Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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12.5.8. Sustainability

Ecological and indeed economic sustainability has become a major issue in Australia and New Zealand (e.g., Moffatt, 1992). Australian government policy has been to integrate sustainability issues within a raft of polices and programs relating national heritage, land care, river care, wetlands, and carbon sequestration (Commonwealth of Australia, 1996). In both countries, land-use change and exotic pests and diseases, notably feral animals, are threatening many native species and ecosystems. In Australia, this is exacerbated by land degradation, notably soil erosion and increasing salinization brought about by loss of vegetative cover and rising water tables resulting from reduced evapotranspiration in catchments and irrigation with inadequate drainage.

These issues have been reviewed in several recent papers and reports, including a paper prepared for the Australian Prime Minister's Science, Engineering and Innovation Council (PMSEIC, 1999). This paper states that continuing degradation is costing Australia dearly in terms of lost production, increased costs of production and rehabilitation, possible damage to a market advantage as a producer of "clean and green" goods, increasing expenditures on building and repairing infrastructure, biodiversity losses, declining air and water quality, and declining aesthetic value of some landscapes.

PMSEIC (1999) states that the Australian community expects the use and management of resources to be economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable, which will require changes in management processes backed by science and engineering innovation. The report emphasizes that individual problems are linked and that an integrated approach is necessary to combat degradation and pursue remediation.

Climate change may exacerbate these problems by increasing opportunities for colonization by exotic species (e.g., woody weeds), by affecting the water balance and water tables, and by increasing erosion rates and flood flows through heavier rain events. Increased fire frequency also may threaten remnant forest and other ecosystems and impact soil degradation.

12.5.9. Global Markets

The impacts of climate change on food and fiber production in Australasia will be direct and indirect, the latter through changing global supply and demand influenced by climatic changes in other parts of the globe. Because a large proportion of food and fiber production in both countries is exported, the effect of commodity prices already is a major influence on the areas and mix of plantings and production, as well as profitability (Stafford Smith et al., 1999). Adaptation in both countries has taken the form of changes in the mix of production between, for example, wool, lamb and beef, dairy products, horticulture and viticulture, and, most recently, farm and plantation forestry, as well as increasing exports of value-added and processed products. Increased variability of production resulting from climate change may restrict expansion of such added-value products. Response to markets has led to rapid changes in some sectors, but this is more difficult for commodities that require longer investment cycles, such as viticulture and forestry. Nevertheless, adaptation to a highly variable environment is a feature of Australian agriculture, and adaptations to climate change also may contribute to exports of agricultural technology. Improved forecasts of commodity prices and longer term trends in supply and demand, taking into account seasonal climate and ENSO forecasts, are a major means of adaptation. This will be especially important for climate change impacts and will require understanding of global effects.

In New Zealand, there are implications for future wood flows of scenarios for rates of increased areas of forest plantations. Currently, of the 18 million m3 log volume harvested annually in New Zealand, one-third is used for domestic consumption and two-thirds is exported. Using a 50,000 ha yr-1 planting rate, by 2010 the ratio is expected to be 20:80, and by 2025 it is expected to be 5:95. Clearly, there is a need for an export focus. If sufficiently large export markets do not materialize for New Zealand, a major alternative use of wood within New Zealand could be for energy, especially if the economics change as a result of external considerations.

12.5.10. Indigenous Resource Management

Recognition of indigenous land rights in both countries recently has caused a much greater proportion of both countries to come back under the management control of Aboriginal and Maori peoples (Coombs et al., 1990; Langton, 1997). In many situations, this has led to less intense economic exploitation, with more varied land use, (e.g., for low-intensity farming and pastoralism, combined with some horticulture, fishing, and ecotourism). Europeans in both countries have much to learn from traditional indigenous knowledge of land management, including the traditional custodianship ethic—particularly with regard to climatic fluctuations, extreme events, and sustainability. Indigenous knowledge may well lead to greater exploitation of indigenous species for nutritional and medicinal purposes. On the other hand, the indigenous people also have much to gain from greater economic and technical expertise related to markets and new technologies and products.

For example, Aboriginal traditional fire management regimes permitted reproduction of fire-dependent floral species and widespread savannas suitable for grazing. Through the creation of buffer zones, these regimes protected fire-intolerant communities such as monsoonal forests (Langton, 2000). Removal of Aboriginal groups into settlements led to areas where wildfires, fueled by accumulated biomass, cause extensive damage. Research in collaboration with traditional Aboriginal owners recently has played a key role in joint management of National Parks where customary Aboriginal burning is promoted to conserve biodiversity.

Andersen (1999) looks at the commonly accepted contrast between European ("scientific") and Aboriginal ("experiential") perspectives in fire management and concludes that in fact, European fire managers often lack clear land management goals and are no more "scientific" than Aboriginal fire managers. He argues that the task now is to introduce scientific goals into both European and Aboriginal fire management. This may be particularly applicable in adapting to changing vegetation patterns and increased fire danger in a changing climate.

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