Controlling Emissions a job for Nature, not Politics

Circuit Breaker for the Climate Debate

With the release of its new energy policy labelled the National Energy Guarantee (NEG), the Federal Government certainly hopes it will be a ‘circuit breaker’ for both the acrimonious energy and climate debates. So will the adding of yet another acronym, NEG, prove more successful than the many that went before it, such as CET, LET, EIS & RET? Only time will tell but the public is certainly losing patience.

Behind much of the acrimony in these debates is emission reductions and adherence to the Paris agreement. Focussing almost exclusively on emission reduction is a very negative approach to the overall policy development. It didn’t need to be like that and hopefully with this change in policy by the government the much more positive approach to a solution, we all want, will now finally come forward.

So what is that positive approach? It is one that has been advocated by many including Natural Sequence Farming guru Peter Andrews and The Mulloon Institute for many years. Its genesis lies pretty much under our feet.

But first take a step back. Since Earth’s creation, Nature has battled with balancing carbon well before humans came along. Carbon is not our enemy, in fact it is the building block of life. When plants first appeared some 500 million years ago, the real balancing occurred as carbon cycled between the five pools where it was stored – atmosphere, biosphere, oceans, soil and fossil.

In more recent times the distribution of carbon has become unbalanced with too much in the atmosphere and oceans and not enough in the soil. We can argue over the causes of that imbalance, which effectively is what has dominated the debate, but we could also take a much more positive attitude and concentrate on how that imbalance can be addressed through the processes of Nature.

That is exactly what we are doing at ‘The Mulloon Institute, for Environment, Farming and Society’ (a not-for-profit charity on the Federal Government’s Register of Environmental Organisations). A pilot project, guided by Peter Andrews, commenced some ten years ago covering a few kilometres of Mulloon Creek and the adjoining landscape east of Canberra, and it has demonstrated incredible improvement within a couple of years. In partnership with the Australian National University (ANU), Canberra University and other research institutes, scientific data has been continually collected to back up the obvious improvement in water quantity and quality in the floodplain and adjoining sloping landscape.

This has led to a boon for the agricultural enterprise with a demonstrated 60% increase in carrying capacity. That’s what I call a win/win, a win for the environment and a win for the farming enterprise. But also a win for rebalancing the carbon imbalance as a rehydrated landscape equals more carbon sequestered from the atmosphere into the soil.

The pilot project was so successful that we have embarked on ‘fixing’ the whole catchment. In total about 50km of waterways, 23,000 hectares of land and incorporating all of the landholders. This project, called the Mulloon Community Landscape Rehydration Project (MCLRP), has subsequently been recognised for its practical qualities of landscape repair contributing to an improved and more sustainable agricultural outcome, by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UNSDSN) as one of only five such demonstrations globally. Somebody is taking notice!

Imagine if this work was being adapted to catchments across the nation? Not only would we see more than a million kilometres of incised, eroded rivers and streams brought back to what they once were, we would have every catchment across the country banking water under the ground again, in far greater quantities than can ever be stored in dams, and have sustainable, resilient and productive agriculture with a carbon cycle being restored and brought back to balance. Such work will allow the natural processes that are built into Australia’s ancient landscape to fix a problem that, we think, is a mistake to expect governments to do. But governments, along with our environment, agriculture and society, will be the beneficiaries.

The other good news is it doesn’t cost a lot. Governments have been spending billions of dollars on trying to fix the emissions ‘problem’ and billions more on schemes such as buying water entitlements. If we could move those funds to landscape repair and rehydration we wouldn’t be arguing the toss about emission reduction percentages.

Furthermore, it is a fallacy to think we need huge amounts of financial capital to correct an imbalance in our natural capital – it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.

Our landscapes and the plants in it will solve these problems, we just need to give them a helping hand to change direction and nature will do the rest.

We at The Mulloon Institute, and so many competent land managers around this country are organisationally ready, have done our homework, and are able to make this happen. We can also help governments to allow it to happen through enabling legislation.

We are offering the real ‘circuit breaker’ to this long running and costly debate. Our nation can lead the world in what is so important for our children and grandchildren.


Gary Nairn is Chairman of The Mulloon Institute and was a Minister in the Howard Government.