy environment has helped to strengthen existing environmental protection laws and policies and encouraged the introduction of new stronger legislation. Significantly, it has also prevented governments from “rolling back” effective laws created by their predecessors.

Lawsuits utilising the right have been successful in achieving better protection for the environment, safeguarding crucial natural resources for current and future generations.

Whether Australia would enjoy similar benefits would significantly depend on the expression of the right and the form of legal recognition adopted.

In Latvia, the right is expressed as a right to live in a “benevolent environment”, whereas in Brazil citizens are granted a right to an “ecologically balanced environment”. Exactly how the right would be expressed in Australia would be a question for parliament.

It’s highly unlikely the Australian Constitution would be changed to incorporate the right (since 1906, constitutional reform has succeeded only eight times), so it’s probable that Australia would recognise the right through legislation.

Although Australia has so far resisted introducing comprehensive national human rights legislation, the right could be recognised within a statutory bill of human rights based on the “dialogue model”.

The dialogue model of recognition

Recommended by the National Human Rights Consultation Committee, the dialogue model involves all three arms of government engaging in a “dialogue” about human rights protection. It requires public authorities to act in line with protected rights, and courts to (if possible) interpret legislation in a compatible manner.

However, one of the most powerful consequences of recognising the right within this model is that all future legislation would be scrutinised for consistency with the right.

Australia already has a Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, which examines the compatibility of proposed legislation with specified international human rights standards. Presumably, if the right was recognised in a federal bill of rights, the Committee’s mandate would alter to include consideration of all rights recognised under the legislation.

At present, the Committee is not required to consider the compatibility of proposed legislation with the human right to a healthy environment.

This was highlighted in 2016, when the federal government controversially proposedamending the nation’s key environmental protection legislation to limit standing for environmental protection groups to challenge decisions made under the Act.

Due to the Minister stating that there is “no standalone right to a healthy environment”, the Committee only considered the legislation’s impact on environmental protection indirectly through consideration of its impact on the right to health (which includes the “underlying determinants of health”, such as a healthy environment).

Ideally, the Committee would be empowered to consider the impacts of proposed legislation on the right to a healthy environment directly. This scrutiny process would help to ensure that proposals which jeopardise the government’s ability to protect, respect and fulfil the right could be identified and challenged before they pass into law.

A limited but useful tool

Under the dialogue model, the parliament retains the final say, meaning it would still be possible for the legislature to pass legislation manifestly incompatible with the right. The “safety net” of protection offered by this form of recognition would not suffice to address all potential and actual breaches of the right, or even guarantee its fulfilment.

However, it would ensure that the right enters the legal and policy discourse around natural resources management and sustainable development.

In a time of unprecedented climate change, the right invites another way of thinking about our relationship with the natural world, and offers a useful tool for improving environmental protection in Australia.

This article was written by:
Image of Dr Meg Good Dr Meg Good – [Adjunct Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Tasmania]

This article is based on the author’s 2016 PhD thesis which proposed legal recognition of the human right to a healthy environment in Australia under a statutory bill of rights.




This article is part of a syndicated news program via

Related Images:

Deposit schemes reduce drink containers in the ocean by 40%

 Uncountable numbers of drink containers end up in 
the ocean every year. Shutterstock

Plastic waste in the ocean is a global problem; some eight million metric tonnes of plastic ends up in the ocean every year.

One possible solution – paying a small amount for returned drink containers – has been consistently opposed by the beverage industry for many years. But for the first time our research, published in Marine Policy, has found that container deposits reduce the amount of beverage containers on the coasts of both the United States and Australia by 40%.

What’s more, the reduction is even more pronounced in areas of lower socio-economic status, where plastic waste is most common.

Plastic not so fantastic

There have been many suggestions for how to reduce marine debris. Some promote reducing plastic packagingre-purposing plastic debris], or cleaning beaches. There has been a push to get rid of plastic straws, and even Queen Elizabeth II has banned single use plastics from Royal Estates! All of these contribute to the reduction of plastics, and are important options to consider.

Legislation and policy are another way to address the problems of plastic pollution. Recent legislation includes plastic bag bans and microbead bans. Economic incentives, such as container deposits, have attracted substantial attention in countries around the world.

Several Australian jusrisdictions, including South Australia, the Northern Territory, and New South Wales), already have container deposit laws, with Western Australia and Queenslandset to start in 2019. In the United States, 10 states have implemented container deposit schemes.

But how effective is a cash for containers program? While there is evidence to suggest that container deposits increase return rates and decrease litter, until now there has been no study asking whether they also reduce the sources of debris entering the oceans.

In Australia, we analysed data from litter surveys by Keep South Australia Beautiful, and Keep Australia Beautiful. In the US, we accessed data from the Ocean Conservancy’s International Coastal Cleanup.

We compared coastline surveys in states with a container deposit scheme to those without. In both Australia and the US, the proportion of beverage containers in states without a deposit scheme was about 1.6 times higher than their neighbours. Based on estimates of debris loading on US beaches that we conducted previously, if all coastal states in the United States implemented deposit schemes, there would be 6.6 million fewer containers on the shoreline each year.

Keep your lid on

But how do we know that this difference is caused by the deposit scheme? Maybe people in states with container deposit schemes simply drink fewer bottled beverages than people states without them, and so there are fewer containers in the litter stream?

To answer that question, we measured the ratio of lids to containers from the same surveys. Lids are manufactured in equal proportion to containers, and arrive to the consumer on the containers, but do not attract a deposit in either country.

If deposit schemes cause a decrease in containers in the environment, it is unlikely to cause a similar decrease in littered lids. So, if a cashback incentive is responsible for the significantly lower containers on the shorelines, we would expect to see a higher ratio of lids to containers in states with these programs, as compared to states without.

That’s exactly what we found.

We were also interested in whether other factors also influenced the amount of containers in the environment. We tested whether the socio-economic status of the area (as defined by data from the Australian census) was related to more containers in the environment. Generally, we found fewer containers in the environment in wealthier communities. However, the presence of a container deposit reduced the container load more in poorer communities.

This is possibly because a relatively small reward of 10 cents per bottle may make a bigger difference to less affluent people than to more wealthy consumers. This pattern is very positive, as it means that cashback programs have a stronger impact in areas of lower economic advantage, which are also the places with the biggest litter problems.

Ultimately, our best hope of addressing the plastic pollution problem will be through a range of approaches. These will include bottom-up grassroots governance, state and federal legislation, and both hard and soft law.

Along with these strategies, we must see a shift in the type of we products use and their design. Both consumers and manufacturers are responsibility for shifting from a make, use, dispose culture to a make, reuse, repurpose, and recycle culture, also known as a circular economy.

This article was co-authored by:
Image of Qamar SchuylerQamar Schuyler – [Research Scientist, Oceans and Atmospheres, CSIRO];
Image of Britta Denise HardestyBritta Denise Hardesty – [Principal Research Scientist, Oceans and Atmosphere Flagship, CSIRO]
Image of Chris WilcoxChris Wilcox – [Senior Research Scientist, CSIRO]





This article is part of a syndicated news program via

Common products, like perfume, paint and printer ink, are polluting the atmosphere

 We need to measure the volatile compounds that 
waft off the  products in our homes and offices.

Picture the causes of air pollution in a major city and you are likely to visualise pollutants spewing out of cars, trucks and buses.

For some types of air pollutants, however, transportation is only half as important as the chemicals in everyday consumer products like cleaning agents, printer ink, and fragrances, according to a study published today in Science.

Air pollution: a chemical soup

Air pollution is a serious health concern, responsible for millions of premature deaths each year, with even more anticipated due to climate change.

Although we typically picture pollution as coming directly from cars or power plants, a large fraction of air pollution actually comes from chemical reactions that happen in the atmosphere. One necessary starting point for that chemistry is a group of hundreds of molecules collectively known as “volatile organic compounds” (VOCs).

VOCs in the atmosphere can come from many different sources, both man-made and natural. In urban areas, VOCs have historically been blamed largely on vehicle fuels (both gasoline and diesel) and natural gas.

Fuel emissions are dropping

Thanks in part to more stringent environmental regulations and in part to technological advances, VOCs released into the air by vehicles have dropped dramatically.

In this new study, the researchers used detailed energy and chemical production records to figure out what fraction of the VOCs from oil and natural gas are released by vehicle fuels versus other sources. They found that the decline in vehicle emissions means that – in a relative sense – nearly twice as much comes from chemical products as comes from vehicle fuel, at least in the US. Those chemicals include cleaning products, paints, fragrances and printer ink – all things found in modern homes.

The VOCs from these products get into the air because they evaporate easily. In fact, in many cases, this is exactly what they are designed to do. Without evaporating VOCs, we wouldn’t be able to smell the scents wafting by from perfumes, scented candles, or air fresheners.

Overall, this is a good news story: VOCs from fuel use have decreased, so the air is cleaner. Since the contribution from fuels has dropped, it is not surprising that chemical products, which have not been as tightly regulated, are now responsible for a larger share of the VOCs.

Predicting air quality

An important finding from this work is that these chemical products have largely been ignored when constructing the models that we use to predict air pollution – which impacts how we respond to and regulate pollutants.

The researchers found that ignoring the VOCs from chemical products had significant impacts on predictions of air quality. In outdoor environments, they found that these products could be responsible for as much as 60% of the particles that formed chemically in the air above Los Angeles.

The effects were even larger indoors – a major concern as we spend most of our time indoors. Without accounting for chemical products, a model of indoor air pollutants under-predicted measurements by a whopping 87%. Including the consumer products really helped to fix this problem.

What does this mean for Australia?

In Australia we do a stocktake of our VOC emissions to the air every few years. Our vehicle-related VOC emissions have also been dropping and are now only about a quarter as large as they were in 1990.

Historical and projected trends in Australia’s road transport emissions of VOCs. Author provided, adapted from Australia State of the Environment 2016: atmosphere

Nonetheless, the most recent check suggests most of our VOCs still come from cars and trucks, factories and fires. Still, consumer products can’t be ignored – especially as our urban population continues to grow. Because these sources are spread out across the city, their contributions can be difficult to estimate accurately.

We need to make sure our future VOC stocktakes include sources from consumer products such as cleaning fluids, indoor fragrances and home office items like printing ink. The stocktakes are used as the basis for our models, and comparing models to measurements helps us understand what affects our air quality and how best to improve it. It was a lack of model-to-measurement agreement that helped to uncover the VW vehicle emissions scandal, where the manufacturer was deliberately under-estimating how much nitrogen gas was being released through the exhaust.

If we can’t get our predictions to agree with the indoor measurements, we’ll need to work harder to identify all the emission sources correctly. This means going into typical Australian homes, making air quality measurements, and noting what activities are happening at the same time (like cooking, cleaning or decorating).

What should we do now?

If we want to keep air pollution to a minimum, it will become increasingly important to take into account the VOCs from chemical products, both in our models of air pollution and in our regulatory actions.

In the meantime, as we spend so much of our time indoors, it makes sense to try to limit our personal exposure to these VOCs. There are several things we can do, such as choosing fragrance-free cleaning products and keeping our use of scented candles and air fresheners to a minimum. Research from NASA has also shown that growing house plants like weeping figs and spider plants can help to remove some of the VOCs from indoor air.

And of course, we can always open a window (as long as we keep the outdoor air clean, too).

This article was co-authored by:




Latest twist in the Adani saga reveals shortcomings in environmental approvals

 Adani faces court over allegations of concealing the 
amount of coal water released in Caley Valley Wetlands last year. 
Ian Sutton/flickr

It was reported this week that the federal Environment Department declined to prosecute Adani for failing to disclose that its Australian chief executive, Jeyakumar Janakaraj, was formerly the director of operations at a Zambian copper mine when it discharged toxic pollutants into a major river. Under the federal Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act, Adani is required to reveal the environmental history of its chief executive officers, and the federal report found Adani “may have been negligent”.

The revelations come as Adani faces down the Queensland government in the planning and environment court, over allegations the company concealed the full amount of coal-laden water discharged into the fragile Caley Valley Wetlands last year.

These concerns highlight some fundamental problems with the existing regulatory framework surrounding the long term utility and effectiveness of environmental conditions in upholding environmental protections for land impacted by mining projects.

How effective are environmental conditions?

In 2016, the federal government granted Adani a 60-year mining licence, as well as unlimited access to groundwater for that period.

These licences were contingent on Adani creating an environmental management plan, monitoring the ongoing impact of its mining activities on the environment, and actively minimising environmental degradation.

But are these safeguards working?

In 2015 Advocacy group Environmental Justice Australia reported several non-compliance issues with the Abbott Point Storm Water Dam, such as pest monitoring, weed eradication, establishing a register of flammable liquids, and implementation of the water monitoring plan.

More recently, in late 2017, significant amounts of black coal water were discovered in the fragile Caley Valley Wetlands next to the mine. Adani stands accused of withholding the full extent of the spill, redacting a laboratory report showing higher levels of contamination.

Adani seems to have released coalwater into the wetland despite it being a condition of its environmental approval that it takes sufficient care to avoid contamination. Its A$12,000 penalty for non-compliance is relatively small compared with the company’s operating costs.

In this instance, the environmental conditions have provided no substantive protection or utility. They have simply functioned as a convenient fig leaf for both Adani and the government.

Who is responsible for monitoring Adani?

Adani’s proposed mine falls under both state and federal legislation. Queensland’s Environmental Protection Act requires the holder of a mining lease to plan and conduct activities on site to prevent any potential or actual release of a hazardous contaminant.

Furthermore, the relevant environmental authority must make sure that hazardous spills are cleaned up as quickly as possible.

But as a project of “national environmental significance” (given its potential impact on water resources, threatened species, ecological communities, migratory species, world heritage areas and national heritage places), the mine also comes under the federal Environmental Protection Biodiversity Conservation Act.

Federal legislation obliges Adani to create an environmental management plan outlining exactly how it plans to promote environmental protection, and to manage and rehabilitate all areas affected by the mine.

Consequently, assessment of the environmental impact of the mine was conducted under a bilateral agreement between the both the federal and state regulatory frameworks. This means that the project has approval under both state and federal frameworks.

The aim is to reinforce environmental protection however in many instances there are significant problems with a lack of clear delineation with respect to management, monitoring and enforcement.

Does the system work?

Theoretically, these interlocking frameworks should work together to provide reinforced protection for the environment. The legislation operates on the core assumption that imposing environmental conditions minimises the environmental degradation from mining. However, the bilateral arrangement can often mean that the responsibility for monitoring matters of national environmental significance devolves to the state and the environmental conditions imposed at this level are ineffectively monitored and enforced and their is no public accountability.

Arguably, some environmental conditions hide deeper monitoring and enforcement problems and in so doing, actually exacerbate environmental impacts.

For example, it has been alleged that Adani altered a laboratory report while appealing its fine for the contamination of the Caley Valley Wetlands, with the original document reportedly showing much higher levels of contamination. The allowable level of coal water in the wetlands was 100 milligrams. The original report indicated that Adani may have released up to 834 milligrams. This was subsequently modified in a follow-up report and the matter is currently under investigation.

If established, this amounts to a disturbing breach with potentially devastating impacts. It highlights not only the failure of the environmental condition to incentivise behavioural change, but also a fundamental failure in oversight and management.

If environmental conditions are not supported by sufficient monitoring processes and sanctions, they have little effect.

Environmental conditions are imposed with the aim of managing the risk of environmental degradation by mining projects. However, their enforcement is too often mired by inadequate and opaque enforcement and oversight procedures, a lack of transparency and insufficient public accountability  

While the Queensland Labor government considers whether to increase the regulatory pressures on Adani, by subjecting them to further EPBC Act triggers such as the water resource trigger or the implementation of a new climate change trigger, perhaps the more fundamental question is whether these changes will ultimately improve environmental protection in the absence of stronger transparency and accountability and more robust management and enforcement processes for environmental conditions attached to mining projects.

This article was written by:
Image of Samantha HepburnSamantha Hepburn – [Director of the Centre for Energy and Natural Resources Law, Deakin Law School, Deakin University]





This article is part of a syndicated news program via

Fixing cities’ water crises could send our climate targets down the gurgler

 Water treatment plants can’t afford not to think 
about electricity too. CSIRO/Wikimedia Commons

Two cities on opposing continents, Santiago and Cape Town, have been brought to their knees by events at opposing ends of the climate spectrum: flood and drought.

The taps ran dry for Santiago’s 5 million inhabitants in early 2017, due to contamination of supplies by a massive rainfall event. And now Cape Town is heading towards “day zero” on May 11, after which residents will have to collect their drinking water from distribution points.

Read more: Cape Town is almost out of water. Could Australian cities suffer the same fate?

It’s probably little comfort that Santiago and Cape Town aren’t alone. Many other cities around the world are grappling with impending water crises, including in Australia, where Perth and Melbourne both risk running short.

In many of these places governments have tried to hedge their bets by turning to increasingly expensive and energy-ravenous ways to ensure supply, such as desalination plants and bulk water transfers. These two elements have come together in Victoria with the pumping of desalinated water 150km from a treatment plant at Wonthaggi, on the coast, to the Cardinia Reservoir, which is 167m above sea level.

But while providing clean water is a non-negotiable necessity, these strategies also risk delivering a blowout in greenhouse emissions.

Water pressure

Climate change puts many new pressures on water quality. Besides the effects of floods and droughts, temperature increases can boost evaporation and promote the growth of toxic algae, while catchments can be contaminated by bushfires.

Canberra experienced a situation similar to Santiago in 2003, when a bushfire burned through 98% of the Cotter catchment, and then heavy rain a few months later washed huge amounts of contamination into the Bendora Dam. The ACT government had to commission a A$40 million membrane bioreactor treatment plant to restore water quality.

At the height of the Millennium Drought, household water savings and restrictions lowered volumes in sewers (by up to 40% in Brisbane, for example). The resulting increase in salt concentrations put extra pressure on wastewater treatment and reclamation..

The energy needed to pump, treat, distribute and heat water – and then to convey, pump, reclaim or discharge it as effluent, and to move biosolids – is often overlooked. Many blueprints for zero-carbon cities underplay or neglect entirely the carbon footprint of water supply and sewage treatment.

Some analyses only consider the energy footprint of domestic water heating, rather than the water sector as a whole – which is rather like trying to calculate the carbon footprint of the livestock industry by only looking at cooking.

Yet the growing challenge of delivering a reliable and safe water supply means that energy use is growing. The United States, for example, experienced a 39% increase in electricity usage for drinking water supply and treatment, and a 74% increase for wastewater treatment over the period 1996-2013, in spite of improvements in energy efficiency.

As climate change puts yet more pressure on water infrastructure, responses such as desalination plants and long-distance piping threaten to add even more to this energy burden. The water industry will increasingly be both a contributor to and a casualty of climate change.

How much energy individual utilities are actually using, either in Australia or worldwide, will vary widely according to the source of supply – such as rivers, groundwater or mountain dams – and whether gravity feeds are possible for freshwater and sewage (Melbourne shapes up well here, for example, whereas the Gold Coast doesn’t), as well as factors such as the level of treatment, and whether or not measures such as desalination or bulk transfers are in place.

All of this increases the water sector’s reliance on the electricity sector, which as we know has a pressing need to reduce its greenhouse emissions.

Desalination plants: great for providing water, not so great for saving electricity. Moondyne/Wikimedia Commons

One option would be for water facilities to take themselves at least partly “off-grid”, by installing large amounts of solar panels, onsite wind turbines, or Tesla-style batteries (a few plants also harness biogas). Treatment plants are not exactly bereft of flat surfaces – such as roofs, grounds or even ponds – an opportunity seized upon by South Australian Water.

But this is a large undertaking, and the alternative – waiting for the grid itself to become largely based on renewables – will take a long time.

2012 study found large variations in pump efficiency between water facilities in different local authorities across Australia. Clearly there is untapped scope for collaboration and knowledge-sharing in our water sector, as is done in Spain and Germany, where water utilities have integrated with municipal waste services, and in the United States, where the water and power sectors have gone into partnership in many places.

The developing world

Climate change and population growth are seriously affecting cities in middle-band and developing countries, and the overall outlook is grim. Many places, such as Mexico City, already have serious water contamination problems. Indeed, in developing nations these problems are worsened by existing water quality issues. Only one-third of wastewater is treated to secondary standard in Asia, less than half of that in Latin America and the Caribbean, and a minute amount in Africa.

The transfer of know-how to these places is critical to reaching clean energy transitions. Nations making the energy transition – especially China, the world’s largest greenhouse emitter – need to take just as much care to ensure they avoid a carbon blowout as they transition to clean water too.

Just as in the electricity sector, carbon pricing can potentially provide a valuable incentive for utilities to improve their environmental performance. If utilities were monitored on the amount of electricity used per kilolitre of water processed, and then rewarded (or penalised) accordingly, it would encourage the entire sector to up its game, from water supply all the way through to sewage treatment.

Water is a must for city-dwellers – a fact that Cape Town’s officials are now nervously contemplating. It would be helpful for the industry to participate in the strategic planning and land-use debates that affect its energy budgets, and for its emissions (and emissions reductions) to be measured accurately.

In this way the water industry can become an influential participant in decarbonising our cities, rather than just a passive player.

This article was written by:
Image of Peter Fisher
Peter Fisher – [Adjunct Professor, Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University] and is based on a journal article (in press) co-authored by David Smith, former water quality manager for South East Water, Melbourne.




This article is part of a syndicated news program via

King tides and rising seas are predictable, and we’re not doing enough about it

 King tides now regularly breach seawalls meant  
to protect Torres Strait Island communities, and it happened again 
last week. Suzanne Long/AAP

Recent king tides have again caused significant damage to coastal assets in Australia and New Zealand. This time the combination of large tides and coastal storms damaged properties on Torres Strait islands and in Nelson and other coastal areas of New Zealand. It is increasingly recognised worldwide that, despite many coastal adaptation plans being developed, the implementation of these plans is lagging.

King tides occur several times a year when the Moon is slightly closer to the Earth (so they’re sometimes called perigean spring tides). This means king tides are predictable, as are rising sea levels. The combination, along with sporadic storm events, will lead to increasing flooding of our coastal cities.

Higher sea levels, whether creeping (associated with anthropogenic climate change) or transient (episodic storm events), have impacts on both private and public property and assets. What is now mostly nuisance flooding will become more problematic, and the ever-increasing global damage bill from disaster will continue to mount.

According to the global re-insurer Munich Re, losses from natural disasters in 2017 totalled US$330 billion, the second highest on record. Almost half of these losses (41%) were uninsured.

Who’s responsible for adaptation plans?

Traditional coastal protection can’t hold out forever against rising seas. Tony Bartlett/AAP

In keeping with the theory that risk is best managed by those closest to the risk, local government in Australia is the level of government best suited to managing such local risks. In response to the increasing threat from rising sea levels, many local government councils around Australia have developed coastal climate adaptation plans.

Federal and state governments clearly also have roles to play in managing coastal inundation. The federal government is often the insurer of last resort, especially for public infrastructure.

In Queensland, the state government has implemented the successful QCoast2100 program. This is helping local governments to develop adaptation plans all along the state’s coastline.

It is increasingly recognised that many of the plans developed in the past contain overcomplicated analyses of oversimplified adaptation options. Instead, we need less complicated ways of determining the most suitable adaptation option and assessments that consider more tailored and considered options, which will then be more readily implementable.

What are the options?

Coastal climate adaptation options tend to fall into one of three categories:

  • retreat – relocate assets and structures inland or to higher ground
  • protect – mostly by building engineered seawalls, although green infrastructure can also be implemented
  • accommodate – live with the hazard but reduce the vulnerability of structures and assets.

Retreat makes intuitive sense: relocating assets out of harm’s way reduces their vulnerability. However, this approach has proved politically problematicespecially for private buildings.

Most communities are familiar with seawalls and other forms of coastal protection. Others fundamentally disagree with the principle of hard coastal protection measures.

The third adaptation option, accommodating sea-level rise, is becoming the most popular approach in many nations, including the low-lying Netherlands. However, this approach is probably the least understood in Australia and rarely appears as the preferred option in Australian coastal adaptation plans.

This option includes making existing structures less vulnerable. This might involve relocating electrical and air-conditioning services and switchboards higher in existing buildings. Over time, vulnerable sites can be repurposed with less vulnerable land uses and structures.

This is different from pre-emptively evicting and relocating entire communities from vulnerable locations – the retreat option. The retreat option is most easily implemented immediately after major flooding that has led to significant damage.

Plans must consider the politics

Early coastal adaptation plans commonly advocated mass pre-emptive coastal retreat, but local government often ended up shelving or rejecting such recommendations. Instead, councils simply commissioned the construction of small local seawalls in areas at risk of erosion.

More developed and recent coastal adaptation plans consider finer spatial scales. What they still often don’t do is consider more sophisticated and politically informed adaptation options and approaches.

Hence adaptation planning is still often best characterised as the “plan and forget” approach. These plans typically lack monitoring and evaluation and a realistic implementation strategy.

Increased flooding of our coastline is inevitable and happening. Therefore, adaptation planning needs to consider more nuanced options that are likely to be more politically palatable and implementable.

This article was written by:
Image of Mark GibbsMark Gibbs – [Director, Knowledge to Innovation; Chair, Green Cross Australia, Queensland University of Technology]




This article is part of a syndicated news program via