Making an ally of the land in the fight against climate change

The Dreyfus Files - The Age.

From rugged eucalypt forest to meandering wetlands, from open grasslands to tropical rainforest, our country has some stunning wilderness areas.

The passing of the Clean Energy Future legislation will not only protect these valuable natural resources, it'll also make sure they're around in the future to help tackle climate change. They play a crucial role in this effort, because with their tremendous capacity to store carbon these native bushlands help offset our greenhouse gas emissions.

In fact Australia's total tree biomass in native forests, that is woody biomass above the ground and roots below, stores more than 6.5 billion tonnes of carbon. This is equivalent to over 3 per cent of all carbon emissions arising from human activities worldwide since 1800.

And in 2009 alone, Australian native forests absorbed 54.2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide - equivalent to around 9 per cent of Australia's total annual emissions.

But the problem is that while forests and bushland are great carbon stores, in certain conditions they can also emit carbon.

Trees naturally emit carbon and can contribute to emissions by dieback and decay, with mature forests often having low sequestration potential.

Wildfires also emit significant amounts of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gases.
Droughts can have similar impact killing young, carbon-seeking trees, preventing new growth, and thus impeding sequestration capacity.

But there are also sources of carbon emissions on the land that are the direct result of human intervention.

In 2009, 186,000 hectares of forests were cleared, generating 45 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

To help protect these valuable native ecosystems the Federal Government will launch from next year a $946 million Biodiversity Fund.

The Fund will support landholders as they undertake projects that establish, restore, protect and manage natural carbon stores.

We'll be looking to support the protection and restoration of existing native bushland that can store significant amounts of carbon.

With an emphasis on creating new wildlife corridors, the fund will also benefit native flora and fauna.
Besides reducing carbon emissions and ensuring ecological resilience, protecting Australian biodiversity has other important flow-on benefits.

For example, protecting vegetation in wetlands and along waterways not only stores carbon but also reduces the impacts of floods, absorbs pollutants, and improves general water quality.

In addition to providing corridors for wildlife, tree planting activities can also help improve water quality, and reduce erosion and salinity.

And to stop reforested private land serving as a habitat for invasive species, funding will also help landholders control weeds, pests and feral animals.

The Biodiversity Fund will complement the Carbon Farming Initiative, which enables landholders to earn carbon credits that can bolster and diversify on-farm income.

For instance, a farmer could derive income both from planting a crop of Mallee eucalypts for bio-sequestration, and also gain funding under the Biodiversity Fund for protecting existing pockets of native growth on their land.

The creation of the Biodiversity Fund demonstrates Labor's continued commitment to deliver good outcomes for the Australian environment.