Our new Environment Institute: tackling environmental crises

9 12 2008

© T. Hampel

© T. Hampel

It’s official, the University of Adelaide has put in some major investment to get its environmental research specialists together to turns things into high gear. I’m privileged to be a part of the Institute, and I hopefully will be blogging about many of the exciting, topical and revolutionary research coming out this new ‘think tank’ (also, a ‘do tank’) over the coming years.

This report from AdelaideNow:

THE University of Adelaide will bring together experts in water management, climate change, economics, marine research, energy technology and ancient DNA to tackle Australia’s most pressing environmental challenges.

The new Environment Institute will be headed by water policy expert Mike Young who said Australia faced diabolical policy problems in relation to climate change and water resources.

“While climate change is the issue of greatest national importance, it is arguable that water is the issue of most interest to South Australia,” Professor Young said.

“The River Murray, our greatest ecological icon, is under terminal stress and we need to find alternative water sources.

“We should expect the adverse effects of climate change to first be expressed in water.”

Professor Young said research was needed to help reduce Australia’s carbon footprint, to restore and improve native habitats and restructure agricultural systems.

“Many of these issues have been dealt with in isolation in the past but this is no longer an option,” he said.

“All are linked and must be dealt with in a holistic and co-ordinated way.”

Also involved in the institute will be the university’s climate change expert Barry Brook and conservationist David Paton.

University vice-chancellor James McWha said all of the institute’s researchers had an outstanding track record and were internationally recognised in their fields.

“Collectively, they have been growing their research at a phenomenal rate over the past five years and they will play a critical role in building the state’s reputation as a global leader in environmental research,” Professor McWha said.

Primary forests as global carbon sinks

13 09 2008

Certainly one for the Potential list…

p00zbhgzA new paper by Sebastien Luyssaert  and colleagues in Nature entitled Old-growth forests as global carbon sinks deserves a mention here.

Many have argued under the climate change mitigation banner that so-called ‘old-growth’ (let’s call them primary forests henceforth to distinguish them from [usually] younger secondary forests) do not provide net carbon uptake because most of their growth has occurred in the past. In other words, they provide a carbon store, but do not take much more out of the atmosphere once they’ve attained a certain ecological equilibrium. This was a major impediment for the argument that protecting such forests could be achieved economically by valuing them in national or global carbon-trading schemes. It was a shame considering that it seems the economic incentives to protect such forests were falling on deaf ears because (a) governments and industry tend to regard the quick turn-around option of timber extraction as more economically sensible and (b) of the difficulty of valuing ecosystem services provided by primary forests.

But not so, say Luyssaert and colleagues! After scouring an array of studies and databases they conclude that forests between 15 and 800 years of age do in fact continue to uptake carbon and so are not carbon ‘neutral’. Brilliant! With this latest evidence in hand, I hope the economic incentives to preserve the little remaining primary forests around the world and the ecosystem services they provide will encourage governments and industry to invest more in their preservation than their destruction. It’s worth noting here too that once such forests are destroyed (e.g., timber extraction), the majority of their stored carbon (both actual and potential via future carbon uptake) are released back to the atmosphere, thus exacerbating climate change. As such, valuing the preservation of pristine forests on the carbon-trading market should receive a far higher weighting that secondary plantations or other sequestration schemes.

CJA Bradshaw

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Australian Wet Tropics Biosequestration Project

28 08 2008

Guest post from Penny van Oosterzee, Degree Celsius:

© P. van Oosterzee
© P. van Oosterzee

The Wet Tropics Regional Biosequestration Project Development Document was launched last week on the global stage, for public scrutiny, via the Climate Community and Biodiversity (CCB) website. There are only a dozen other cases in the world that have managed to reach this level of scrutiny.

The CCB standards are used in both the voluntary global markets and also for CDM (clean development mechanism) projects (only afforestation and reforestation) that have significant biodiversity outcomes. It is well known that land use, land use change, and forestry provides the most cost-effective means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions globally, and we believe the Wet Tropics project is at the leading edge of showing how.

The Wet Tropics Project is the world’s first regional biocarbon verification case based on community NRM (Natural Resource Management) activities, aggregating different bio-sequestration activities (reforestation, assisted natural regeneration, avoided deforestation, grazing land management, reduced use of fertiliser in agriculture) of myriad landholders in one verification case.

The initiative of using NRM Regional Plan’s as a basis for biosequestration project design is an innovation that can be rolled out across the state and nationally. Using Regional Plans ensures scientifically robust monitoring outcomes because of the adoption of systems already in place for monitoring. Economically the approach allows trading to occur at the regional and landholder level, and sets the stage for new livelihoods in regional Australia in a climate constrained world.

The Wet Tropics Project is itself a pilot for the NRM regions comprising the catchments of the Great Barrier Reef which are pivotal for its the survival. The Wet Tropics Project also helps to inform national policy debates since both Garnaut and the Federal Government’s Green Paper point out the importance of forestry and agriculture but fail to provide any way forward, and are on a watching brief for solutions.

The Wet Tropics initiative with its link to regional plans immediately enables entry into other global developments such as water quality credits and biodiversity credits.

See also the Degree Celsius website for more information.

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InVEST for ecosystem services

18 07 2008

I’m currently attending the Society for Conservation Biology‘s Annual Meeting in Chattanooga, Tennessee, USA and blogging on presentations I think are worth mentioning.

A great talk that I had the pleasure of moderating was given by Taylor Ricketts of the World Wildlife Fund. He and an impressive team of conservation scientists have recently put together some spatially explicit software – InVEST – that quantifies the values of ecosystem services and compares those to biodiversity values (richness, endemism, etc.). A clever way to find the right balance between ecosystem functions that benefit humans and species preservation, this software and approach appears to be a great way to optimise land use in our changing environment. Definitely one to watch. The first paper describing this is by Erik Nelson and colleagues (including Ricketts) and will be appearing shortly in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

CJA Bradshaw