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. State Of The Environment: A Nation In The Dark

Ecosystem services are the foundation of sustainable development; without them we'd have no food, shelter or wilderness 'escapes'. We need to better understand them, and how they contribute to our well-being.
by Staff Writers
Canberra, Australia (SPX) Jul 03, 2008
Australia is not in a position to reliably track changes in its environment caused by climate change and other threats due to a lack of critical 'baseline' data and long-term monitoring programs, according to three experts quoted in the latest issue of Ecos (143, June-July 2008).

Dr Andrew Campbell and Professors Hugh Possingham and Will Steffen believe our intelligence on the state of our terrestrial environment falls well short of standards set by the US and the UK, and will prevent us from making effective management decisions in responding to future environmental threats.

Dr Campbell says Australia has too few botanists, entomologists, vertebrate taxonomists and soil scientists and, surprisingly for the 'marsupial country', one full-time marsupial taxonomist.

Professor Steffen argues we need a coordinated, national approach to environmental monitoring, with water, the carbon cycle and biodiversity the highest priorities.

"We have a world-class national carbon accounting system, but we also need to understand the long-term behaviour of carbon in the environment, to complement carbon flux measurements and satellite assessments of vegetation cover, which are important tools in understanding the processes that drive the terrestrial carbon cycle," he says.

Ecos also looks at the role of solar and other small-scale power technologies in decentralising our power networks. Compared to the inefficient, centralised coal-power grid, a national distributed network that incorporates small on-site power supplies - a kind of 'energy Internet' - will smooth out peaks and troughs and result in lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Covered in this issue too is the emergence of a movement of young Aboriginals advocating genuine involvement of indigenous people in managing the land - the Indigenous Environment Foundation (IEF).

In recent years, a debate ignited about whether Cape York's rainforests, wetlands, pristine rivers and savannah grasslands should be managed as restricted-access natural heritage sites or handed to the 10,000-strong indigenous communities living on the Cape manage using traditional knowledge.

Shaun Edwards, an IEF founder and member of the Kokoberrin people, says the IEF's aim is to help shape policy and the broader environmental agenda. "We also want to invest in traditional knowledge for the future through conservation, management and research, establishing conservation scholarship programs, and up-skilling youth to protect their cultural knowledge."

Michael Winer from Cape York Institute says: "In the midst of the unprecedented social reform that is occurring in Aboriginal communities all over Australia, it is fundamental to their culture's survival that they are given reasonable prospects of economic sustainability, where they are living."

Other stories in Ecos 143 include:

Green roofs turning cities upside down: As urban density increases, green roof and wall technology provides a way to replace vegetation lost on the ground.

Acacia plantations for sustainable Sarawak forests: Australian forestry science is assisting Malaysian forest authorities to protect Sarawak's rainforest through the development of biodiversity corridors in acacia plantations.

Thoughts on a national sustainability agenda: With the dust settled on the national election, and more recently the 2020 summit, Ecos asked five commentators for their top priorities for a new national sustainability agenda.

Natural assets: Ecosystem services are the foundation of sustainable development; without them we'd have no food, shelter or wilderness 'escapes'. We need to better understand them, and how they contribute to our well-being.

National business leaders call for risk adjustment: With many global indicators of climate change tracking beyond the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's worst case extrapolations, the annual National Business Leaders Forum on Sustainable Development discussed recalibrating risk.

Ecos is Australia's magazine on sustainability.

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Poor countries should set climate targets: Brazil leader
Tokyo (AFP) July 2, 2008
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has urged developing countries, including his own, to join rich nations in setting targets to reduce emissions blamed for global warming.

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