5 Land | 7 Outlook
State of the Environment 2011 Committee. Australia state of the environment 2011.
Independent report to the Australian Government Minister for Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.
Canberra: DSEWPaC, 2011.
The outlook for Australia’s land environment—and the risks to it—will depend on the combination of three factors. These are the impacts of historical legacies, such as land clearing and land use since human settlement; the effectiveness of management regimes, such as our capacity to manage invasive species; and the development of future contexts, principally those associated with the drivers discussed in Chapter 2: Drivers.
In the past, the processes that determined the outlook for Australia’s land environment were dominated by land clearing for agriculture and settlement,47 and by land-use practices in agricultural and forested landscapes. As land clearing slows and the management of production systems improves, other processes become more important in determining the future character of the vegetation component of the land environment.47 These processes include the size and demographics of remnant populations in fragmented landscapes, edge effects, and the more diffuse but larger scale impacts of invasive species or altered fire regimes. The present and future condition of our soils will be shaped by the management of agricultural and pastoral systems, and our capacity to match them to Australia’s climate variability.
Future land environments across Australia are likely to be (re)shaped by a different climate from that of Australia’s human history. As recent reviews29,52,127 have revealed, the potential impacts of climate change in addition to the other pressures on our land environment are truly profound. The impacts of global forces associated with a growing world population and associated growth in consumption of food and resources will also be felt in Australia. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has predicted that an increase of 70% in global food production will be necessary to meet the world’s food needs in 2050, and the expansion of bioenergy production is already placing pressure on agricultural and forest land elsewhere in the world.129 Globally, these pressures are expected to intensify competition between land use for agriculture, bioenergy, wood and fibre production, and conservation.130,131 Australia will experience these pressures,132-133 although the ways in which they are likely to manifest in our landscape are not yet clear. For these reasons, and for others that are more domestic in origin, the outlook for Australia’s land environment is mixed.
At a glance
The outlook for Australia’s land environment depends on the conjunction of past, current and future pressures, and how we manage them.
Future land environments are likely to be shaped by a different climate from that experienced in Australia’s human history. This is expected to have profound impacts for our land environment.
Australia’s land environment will also be subject to increasing land-use competition, including between human settlements, conservation, and food, fibre and energy production.
The outlook for Australia’s land environment is mixed. It includes both encouraging initiatives and outcomes, and worrying trends. There are clear measures we need to take, and investments we need to make, for us to be confident of a positive outlook for the land environment.
On one hand, although information and understanding of many aspects of the land environment and its management remain imperfect, the knowledge and experience bases for land management are substantial. We generally know what needs to be done to manage our land environment well. Institutionally, we have taken important steps in empowering Indigenous Australians to manage their country, and private landowners to manage their properties for the broader public good, as well as for their own specific objectives. We have experimented with, but not yet committed decisively to, regional NRM arrangements that emphasise more locally driven priority setting within frameworks determined by national and state processes. Management of public lands in each jurisdiction increasingly emphasises integration and collaboration across tenures and between agencies, and many private landowners are committed to delivering environmental benefits beyond those required by legislation. Landscape-scale connectivity initiatives link public and private land, and help build resilience to both current and future pressures. Each of these contributes to a positive outlook for the land environment.
On the other hand, the legacy impacts of previous land-management regimes, some current land management practices, the lack of resources and capacity to manage some landscape-scale pressures, and the predicted impacts of climate change suggest the prospect of a different—and in many respects poorer—Australian land environment in the future. The outlook for much of our land environment will remain poor, unless we are able to:
- mitigate the impacts of pressures such as climate change, invasive species, and uncontrolled grazing by livestock and feral animals
- better manage fire regimes
- restore ecological functionality in degraded landscapes and prevent degradation in others
- further improve the sustainability of our agricultural and forestry production systems
- address the emerging tensions between some forms of mining and other land uses and values
- better manage the expansion and impacts of urban settlements and the waste our cities generate
- invest more in NRM capacity and implementation.