Last week agriculture’s environmental, finance and research leaders met at the Natural Capital Summit in Brisbane during Queensland Climate Week.
During a two-day ‘mega workshop’ participants put their heads together to discuss the genesis of a Natural Capital Roadmap. They covered topics on policy, solutions to improved management, governance structures, research, and finance and investments on natural capital – Australia’s stock of natural assets.
See the image below for the conversations had at the Summit.
These ‘natural assets’ can include geology, soil, air, water and all living things. Healthy ecosystems underpin a suitable and stable climate and are necessary safeguards for healthy people and thriving regional communities.
Australia’s natural systems are under continued pressure from increasing demand for food and fibre from a growing population, changing consumer demands, market pressures driving land degradation, and the effects of climate change.
Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) farmers have legislative obligation to manage the landscape and biodiversity on their land without financial compensation.
The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has a Natural Capital Policy that is widely supported by the agricultural industry, which aims to overcome the degradation of Australia’s natural capital by minimising the disadvantage of landholders who are struggling to cover the costs of environmental stewardship. Through attributing a value to these landscape features, development of a market will follow.
For example, if there is an endangered bird species that is endemic to the flora on a farmers’ property, that farmer is obliged, under the EPBC Act, to undertake conservation actions to preserve that bird species at their own expense.
The NFF’s policy recommends that the endangered bird species obtains a monetary value. The farmer will in return receive a reward or compensation for their conservational efforts.
“A failure to protect required assets puts farmers at risk of breaching the Act, which is by and large legislation that is poorly designed, communicated and understood,” said the NFF’s President Fiona Simson.
The Government currently does not have a natural capital policy in place however, in March 2019 former Agriculture and Water Resources Minister David Littleproud announced a $30 million pilot Agriculture Biodiversity Stewardship Program, which aims to deliver payments to private land managers who improve the landscape or capture carbon on their property. This is an important starting point for the sector.
“Rewarding farmers for their management of the natural environment is a key element to the NFF’s plan for agriculture to achieve farm gate output of $100 billion by 2030.
“More still needs to be done but this funding will be of great assistance,” Ms Simson said.