A new study commissioned by The Nature Conservancy and the Pew Environment Group found that Australia's vast Outback stores 9.7 billion tons of carbon, and if better managed, the area could store even greater levels that would help the country meet its greenhouse gas reduction targets.
The study, Outback Carbon – An Assessment of Carbon Storage, Sequestration and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Remote Australia, found that if steps are taken now to protect and manage the Outback's natural environment, the area could absorb up to an additional 1.3 billion tons of carbon by 2050—the equivalent of taking 7.5 million cars off the road every year for the next four decades.
Approximately 80 percent or 2.5 million square miles (6 million square kilometers) of Australia's Outback was examined in the study. The Outback is comprised of forests, woodlands and grasslands stretching across central and northern Australia.
“Due to its enormous size, the Outback environment is able to store huge amounts of carbon, so it serves as a massive pollution bank for Australia and the planet,” said Dr. Barry Traill, director of the Wild Australia Program, a joint project of the Pew Environment Group and The Nature Conservancy that works to protect large tracts of Australia's unique terrestrial and marine environment. “However, if the wide variety of its plants and trees continue to be cleared or degraded through poor management, stored carbon will be released into the atmosphere, adding to climate pollution.”
The study found that reducing land clearing, promoting re-growth of native vegetation, managing wildfires, controlling feral animal populations and improving management of animal grazing can significantly increase the Outback's carbon storage levels and could cut the country's greenhouse emissions by 5 per cent by 2030.
Several of these practices—reducing land clearing, managing wildfires and controlling feral animals—cost less than an estimated AU $20 per ton of carbon, which is significantly lower than other types of carbon reduction methods such as underground carbon storage. Additionally, extending the practical actions the study recommends would deliver economic benefits by creating ongoing jobs to manage these activities, particularly in remote areas.
“This new and very important report shows that by taking better care of Australia's Outback, its native plants, woodlands and forests, we have a logical and inexpensive way to cut emissions right in our own backyard,” said Dr. Michael Looker of The Nature Conservancy in Australia.
“To make the cuts in damaging greenhouse emissions that the science says are necessary to limit the impacts of climate change, Australia must take advantage of these practical solutions that are cost effective and available now,” said Dr. Looker.
The Nature Conservancy is a leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people. To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 18 million acres in the United States and more than 8.9 million acres in Australia. The Conservancy has helped preserve more than 117 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the web at www.nature.org.
The Pew Environment Group is the conservation arm of The Pew Charitable Trusts, a non-governmental organization that applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life. www.pewenvironment.org
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