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The Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (MSSI) at the University of Melbourne, Australia, brings together researchers from different disciplines to help create a more sustainable society. It acts as an information portal for research at the University of Melbourne, and as a collaborative platform where researchers and communities can work together to affect positive change. This book can be freely accessed from MSSI’s website:

Cite as: Pearson, C.J. (editor) (2012). 2020: Vision for a Sustainable Society. Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute, University of Melbourne Published by Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute in 2012 Ground Floor Alice Hoy Building (Blg 162) Monash Road The University of Melbourne, Parkville Victoria 3010, Australia Text and copyright © Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior permission of the publisher. A Cataloguing-in-Publication entry is available from the catalogue of the National Library of Australia at 2020: Vision for a Sustainable Society, ISBN: 978-0-7340-4773-1 (pbk) Produced with Affirm Press Cover and text design by Anne-Marie Reeves Illustrations on pages 228–231 by Michael Weldon Cover image © Brad Calkins | Proudly printed in Australia by BPA Print Group



he last two centuries have seen extraordinary improvements in the quality of human lives. Most people on earth today enjoy access to the necessities of life that was once available only to the elites. Most people enjoy longevity, health, education, information and opportunities to experience the variety of life on earth that was denied even to the rulers of yesteryear. The proportion of humanity living in absolute poverty remains daunting, but continues to fall decade by decade. The early 21st century has delivered an acceleration of the growth in living standards in the most populous developing countries and an historic lift in the trend of economic growth in the regions that had lagged behind, notably in Africa. These beneficent developments are accompanied by another reality. The improvements are not sustainable unless we make qualitative changes in the content of economic growth. The continuation of the current relationship between growth in the material standard of living and pressures on the natural environment will undermine economic growth, political

stability and the foundations of human achievement. The good news is that humanity has already discovered and begun to apply the knowledge that can reconcile continued improvements in the standard of living with reduction of pressures on the natural environment. The bad news is that the changes that are necessary to make high and rising standards of living sustainable are hard to achieve within our current political cultures and systems. Hard, but not impossible. That is a central message from this book, drawn out in Craig Pearson’s concluding chapter. This book introduces the reader to the many dimesions of sustainability, through wellqualified authors. Climate change is only one mechanism through which current patterns of economic growth threaten the natural systems on which our prosperity depend. It is simply the most urgent of the existential threats. Climate change is a special challenge for Australians. We are the most vulnerable of the


developed countries to climate change. And we are the developed country with the highest level of greenhouse gas emissions per person. There are roles for private ethical decisions as well as public policy choices in dealing with the climate change challenge. This book is released at the time of ‘Rio+20’, a conference in Brazil to review the relatively poor progress we have made towards sustainability in the past 20 years, and soon after the introduction of Australia’s first comprehensive policy response to the global challenge of climate change. Australia’s emissions trading scheme with an initially fixed price for emissions permits comes into effect on 1 July 2012. The new policy discourages activities that generate greenhouse gases by putting a price on emissions. The revenue raised by carbon pricing will be returned to households and businesses in ways that retain incentives to reduce emissions. Part of the revenue will be used to encourage production and use of goods and services that embody low emissions. The policy has been launched in controversy. Interests that stand to gain from the discrediting of the policy argue that it is unnecessary either because the case for global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the associated climate change has not been proven, or that the new policy places a disproportionate burden on Australians. The health of our civilisation requires us to bring scientific knowledge to account in public policy. Everyone who shares the knowledge that is the common heritage of humanity has


a responsibility to explain the realities to others wherever and whenever they can. The argument that the new policy places a disproportionate burden on Australians can be answered by seeking honestly to understand what others are doing. The critics of Australian policy argue that the world’s two largest national emitters of greenhouse gases, China and the United States, are doing little or nothing to reduce emissions, so that it is either pointless or unnecessary for us to do so. China has advanced a long way towards achieving its target of reducing emissions as a proportion of economic output by 40 to 45 per cent between 2005 and 2020. It has done this by forcing the closure of emissions-intensive plants and processes that have exceptionally high levels of emissions per unit of output, by imposing high emissions standards on new plants and processes, by charging emissionsintensive activities higher electricity prices, by subsidising the introduction of low-emissions activities, and by new and higher taxes on fossil fuels. China has introduced trials of an emissions trading system in five major cities and two provinces. This adds up to a cost on business and the community that exceeds any burden placed on Australians by the new policies – bearing in mind that the revenue from Australian carbon pricing is returned to households and businesses. The US Government has advised the international community of its domestic policy target to reduce 2005 emissions by 17 per cent by 2020. President Barack Obama said

to the Australian Parliament that all countries should take seriously the targets that they had reported to the international community, and made it clear that the United States did so. United States efforts to reduce emissions are diffuse but far-reaching. They now include controls on emissions from electricity generators, announced in March 2012, effectively excluding any new coal-based power generation after the end of this year unless it embodies carbon capture and storage. From the beginning of next year they will include an emissions trading system in the most populous and economically largest state, California. The United States is making reasonable progress towards reaching its emissions reduction goals, with some actions imposing high costs on domestic households and businesses. Australia has now taken steps through which we can do our fair share in the international effort, at reasonable cost. It would be much harder and more costly to do our fair share without the policies that are soon to take effect. What Australians do over the next few years will have a significant influence on humanity’s prospects for handing on the benefits of modern civilisation to future generations. This book will help Australians to understand their part in the global effort for sustainability. Ross Garnaut University of Melbourne 15 April 2012


Contents Foreword by Ross Garnaut Table of Contents

v viii

Author Biographies




1 Population Rebecca Kippen and Peter McDonald


2 Equity Helen Sykes


3 Consumption Craig Pearson


4 Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Climate Change David Karoly


5 Energy Peter Seligman





Ethics Craig Prebble



Culture Audrey Yue and Rimi Khan



Awareness and Behaviour Angela Paladino



Local Matters Matter Kate Auty


10 Public Wisdom Tim van Gelder


11 Mental Health Grant Blashki


12 Disease Peter Doherty


13 Corporate Sustainability Liza Maimone


14 Governance John Brumby



Natural Resources


15 Ecosystem-Based Adaptation Rodney Keenan


16 Water Hector Malano and Brian Davidson


17 Food Sunday McKay and Rebecca Ford


18 Zero Carbon Land-Use Chris Taylor and Adrian Whitehead




19 Changing Cities Peter Newman and Carolyn Ingvarson


20 Affordable Living Thomas Kvan and Justyna Karakiewicz


21 Built Environment Pru Sanderson


22 Infrastructure Colin Duffield


23 Transport Monique Conheady


24 Adaptive Design Ray Green


25 Handling Disasters Alan March




26 Twenty Actions Craig Pearson


Further Reading





18 Zero Carbon Land-Use Chris Taylor and Adrian Whitehead


revious chapters have described the need to store more atmospheric carbon in vegetation and soils as well as the desirability of reinstating diverse vegetation, such as grasslands and native forests. However, at present, land-use activities – principally agriculture, livestock grazing and forestry – release over 126 million tonnes of CO2e or 22 per cent of the Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions (CO2e signifies carbon dioxide equivalent, which accounts for the warming effect of each greenhouse gas equivalent to CO2). Thus, changes to land-use offer a challenge and an opportunity. In this chapter, we argue that it is both desirable and possible to achieve land-uses that, in total, have no net emissions of carbon.

Land-Use in Australia Australia’s landmass comprises over 7.6 million km2, of which around 70 per cent is managed by agricultural businesses. The majority of this consists of grazing, which collectively manages nearly 5.0 million km2. Other businesses collectively manage a relatively smaller percentage of land area. Together, agricultural businesses produce goods with a gross annual value of $43.3 billion and employ 318,000 people, making them crucial to life in rural areas.


They also play an important role geo-politically, where large quantities of food and fibre are exported to international markets. However, to enable the rapid expansion of agriculture and forestry, large areas of natural ecosystems have been cleared, often resulting in widespread loss of biodiversity and landscape degradation. In all, 1,015,885 km2 of native Australian forests, rainforests, woodlands and other vegetation has been cleared, with the greatest loss occurring in the southeast of the country (Figure 1). Land clearing in Australia has been rapid and epic in its scale. Within a relatively short period of time (200 years), entire landscapes were completely transformed for rural development. Settlers often sought to re-create the landscape in a European context in order to implement familiar farming practices. One such area is the South Gippsland region of Victoria, which previously contained large areas of tall eucalyptus forests and rainforests (Figure 2). These forests were referred to as ‘the scrub’ and the settlers who ventured into them were often referred to as ‘pioneers’. As opposed to destruction, clearing was initially seen as an improvement to the land. As environmental historian Tom Griffiths notes, this

Zero Carbon Land-Use

Figure 1. Extent of clearing for intensive agriculture in southeast Australia (shown in red for agriculture and black for builtup areas). Source: ACLUMP 2010; NVIS 1999.



pastureland for grazing: in particular, dairy and beef. The entire region was transformed, with its biological legacies restricted to small remnants (Figure 2). The scene of South Gippsland is common throughout southeastern Australia. While agricultural production has increased in these areas, ecosystem functions and services have declined. These include biodiversity, hydrology, fire behavior and ecosystem carbon capacity. Furthermore, agricultural production on these cleared lands is a significant contributor to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the enteric emissions from the nation’s cattle and sheep equate to 54 million tonnes CO2e, with a significant proportion of this livestock grazing on previously cleared land. Tall wet forest in South Gippsland prior to clearing. Source: South Gippsland Development League 1966

Environmental Stresses on Remaining Woodlands

improvement was nostalgic. The ‘new country’ was to resemble the ‘old country’. Often the forests were seen as impenetrable and vast. They were dark and viewed as an impediment to development. The region’s tall trees were ringbarked and the understorey slashed one year and burnt the following year. This was considered by the settlers as one of the most effective ways of clearing land for effective pasture establishment. With the clearing of the vast forests and woodlands of Australia, land was opened up to pasture, cropping and plantations. In the South Gippsland region, the clearing of its tall eucalypt forests made way for extensive

Areas either abandoned or not cleared for agricultural development became remnant areas of vegetation. In most cases, they were fragmented and isolated from other native vegetation areas. Where land clearing had not significantly progressed, concerns emerged over the depletion of the timber resources in forests. This prompted a number of government inquiries, royal commissions and the establishment of forestry agencies to reserve areas of land considered valuable for timber production. This led to the declaration of ‘state forests’. While the initial motive to protect forests and woodlands was utilitarian, it did provide some degree of protection for ecosystem


Zero Carbon Land-Use

functions and services. However, as logging practices intensified following World War II, so did the environmental concerns over these practices, which mostly consisted of clearfell logging and converting remaining forest areas to plantations (Figure 3). It has been argued that remaining native vegetation acts as a refuge for native species of animals and plants. It also provides specific ecosystem functions and services, including biodiversity, hydrology and ecosystem carbon capacity. Environmental concerns have led to the creation of conservation reserves throughout southeast Australia. However, significant areas of forest remain contested in the manner they are managed.

Land Clearance and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Land clearance and logging has, and continues to be, a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions for Australia. In 2009, land clearance in Australia emitted over 41 million tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere. In the past, it has been much higher; for example, it exceeded 130 million tonnes in 1990. Emissions from historic land clearance since European settlement have not been accounted, but it is assumed that the resulting emissions would again be significantly higher. In remaining forest and woodland areas that are subject to logging operations, research by the Cooperative Centre of Greenhouse Accounting, Australian National University and

Figure 2. South Gippsland Grazing Pasture in 2012. Source: Chris Taylor.



New South Wales Parks and Wildlife Service has revealed that these ecosystems only carry 60 per cent of their potential carbon carry capacity. Historically, the carbon stocks of remaining forests and woodlands would have been higher than their current levels. The unaccounted ecosystem carbon has been released into the atmosphere, which was the result of mature forests and woodlands being converted to young stands. Research in the United States has revealed that such conversion can release large amounts of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Opportunity for Carbon Sequestration in Land-Use While land clearance and management practices in remaining forests and woodlands have resulted in negative environmental outcomes

throughout Australia, they do provide landholders and governments opportunities to restore cleared and degraded ecosystems with the benefit of increasing ecosystem carbon capacity in the landscape. This results in the removal of historic and current greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere, with carbon being stored for long cycles in restored forests and woodland ecosystems. However, not all regions or vegetation communities have the same carbon-carrying capacity as each other. This becomes a critical point in any strategy on restoring land for carbon sequestration purposes. Any restoration will decrease or even displace some existing land-use practices. It is important to identify strategic areas for restoration and maximise the value to landholders and communities at large.

Figure 3. Clearfell logging in Victorian state forests. Source: Chris Taylor.


Zero Carbon Land-Use

Figure 4. Above-ground maximum biomass potential of cleared areas. The gradation in colour from orange through yellow and green to blue, illustrates increasing potential to store carbon through revegetation, from about 2 tonnes per ha to 667 tonnes per ha. Source: DCCEE 2004.



One approach to identifying strategic areas for ecosystem restoration with the benefit of carbon sequestration is to analyse the maximum biomass potential of any specific site. The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency has developed such a dataset, which draws from an overall Forest Productivity Index (FPI). The Maximum Biomass Potential dataset details the above-ground dry biomass of plants at or near maturity. It ranges from arid shrublands (2 t per ha) to tall wet sclerophyll forests (667 t per ha). When the dataset is overlaid onto areas cleared for pasture and cropping, it can identify key and strategic areas for carbon sequestration through ecosystem restoration. Figure 4 provides a map of the maximum biomass potential for areas cleared in southeast Australia. Areas of high biomass accumulation are located in northeast New South Wales, southern Victoria and northern Tasmania. The areas of high biomass potential have been mapped onto areas of cleared land previously consisting of tall and open eucalypt forests, along with rainforests. Areas of relatively low biomass potential include those previously vegetated with mallee and eucalypt woodland. Although revegetation of any cleared land provides environmental benefits, restoring forests with high biomass potential will result in the highest sequestration potential per unit of land. Restoration of lower biomass potential areas would need greater areas to be restored to achieve similar sequestration goals. If a strategy to maximise carbon sequestration and minimise the displacement of


existing land-use practices were to be adopted, then areas of the highest biomass potential need to be identified. In the case of southeast Australia, cleared areas that previously carried tall and open eucalypt forests and rainforests would become strategic areas for ecosystem restoration. Most of these forest types were located in eastern New South Wales, southern Victoria, and northern and central Tasmania. The tall open forests have been described as containing trees that are greater than 30m tall at maturity and foliage covering between 30 and 70 per cent of the area. The open forests have been described as containing trees that are 10 to 30m tall, and covering around 30 to 70 per cent of the area. In the Maximum Biomass Potential dataset, these forest types have been predicted to carry up to 667 tonnes of dry above-ground biomass per hectare at or near maturity. This would equate to around 333.5 tonnes carbon. Other studies have observed and modelled much higher volumes of carbon for these forest types. A study published by the Australian National University has noted that these forest types can carry up to 2000 tonnes of above-ground carbon per hectare. Figure 5 identifies the pre-European settlement, 1750, extent of these vegetation types as assumed by the National Vegetation Inventory System. In southeast Australia, around 69,250km2 of cleared land carried tall and open eucalypt forest and rainforest. If these forest types were to be restored with their original 1750 extent of forest, the maximum above-ground

Zero Carbon Land-Use

Figure 5: Areas of tall open forest restoration in relation to existing land-use. Source: ACLUMP 2010; NVIS 1999.



biomass achieved in these forest types would equate to nearly 1.3 billion tonnes. This equates to roughly 640 million tonnes of ecosystem carbon, resulting in the removal of 2.3 billion tonnes from the atmosphere by the above-ground biomass alone. With maximum biomass achieved within 200 years, the annual drawdown of atmospheric CO2 would be 11 million tonnes or 14 per cent of Australia’s annual greenhouse gas emissions resulting from agriculture. These are conservative figures and higher sequestration potentials may be achieved by using other models and methods that have been developed to measure ecosystem biomass and carbon.

Regrowing Carbon Stocks As previously discussed, areas of remaining forest that have been subject to logging in southeast Australia have been noted to only carry 60 per cent of their full carbon-carrying capacity. Numerous studies have noted significant potential in carbon sequestration and protection through the adequate management and protection of remaining forests and woodlands. For example, a significant study published by the Australian National University estimated that the current carbon stock of southeast Australian forests is 3 billion tonnes. If logging in these forests were halted, the carbon stored in intact forests would be protected, and degraded forests would be able to regrow their carbon stocks. This carbon sequestration potential would equate to 2 billion tonnes or remove 7.5 billion tonnes of oxygen from the atmosphere.


Land Required for Sequestration To achieve the goal of sequestering 2.3 billion tonnes of atmospheric CO2 into the Australian landscape, around 57,827 km2, or 16 per cent, of land converted to grazing pasture would be required for ecosystem restoration. Smaller areas of dryland and irrigated cropping, irrigated horticulture and pasture would also be needed. This does not mean that existing landuse would cease in these areas. In strategic areas, land-use could become multiple-use. Such multiple-use land management has been achieved through agroforestry and farm forestry. This is where areas of a farm are revegetated, while other areas maintain existing land-use practices, such as grazing or cropping. An example of farm forestry is provided in Figure 6. Areas that are revegetated can provide for greater quality in ecosystem functions and services to the landholder, shelter for livestock, windbreaks for crops and the potential for wood products. If a large number of landholders adopt this strategy, revegetated land allocated to production could potentially replace traditional sawlogs and pulplogs sourced from native forests and monoculture plantations. This can diversify rural communities and their economies. However, it must be noted that any resource extraction in restored ecosystems could result in lower carbon capacities for those specific areas.

Zero Carbon Land-Use

Figure 6. Farm forestry in southern Victoria. Source: Chris Taylor.

Advantages of Ecosystem Restoration There are many ways to revegetate land with the goal to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. The Commonwealth government is launching its Carbon Farming Initiative with such intent. However, not all carbon plantings are the same. A study published by John Kanowski and Carla P Catterall noted that diverse restored ecosystems contained greater volumes of carbon when compared with monoculture plantations, because ecosystem plantings are usually more densely stocked. Trees in restored ecosystems featured basal areas four times greater than

those in monoculture plantings. Diverse ecosystems can also be resilient to pest outbreaks. In some cases, specific forest types, such as rainforests, can mitigate the spread of unplanned fires. More importantly, restored ecosystems can become self-sustaining and not require inputs of energy from humans in the long term. But the initial cost of restoring a previously cleared ecosystem can be proportionately high in comparison to a monoculture planting. Landowners and governments may resort to implementing the least cost-effective means of sequestration if other economic incentives are lacking.



Complementing Connectivity Initiatives and Broader Restoration Strategies The carbon sequestration strategy proposed here can complement larger projects that aim to bring connectivity throughout the Australian landscape and provide animal species opportunities for movement and migration. The re-establishment of tall and open forests and rainforests in southeast Australia would complement the ‘Great Eastern Ranges Corridor’ project that has been prepared by ANU Enterprises Pty Ltd and is supported by the New South Wales state government. This project proposes to join remaining areas of forests and woodlands to provide a continuous link from the Central Highlands of Victoria through to the Atherton Tablelands in far north Queensland. In this sense, the restoration of ecosystems for carbon sequestration will add to ecosystem resilience in the face of climate change, reduce habitat fragmentation, increase species diversity and ecosystem complexity, and reduce threatening processes.

ACTIONS FOR 2020 Combined with improved agricultural practices (such as zero tillage, using more perennial plant species and less livestock), active intervention (such as biochar, restoring forest and woodlands in southeast Australia) will result in a net sequestration of carbon emissions. Our recommendation for action by 2020 is to strategically revegetate targeted


areas of cleared forests, as in Figure 4, creating mixed forests and farmland that will remove up to 2.3 billion tonnes of carbon from the atmosphere. However, while these ecosystems would initially sequester atmospheric CO2 rapidly upon planting, their rates of sequestration would progressively slow upon reaching their saturation or climax points. Thus, in the long term, land-use emissions would need to decline and progressively retreat to safe levels by changes to farm practice as well as the revegetation we recommend. Changes to agricultural practices would include reduced fertiliser production and use, reduced numbers in livestock that emit relatively large quantities of methane, and efficient crop harvesting that operates on renewable and net zero emission energy sources.

Further Reading Zero Carbon Land-Use Berry, S., et al. (2010), Green Carbon: The role of natural forests in carbon storage – Part 2: Biomass carbon stocks in the Great Western Woodlands, Australian National University Press, Canberra. Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency (2004). Maximum Potential Biomass (MaxBio), (dataset), Commonwealth of Australia. Griffiths, T. (2002). How many trees make a forest? Cultural debates about vegetation change in Australia, Australian Journal of Botany 50, 375–389. Kanowski J., Catterall C. (2010). Carbon stocks in above ground biomass of monoculture plantations, mixed species plantations and environmental restoration plantings in north east Australia, Ecological Management and Restoration, 11, 119–126. Mackey B., Keith H., Berry S., Lindenmayer D. (2008). Green Carbon: The role of natural forests in carbon storage – Part 1: A green carbon account of Australia’s south-eastern eucalypt forests, and policy implications, Australian National University Press, Canberra. Mackey B., Watson J., Worboys G. (2010). Connectivity conservation and the Great Eastern Ranges Corridor, an independent report to the interstate Agency Working Group, Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council. Murphy, S. (2009). Recreating Country - a blue print for the design of sustainable landscapes, published by Australia Forest Growers. National Inventory Report (2009). Volume 1, Australian Government Submission to the, UN Framework Convention on Climate Change April 2011, Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency. Roxburgh S., et al. (2006). Assessing the Carbon Sequestration Potential of managed forests: a case study from temperate Australia, Journal of Applied Ecology 49, 1149–1159. South Gippsland Development League (1966). The Land of the Lyrebird: A story of Early Settlement in the Great Forest of South Gippsland, The Shire of Korumburra and South Gippsland Development League.

Zero Carbon Land Use | 2020 Vision for a Sustainable Society  

Chapter Eighteen - Zero Carbon Land Use

Zero Carbon Land Use | 2020 Vision for a Sustainable Society  

Chapter Eighteen - Zero Carbon Land Use