Chapter 3 Sustainable use of natural resources
This chapter considers aspects of the terms of reference relating to mechanisms
to promote the sustainable use of natural resources and ecosystem services in a
changing climate, and mechanisms to enhance community engagement. In the course
of its inquiry, the Committee considered mechanisms as deriving from two
complementary approaches: policy and practice; both with biodiversity
conservation as core elements.
The policy approach outlines the broad measures and mechanisms
required to promote the sustainable use of resources and ecosystem services in
an uncertain climatic future; an example is the adaptive management approach.
The practice approach highlights the individual programs and projects
required or underway that promote the sustainable use of natural resources and
ecosystem services; an example is the stormwater recycling projects supported across
Australia. The Committee received a range of evidence demonstrating both
approaches, some of which are explored below, and in later chapters.
Many examples of the ‘practice approach’ incorporated community
engagement and participation at the same time as promoting the sustainable use
of resources. The Committee has observed the extent to which several programs and
n being undertaken and
supported in our local communities
n protecting our
n alleviating some of
the impacts that changing biodiversity due to climate change will have on our human
n preparing human
communities for the eventuality that some natural resources will become scarcer
in a changing climate.
This chapter canvasses examples of mechanisms relating to locally
organised conservation initiatives and government programs and policies. Connectivity
conservation initiatives are discussed in chapter four, and programs utilised
by regional natural resource management (NRM) organisations, including under
the Federal Government’s Caring for our Country initiative, are discussed in detail
in chapter six.
Among the evidence received relating to policy approaches promoting the
sustainable use of natural resources and ecosystem services, the Committee was
pleased to see input from a range of government and non-government agencies, as
well as individuals operating in different jurisdictions, a sample of which is
canvassed below. The general thread throughout this evidence highlighted the
need for policy approaches to be integrated with other policy areas covering,
among others, land use planning, adaptive management approaches, and
sustainable population growth.
Adaptive management and coordinated planning
The Department of Infrastructure and Transport (DIT) highlighted the
sustainability objectives of Australia’s National Urban Policy, which include
‘managing our resources sustainably by reducing resource consumption and waste
and improving water, energy and food security’.
DIT also highlighted the importance of integration of NRM planning and
land use planning systems, and that ‘outer urban and peri urban land
management, natural resource management planning and land use planning systems
are ill-equipped to address the biodiversity management impacts’.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)
suggested the need to:
n ‘accept and plan for
significant and continuous changes in the distribution of species and
ecosystems … ‘
n develop adaptive
n promote strategic
coordination of NRM at regional levels, using tailored approaches in different regions.
The Australian Coastal Society (ACS) stated that there is an urgent need
to define what ‘sustainable’ and ‘sustainability’ mean, as well as identify the
scientific criteria, benchmarks and milestones required to objectively assess
the efficacy of land-use strategies, conservation measures or management
regimes. The ACS stated that there
is no consideration of sustainability in planning or management in Australia’s
coastal areas, and also a lack of recognition of the importance of ecosystem
services, as no economic value of ecosystems is given in planning or land
The Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment stated the need for
government assistance with ‘planning, management and research into alternative
sources of energy’, and the need for the government to support and require
‘investment from the coal export sector to stop the degradation of our
biodiversity and ensur[e] that ecosystems function to support future human
economies not dependent on coal or oil’.
Ms Liz Burton, a planning and environment advocate, suggested in her
submission the need to develop a ‘national strategy on biodiversity asset
conservation in a changing climate’; in order to address the three
interconnected factors affecting the natural environment, namely: climate
change; the ‘structure of the Australian economy and impacts on biodiversity of
natural resource commercial exploitation’; and population growth and native
vegetation clearance. Ms Burton also suggested
the need to review state planning policies in order to prevent extensive land
clearing and fragmentation, improve coordination across the three levels of
government, and introduce monitoring and accounting processes of biodiversity
loss in relation to biodiversity assets.
The Western Australian Farmers Federation was concerned that the
Committee not make recommendations which ‘introduce additional restraints on
Western Australian farmers who are already significantly restricted in the[ir]
land management practices’. The Committee met with
the WA Farmers Federation in Perth and heard about the WA Government’s land
clearing regulation restrictions placed on WA farmers, and the amount of land
clearing allowed for mining and urban use. Further to information provided in
the Federation’s submission, Mr Alan Hill, Director of Policy, told the
… in an environment where we recognise that productive
farmland is decreasing for a number of reasons and demand is increasing because
of our sheer capacity to breed and reproduce, the Australian farmer and
particularly the Western Australian farmer needs to function in that market and
be more productive than ever before. If we are going to put restrictions on his
or her ability to do that, that needs to be recognised and the full cost of
that not borne by the landholder simply because they are a landholder.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature World Commission
on Protected Areas (IUCN WCPA) suggested that innovative governance is required,
with models combining biodiversity goals with climate mitigation and adaptation
goals, supported by all levels of government. The IUCN WCPA suggested that
innovative governance requires:
n ‘grants to the
voluntary sector to maintain a viable NGO [non‑government organisation]
n incentive mechanisms
and stewardship payments
n ‘rate and taxation
incentives and multiple biodiversity and carbon market mechanisms to encourage
conservation on private lands’
n ‘investment in large
scale biodiverse vegetation restoration and terrestrial carbon plantings’.
The Western Catchment Management Authority suggested the need to:
n recognise an economic
value of environmental services (canvassed in chapter two)
n support concepts such
as Enterprise-based Conservation which establishes ‘conservation management as
a viable alternative enterprise to grazing’ (canvassed in chapter six).
The Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and
Communities (DSEWPAC) highlighted the importance of:
managing uncertainties surrounding climate change impacts, risk management, the
selection of priority action areas, and how to avoid maladaptation
n further research to expand
knowledge of climate change impacts and continually incorporate the knowledge
into policy, plans and management practices
n the National Plan for
Environmental Information (discussed in chapter five) in improving the
quality and coverage of Australia’s environmental information
n regional NRM plans in
delivering integrated approaches to NRM.
The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) outlined
the Australian Government’s commitment to ‘increasing the adoption of
management practices [by farmers and fishers] that continue to maintain and
improve production, while delivering ecosystem services that benefit the whole
community.’ DAFF stated that the
Australian Government was delivering on this objective through grants and
capacity building through Caring for our Country and the Carbon Farming
Initiative (both discussed below in relation to practice approaches) and other
strategies and initiatives.
As may be anticipated in a consideration of the continued ability to
sustainably use natural resources, population growth is a factor. This issue
was raised on a few occasions with the Committee, specifically in relation to
the effects of predicted population growth on biodiversity.
Mr Sean Sullivan, Acting Deputy Secretary, DSEWPAC stated that
Australia’s Sustainable Population Strategy, released in May 2011, recognises
that our population growth and trends in population growth mean that ‘we need
to take into account what sustainable population means both now and planning
into the future’.
Population growth is a major indirect driver on the Australian
environment, with population projected to increase to between 30.2 and 35.9
million by 2050. As a key driver
impacting on biodiversity, the Committee heard that the ‘rate of population
growth has become considerably faster since the mid‑2000s’.
… population growth is likely to continue to drive the need
for expanded suburban development. The size of this impact will depend on how
sensitive the planning has been towards local environmental assets and values,
and on the effectiveness of policies to improve the energy efficiency of
housing and transport.
The Coast and Wetlands Society discussed the large human population, and
existence of landscapes interrupted by barriers of infrastructure, urban areas
and agricultural and forestry land. The Society went on to
discuss the impacts of population growth, observing that:
The growth of the human population and the increasing trend
to urban living will, even in the absence of climate change, require
intensification of agricultur[e] likely to make agricultural land more
inhospitable to wildlife. Climate change will force further changes in
agricultural practice which may also further impact on the ability of agricultur[e]
and wildlife to co-exist.
An example of a policy approach to the sustainable use of natural
resources was encountered during the Committee’s site inspections in
Townsville, and in evidence received during the inquiry, namely the Great
Barrier Reef Marine Park Zoning Plan 2003, which rezoned the region and
resulted in recovery of fish populations.
Examples of sustainable resource use
The following programs and projects were encountered during the
Committee’s site inspections and discussed in its interim reports:
n rainwater harvesting
system to supplement the water naturally occurring in the Lake Cave, Margaret
n Sydney Olympic Park’s:
Ring Walk site, incorporating: a protected area for endangered species; natural
and constructed wetlands used for biodiversity conservation; and a reservoir to
supply non-potable water to Sydney Olympic Park and Newington
Water Quality Control Pond to moderate the flow of stormwater run-off and
absorb nutrients before the water is filtered and pumped into the brickpit
reservoir for distribution.
n City of Salisbury’s Greenfields
Wetlands project forms a significant part of the City’s stormwater recycling
program—urban stormwater run-off is treated in the constructed wetlands then
distributed for non‑potable use.
n Goolwa Barrages at
Hindmarsh Island, South Australia, are intended to help maintain the fresh
water of the River Murray and Lakes Alexandrina and Albert, keep water at a
sufficient level to permit watering of reclamation areas, and prevent salt
water from entering during periods of low river.
n Reef HQ Aquarium,
propagation program aimed at reducing collection of coral from the Great
Barrier Reef for display and research purposes
energy consumption, including the use of photovoltaic solar panels expected to
reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions
Guardian program displays.
The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority’s Reef Guardian program
addresses the ‘additional challenges a changing climate represents for ensuring
sustainable use of the Reef’s natural resources and ecosystem services’.
The Committee briefly discussed the Reef Guardian program in its second
interim report, and reiterates its suggestion that the Reef Guardian program
could be adapted to other areas and ecosystem types, in order to enhance
community engagement in sustainable environmental management.
Government and market-based initiatives
DSEWPAC outlined two programs that can provide benefits for
Under the new Carbon Farming Initiative … landholders can
earn carbon credits by reducing emissions from agriculture and increasing the
carbon stored in forests and other ecosystems. These credits can then be sold
to companies with obligations under the carbon price mechanism, or to those who
wish to voluntarily offset their greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon Farming
Initiative projects that provide co-benefits for biodiversity will be able to
advertise these credentials in order to seek a premium price for their carbon
The [Biodiversity] fund will support landholders to undertake
projects that establish, restore, protect or manage biodiverse carbon stores in
targeted areas of the landscape. It is intended that this financial incentive
for landholders will enhance the environmental outcomes of carbon farming
projects and improve the resilience of Australia’s species to the impacts of
The Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Studies (AIATSIS) discussed the long-term research project called the West
Arnhem Land Fire Abatement Project, accepted under the Carbon Farming
Initiative. Dr Lisa Strelein, Director
of Research, Indigenous Country and Governance at AIATSIS indicated that it is
successful in relation to sustainable land management and in the potential for
economic opportunities through selling carbon credits.
DAFF outlined the Sustainable Farm Practices initiative of Caring for
Sustainable Farm Practices is a national priority area within
the Caring for our Country initiative. It aims to help improve adoption of
practices which will benefit soil condition and ground cover and indirectly,
above and below-ground biodiversity. Sustainable Farm Practices also
acknowledges the stewardship relationship that landholders have with
biodiversity, by providing support for landscape scale conservation activities
including protection of native vegetation and threatened ecological communities
Caring for our Country’s long-term (20 year) projection is
that Australia’s agricultural lands will support and maintain clean water,
biodiversity and healthy soils, while continuously improving food and fibre
productivity. The agricultural sector will be based on the sustainable
management of natural resources and be better able to respond to the threats
and opportunities created by changing circumstances, particularly a changing
Under this 20 year projection, one of Caring for our
Country’s 5 year outcomes is to assist at least 30 per cent of farmers to
increase their uptake of sustainable and land management practices that deliver
improved ecosystem services.
Through the Caring for our Country initiative, assistance is
available to protect biodiversity and national icons through on‑ground
works and stewardship payments; and to build the capacity of farmers to adopt
sustainable agricultural practices through supporting extension activities,
information dissemination, and actions to demonstrate and pilot innovative
DAFF stated that one of the Caring for our Country targets was:
… for an additional 42 000 farmers to have improved their
management practices to reduce the risk of soil acidification, soil loss
through wind and water erosion and increase the carbon content of soils by
The Committee learned that ‘by 2011-12 Caring for our Country alone had
supported over 46 000 farmers to adopt more sustainable practices’.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Agricultural Resource Management
Survey demonstrates trends in the adoption of land management practices, and in
2012 it indicated that ‘over half of the agricultural businesses with native
vegetation, wetlands, rivers and creeks on farm are protecting them for
conservation purposes’. DAFF stated that this
information can be used to understand the effectiveness of Caring for our
Country initiatives in changing land management practices.
The then Queensland Government outlined strategies and actions being
used to enhance adaptive capacity including the NatureAssist Program, which
supports landholders in managing and protecting biodiversity on land subject to
The National Farmers’ Federation highlighted a number of market-based
approaches to environmental management, including the private sector
stewardship initiatives: the Environmental Champions Program and Landcare.
The Environmental Champions Program is a voluntary program for rice‑based
systems that aims to recognise growers for their environmental stewardship,
achieve on farm benefits and improve the regional landscape.
According to its website, the Environmental Champions Program also combines
regional environmental programs, best management practices and government and
irrigation bodies’ requirements into one streamlined process.
The Committee understands the importance of sustainably using natural resources
and ecosystem services, and the benefits of engaging the community in doing so.
The Committee reiterates its support for programs that promote the sustainable
use of natural resources while also supporting biodiversity conservation.
The Committee was impressed by the numerous projects being undertaken in
the community aimed at the sustainable use of natural resources and ecosystem
services, as discussed in the Committee’s interim reports. The benefits of
these projects are important in that they:
n encourage innovative
thinking, learning and development of ideas to promote the sustainable use of
n markedly improve
return on, and encourage recycling and reuse of, ecosystem services
n positively impact upon
participation in learning and research on the implications of the unsustainable
use of natural resources and the possibilities of changes in availability of
some natural resources in future
n involve communities
in rewarding and educational activities.
The Committee understands the importance of government support for such
initiatives. The Committee supports policies and market-based approaches to
environmental management that promote the sustainable use of natural resources
and ecosystem services, as canvassed above. The ability for land managers and
community members to participate in, and benefit in economic terms from,
conservation activities that positively affect biodiversity is a very important
message for governments, particularly the Australian Government, to be promoting.
Further, the ability for land managers to learn new management skills and adopt
more sustainable practices is also beneficial for the surrounding communities
and for maintaining biodiversity. Governments should be constantly improving,
developing and extending such initiatives.
The Committee understands that coordinating policy approaches in
different areas involves many and varied complexities. The Committee discusses
these complexities, relating to natural resource management and governance
issues generally in chapters six and seven below.