Revegetation and a Climate Fix

by Des Menz posted in Landscape Change

19 July 2013

In The Conversation there's an interesting subject that was written recently - 

Revegetation helps fix the climate, but Australia would rather clear land

Controversial? Perhaps. A wakeup call? This subject always brings out different viewpoints. There is scarcely anything more urgent and more necessary than landscape condition recovery in Australia today. I've been reading for more than 30 years about the scale of problems as a result of land clearing, and no region presents itself in greater light than in my home state of South Australia.

Is it logical to cut funding?

The federal government announced this week that there would be cuts of $213m from the Biodiversity Fund and $144m from the Carbon Farming Initiative. Collectively $353m has been lost because of the Budget shortfall arising from scrapping the Carbon Tax in favour of  the Emissions Trading Scheme. 

Money has been taken from projects that sequester the very product that an ETS is supposed to limit, or even reduce - carbon dioxide.

There's no logic in that.

For years, there has been a consistent, and alarming, decline in funding from state governments for revegetation of damaged landscapes. It is nowhere more apparent than in South Australia, which is perhaps more exposed than other regions to the risks of future climate change.

The same product (native vegetation) that can help avert these risks, and provide support to farmers and landowners at the same time, has scant funding support from the state government.

Any funding that is available comes from the federal government. The state government seems to have devolved its responsibilities to a future government in terms of landscape-scale change.

There's no logic in that. 

Risks won't disappear

Many risks have have been identified in a swathe of reports over the years. The latest is the South Australian state government's Climate Change Adaptation Framework (2012). Reports such as No Species Loss (2011), Condition of Agricultural Land in SA (2004), regional NRM Plans, and many others, all say the same thing … native vegetation clearance in SA is a principal cause of land condition and biodiversity decline today. 

The (mostly) mallee bioregion makes up 15% of the state's land area called "agriculturally productive" - i.e. cropland - and 85% of that 15% has been cleared of its native vegetation; there's not much left. 

Google Earth is very instructive about the disconnections and damage across the landscape. Historic archives and booklets written decades ago are also instructive about species loss (I'll have more to say about this in a future article).

If ever there was a region in Australia that is at great risk, it is the agricultural land of SA. The Climate Change Adaptation Framework says so. One thing that is of great concern is the lack of funding to address the very issues that have been identified in the reports previously mentioned. This is critical to the future of SA.

A changing climate is happening before our eyes, and long-term rainfall decline will spell the end of some, perhaps extensive, cropping activities, just as they have in the past. 

As seems to be the strategy right now, hedging bets on the creation of drought-tolerant grain crops is fraught with huge risk.  

Although contraction of agricultural land is likely to occur again at some time in the future, there is a way out of the dilemma.

What can be done

So, if we are to take on board what the Climate Change Adaptation Framework is all about - "prospering in a changing climate" - what can (should) be done? 

Answer - Landscape-scale change based on a foundation of revegetating 20% of cleared land. 

Landscape-scale change has been identified in the regional NRM Plan - but guess what? No funds. But there's an even larger underlying concern - denial

Regardless of what others say, this is a fact. 

Back to 20%. This indicates that at the current rate of revegetation in SA (which is about 4,000 ha annually, and mostly by volunteers) it would take 500 years just to achieve 20% re-cover. 

For a 50 year time horizon, there would need to be 40,000 ha revegetated annually. How can this be achieved?

Land owners need to be paid an environmental service. People have to be kept on the land as custodians. 

A Land Custodians Trust should be established much along the same lines as the Future Fund. Wouldn't that be nice! In addition to meeting the superannuation liabilities of the federal public sector, we can meet the liabilities posed by farm system instability. We all chip in.

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