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.
Pressures affecting Australia’s land environment derive from each of the drivers discussed in Chapter 2: Drivers, as well as from the interactions between them. The growing human population and levels of consumption, both domestically and globally, will increase demand for more food and fibre. Expanding settlements and infrastructure will continue to impact on the environment. Economic growth places more demands on natural resources, as well as generating financial resources and new technologies for environmental management.
Changed climate regimes and sea level rise associated with global warming are expected to place new pressures on both the natural environment and primary production systems (see Chapter 2: Drivers).29 These drivers interact—for example, fire regimes are influenced by both climate change and changing patterns of settlement and land use associated with population and economic growth. Coastal ecosystems will be affected by the interaction between sea level rise and human settlements.
These pressures are:
- those resulting from climate change, which include increased average temperatures, warmer minimum and maximum temperatures, less rainfall in much of Australia, and more extreme weather events
- vegetation clearing and associated habitat fragmentation, with consequences for ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration, and for biodiversity
- changed fire patterns for both wildfires and managed fires
- land uses and land-management practices, including farming and forestry systems
- invasive diseases, pest and weeds
- urban expansion
- waste disposal
- water diversions, and changed hydrology and salinity.
At a glance
The impacts of climate change on the land environment are expected to be profound. By 2070, many environments will differ markedly from those that currently exist. As a result, some vegetation communities will disappear, others will change significantly in extent and distribution, and novel ecosystems will arise. Many agricultural and production systems are likely to be adversely affected.
Rates of land clearing averaged around one million hectares annually over the period 2000-10, and were balanced by the extent of regrowth—although the character and values of the original and regrowth vegetation are often different. Land clearing and ecosystem fragmentation associated with the expansion of both agriculture and settlements are concentrated in a relatively small number of regions.
Widespread landscape-scale pressures—particularly those due to invasive species and inappropriate fire regimes—continue to threaten environmental values across much of Australia’s land environment. These pressures are likely to be exacerbated by climate change. The impacts of these pressures are particularly pronounced on the extensively managed environments of northern Australia.
Pressures on the land environment associated with livestock grazing—Australia’s most extensive land use—are mixed; they appear to be diminishing in some regions, but increasing in others. Although better management of many agricultural systems has reduced their impacts on the land environment, a number of issues around nutrient and soil management remain. Management of both native and plantation production forests has become more regulated, and landscape-scale impacts are generally small.
The widespread adoption of minimum tillage in agriculture during the past decade is a major achievement by Australian farmers that reduces pressures affecting the land environment.
Urban and peri urban expansion, particularly around major cities and in some coastal regions, continues to impact adversely on land environmental values.
Each pressure, except water diversions, which are discussed in Chapter 4: Inland water, is discussed below.
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