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Taking steps to decarbonise three Great Barrier Reef Islands

Jennifer Shand Jennifer Shand Australasia Press Office,Sydney
11 October 2021

As part of the Queensland Government’s Decarbonisation of the Great Barrier Reef Islands program, a number of the island resorts and four whole-of-island communities are moving to lower their greenhouse gas emissions and increase their resilience to climate change, with projects identified through detailed studies and in-depth community consultation. 

Arup Project Director Kellie Charlesworth said the funding from the Queensland Government enables the start of new whole-of-island decarbonisation projects for the communities of Great Keppel, Magnetic, Palm and Masig Islands.

“The Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area is renowned for its ecological significance and the beauty of its seascapes and landscapes, but is under increasing threat from climate change,” Kellie said. 

“The islands are of inherent cultural value to First Nations people and while very different, provide important ecosystem services to local communities and the Queensland economy.”

View over the tree tops of Magnetic Island, Australia View over the tree tops of Magnetic Island, Australia
Magnetic Island, Queensland ©Getty

Following the Great Keppel whole-of-island pilot, Arup, EarthCheck, Regional Economic Solutions and the Queensland Tourism Industry Council were commissioned by the Queensland Government to assist Magnetic, Palm and Masig Island transition to a low or zero carbon future and become more resilient. 

The aim was to take advantage of new technologies and innovative practices to reduce greenhouse emissions, and provide extra benefits through energy, water and waste management, marine and land transport, and improved self-sufficiency. 

Our consultations with the island communities revealed numerous opportunities which would benefit their island homes, and cut more than 30,000 tonnes of emissions each year. ” Kellie Charlesworth Kellie Charlesworth Project Director

The team conducted a sustainability assessment for each of the island communities, developing an emissions profile and island-wide risk assessment. The team of engineers, scientists and community engagement specialists then worked closely with the historic and traditional owners, island communities and key stakeholders to identify and analyse environmental and sustainability opportunities which would suit local conditions. 

Business cases were then developed for projects including rainwater harvesting, marine hydrogen and fuel switching, renewable energy and community microgrids, community market gardens, electric bike schemes, large-scale solar farms, on-island food production, hydrogen production and whole of island microgrids. 

The reports identified the potential for carbon emission reductions, cost savings and job creation if each island community was to successfully implement these projects.

  • Magnetic Island: 18 project options would reduce annual carbon emissions by 22,130 tonnes, generate $2.9m in savings annually and create 11.5 jobs

  • Masig Island: 18 project options would reduce annual carbon emissions by 1,698 tonnes, generate $200,000 in savings annually and create 16 jobs

  • Palm Island: 17 project options would reduce annual carbon emissions by 7,260 tonnes, generate $3.7m in savings annually and create 25 jobs

Kellie said the islands were very different, making them valuable case studies for other islands. They have different climatic characteristics, habitats, population sizes, land uses and proximity and reliance on the mainland.

“The Councils now have access to specific Government funding to take forward priority projects. Funding opportunities for other favoured projects have also been identified, including for private proponents,” Arup Project Manager, Ian Hustwick said.

The projects respect the inextricable link between Indigenous communities and their Country, while providing opportunities for climate action, sustainable development and strengthening communities. ” Ian Hustwick Ian Hustwick Project Manager

Queensland Minister for Environment and the Great Barrier Reef Meaghan Scanlon earlier said: “While decarbonising islands alone won’t stop climate change threatening the Great Barrier Reef, the community-led decarbonisation business cases will help to provide insight and identify future opportunities to drive a low carbon future and increase resilience of the island communities.”

More information about the Whole of Island community pilot projects is available here.