The Commonwealth Environment Research Facilities (CERF) initiative was announced in September 2004 and funded from 2005-06.
CERF supports research that has a strong public good focus and that can demonstrate a strong public good outcome. It is designed to build critical mass in areas of Australia’s research strengths. It also encourages the development of world-class research facilities by supporting proposals that draw on multiple disciplines, professional partnerships and prior research efforts. It aims to deliver outcomes of significant national benefit particularly within the broad themes identified as the Australian Government’s National Research Priorities, and the specific priority research areas announced within the CERF program.
Priority research areas for the 2007 CERF Fellowships and Significant Project grants were:
- the condition of the nation’s environmental assets;
- the threats and risks to our environment;
- the pressures on our coastal environment; and
- the social and economic aspects of our environment.
PRA 1: The condition of Australia’s environmental assets
There are significant gaps in knowledge about the condition of Australia’s environment assets, and a need for improved methods for rapid condition assessments.
Use of remote sensing, development of rapid assessment methods, frameworks for data collection, taxonomic assessment and storage and guidelines for minimum data requirements and collection methods are seen as important for building on current knowledge. Practical application of the outcomes and outputs of work for use in policy making and environment management is critical.
Improving understanding of the condition of assets
- Better understanding of landscape condition (e.g. impacts of wildfire, fragmentation) through use of remote sensing and such technologies.
- Understanding and improving approaches to environmental indicator and monitoring frameworks for different spatial and temporal scales.
- Understanding procedures and practices for effective restoration of damaged/degraded natural ecosystems.
Improving identification of assets
- Identifying and protecting environmental values in developing urban landscapes.
- Better modelling of nationally threatened species and ecological communities (matters of National Environmental Significance – NES), including prioritising areas for protection within distributions.
- Identifying the challenges/gaps in developing and achieving a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system for the enduring protection of biodiversity, including the contribution of private lands and the influences of climate change.
- Better describing the assets and services provided by major terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems and their risks.
PRA 2: The threats and risks to our environment
The identification and assessment of threats and potential risks to the environment is a critical area of government policy development and decision-making.
Risks posed by water availability and quality, changing land use patterns, spread of invasive species, release of chemicals and altered fire regimes are of particular interest. The ability to predict, measure and manage these and other risks, in relation to changes in distribution, nature and prevalence brought about through climate change, is of particular importance. Elements of this work will also address recommended research under the National Biodiversity and Climate Change Action Plan.
- The likely impacts of climate change on Australia's coastal/estuarine ecosystems, including identifying the most vulnerable species and ecological communities; effects on invasive species; costs and benefit analysis; and managing the impacts.
- Strategic approaches to improving the resilience to climate change of Australian natural assets on public and private lands, e.g. to allow for altitudinal and latitudinal change trends and to protect and manage refuge areas.
- The political economies of a possible international climate change agreement (approaches and economic implications of options for developed and developing country engagement, sectoral approaches and competitiveness concerns).
- Investment drivers that could deal with the uncertainties of climate change response (including the science, costs of adaptation and mitigation, and the optimal combination and timing of policy tools and approaches).
- Recommended research areas outlined in the National Biodiversity and Climate Change Action Plan.
- Risk based assessment of potential invasive species threats to the natural environment, including introduction pathways and vector risk analysis.
- Developing guidelines and/or tools for measuring and valuing the environmental impacts of invasive species.
- Developing methods for detecting and monitoring invasive species, including the design of cost effective surveillance systems.
- Control methods for potential and established invasive species, including research into the relative benefits and costs of different control methods.
- Applying advances in resilience theory and emerging approaches on complex adaptive systems to progress policy opportunities and planning frameworks for sustainable resource use.
- Opportunities for developing dynamic multi-species approaches to the management of invasive and threatened species at different scales.
- Evaluating the consequences of management decisions for single species populations, multi-species populations and ecosystems using risk or scenario modeling.
- Approaches and tools to mitigate environmental impacts on matters of NES, including the feasibility of offsets, identifying their most effective application and relevant mapping at the spatial and temporal scales required by decision makers.
PRA 3: The pressures on our coastal environment
The most rapid expansion in urban development is occurring along coastal strips around Australia. Australia’s coastal environments, particularly wetlands and estuaries, are also affected by inland development. Research at a national level with a focus on urban and land-use pressures in our coastal environments, including estuaries, wetlands and coastal waters, is a priority. These pressures are of concern throughout Australia.
The challenges of landscape planning and management in intensive land-use zones, including managing impacts of development on air and water, and determining parameters for environmentally sustainable development are also of particular interest.
This PRA has a focus on sustainability of urban and peri-urban development, much of which occur in Australia’s coastal areas. Many areas such as Sydney, Melbourne, south-east Queensland, northern NSW and Perth are under high development pressures. Additionally, these pressures are resulting in an increasingly fragmented landscape.
- Environmental, social and economic impacts and benefits of the management of Marine Protected Areas.
- Managing the impact of fisheries on marine and coastal ecosystems, and opportunities for adaptive management approaches.
- Better understanding of the spatial distribution, intensity and diversity of current and future land-based sources of marine pollution and improved approaches to management.
- Impacts of future demographic shifts on coastal environmental assets and values, including mitigation and sustainable growth patterns.
- Strategic regional assessments in rapidly developing urban and peri-urban areas that incorporate integrated environmental planning, socio-economic considerations and all levels of government.
- Restoration of biodiversity and ecosystem functions and services within fragmented coastal landscapes.
PRA 4: Social and economic aspects of our environment
Social and economic dimensions are crucial to assessing, understanding and determining actions for managing Australia’s environment assets. A capacity to further integrate social and economic considerations into environmental policy development is desirable so decision-makers can evaluate options effectively and make informed choices.
Social and economic measures have significant potential to improve the use and protection of environmental assets. Areas such as natural asset valuation, economic incentives and pricing for sustainability, describing and predicting usage patterns, and tools for analysing the economic and social aspects of environmental policy are of interest under this theme.
- Cross disciplinary research in this area is needed to support many aspects of environmental policy and decision making. Such research needs to be connected directly to the environmental context. A major challenge will be delivering research outputs in a form that can be understood and utilised by end-users. Key Issues in this area are based around the following research areas:
- Issues related to Benefit Cost Analysis, in particular valuing externalities, unpriced assets and values, and managing inter-generational equity. A targeted research area is the development of a model to monitor the social and economic impacts and benefits of natural heritage listing over time.
- Market based instruments or other tools that use a range of market-like approaches to influence positively the behaviour of people, e.g. incentive design for using offsets, cap and trade, auctions, tenders, revolving funds and tax incentives. A targeted research area is the design principles and frameworks needed for robust environmental regulatory incentives schemes.
- Governance of the commons or the management of publicly-shared resources. Considerations include: the governance of private rights and community assets; transaction costs and cost-effectiveness; distinguishing private, mixed and public benefits; and hierarchical and nested decision-making. A targeted research area is designing community-based organisations to provide enduring capacity and responsibility for co-managing the environment.
- Decision making in theory and practice in a range of contexts. Targeted research areas include: how environment and resource use decisions are shaped by individual values and perceptions, and how these are communicated in social networks; and identifying the key drivers that cause community values, perceptions and priorities for the environment to change across different sectors of society and over time.