Trends in natural resource management in Australia's Monsoonal North: the conservation economy

Crowley, Gabriel (2015) Trends in natural resource management in Australia's Monsoonal North: the conservation economy. Report. James Cook University, Cairns, QLD, Australia.

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Abstract

This report examines the conservation economy in the Monsoonal North of Australia. It first describes the drivers behind the development of a conservation economy in the region and why this is important. It then takes a step back to describe what a conservation economy is, and provides simple explanations for the concepts and terms that populate the literature. It identifies how investments are prioritised and where priority areas for conservation management are located in the Monsoonal North. Finally, it provides a compendium of conservation economy opportunities operating in the region, and examines prospects for future development.

The conservation economy has largely been driven by community concern over the deteriorating condition of our land, seas, water and atmosphere; by consumer demand for ethically and sustainably-produced products; and Indigenous people's desire to derive income from their traditional lands.

The conservation economy literature provides a framework for assessing the value of conservation management and who should bear the cost of this management. Its basic principles include recognition of the dependence of humans on ecosystem services and the valuation of managing those services. There is the expectation that production systems should be managed sustainably, and where it is profitable to do so, the producer should bear the cost of adopting sustainable management. Payment can be expected for conservation management that is beyond reasonable expectations, and provides public rather than private benefit.

Conservation economy priorities are driven by international conventions covering biodiversity conservation and social justice. As a signatory to these conventions, the Australia Governments has accepted obligations to list and protect threatened species and World Heritage sites; operate a protected area estate; mitigate climate change; adhere to sustainable development goals and alleviate poverty among Indigenous people in Australia and the third world. Non-government organisations (NGOs) also largely subscribe to these aims.

The Monsoonal North has extensive tracts of intact landscapes that are largely in good condition. It scores well in conservation prioritisation schemes based on these natural values, but poorly in schemes prioritising habitat fragmentation, land degradation and threatened species. Priority areas for biodiversity conservation largely coincide with areas of Indigenous held land, so are attractive areas for conservation investment that incorporates social justice goals.

External investment in the conservation economy in the Monsoonal North comes from governments, NGOs and the voluntary efforts of property owners and managers. Most funding comes from the Australian Government, either through grants programs or fee-for-service arrangements. This funding has declined over the last decade, and disproportionately so in the Monsoonal North. This has left a sizeable dint in the region's conservation economy. However, funding for Indigenous cultural and natural resource management has been largely maintained, because Indigenous economic development continues to be a high national priority. The Australian Government has also established the Emission Reduction Fund as a marketplace to purchase emission reductions from land and agricultural management, and is considering a national marketplace for water.

The Queensland and Western Australian governments also subsidise conservation management through grant programs and conservation covenants, though this funding has also declined in recent years. In the Northern Territory, conservation agreements are brokered by the Natural Resource Management (NRM) body. Most NRM groups in the north also run devolved grants schemes, though these are funded by the Australian Government's National Landcare Programme.

Governments also regulate for adherence to duty-of-care principles in the management of weeds, pest animals, vegetation management and water quality management; and provide extension program and structural adjustment loans to support adoption of sustainable practices.

NGOs are increasing their presence in northern Australia, particularly working in partnership with Indigenous communities to support their cultural and natural resource management aspirations. Indigenous communities are active participants in the conservation economy. Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) now constitute one-third of Australia's National Reserve System. Indigenous rangers are employed to undertake cultural and natural resource management, including protection of cultural heritage; transfer of Traditional Knowledge; weed, fire and feral animal management; and biodiversity monitoring and management. Fee-for-service arrangements operate for biosecurity surveillance, collection of marine debris and emission abatement.

The pastoral industry can also benefit from the conservation economy. However, other than entering into agreements to reserve parts of their land for biodiversity conservation and reducing methane emissions from cattle, this is unlikely to be in the form of external payments. Rather, adopting recognised best practice herd management will not only reduce emissions and improve land condition by decreasing grazing pressure, it will also increase profitability. Voluntary uptake of such practices is also likely to circumvent increased government regulation of the industry. Because such practices are profitable, they are unlikely to attract stewardship payments. However, assistance through the necessary transition can be provided through extension programs and structural adjustment loans.

In summary, the principal prospects in the conservation economy in the Monsoonal North are:

• Greenhouse gas abatement activities

• Indigenous Land and Sea Management supported by governments and NGOs

• Protection of high priority biodiversity on private or leasehold land funded through development offsets, and through government-funded programs

• Taking advantage of the inherent financial benefits of herd management to improve animal performance and land condition.

Hence, the conservation economy is operating in northern Australia and is likely to grow, but it is also subject to variation with shifting government policy and consequent market opportunities. Growth is most likely to be driven by the international priorities of conservation of listed threatened species, protection of World Heritage values, establishment of a protected area estate and alleviation of poverty among Indigenous people and in the third world, adherence to sustainable development goals and mitigation of climate change. These priorities are likely to inform future investments by governments, NGOs and private donors.

Item ID: 43625
Item Type: Report (Report)
ISBN: 978-0-9944984-1-0
Keywords: conservation economy; natural resource management; NRM; Monsoonal North; Australia
Related URLs:
Funders: Australian Government’s Regional Natural Resource Management Planning for Climate Change Fund
Date Deposited: 12 Apr 2016 04:54
FoR Codes: 05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050202 Conservation and Biodiversity @ 50%
05 ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES > 0502 Environmental Science and Management > 050209 Natural Resource Management @ 50%
SEO Codes: 96 ENVIRONMENT > 9608 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity > 960805 Flora, Fauna and Biodiversity at Regional or Larger Scales @ 30%
96 ENVIRONMENT > 9699 Other Environment > 969999 Environment not elsewhere classified @ 50%
91 ECONOMIC FRAMEWORK > 9199 Other Economic Framework > 919902 Ecological Economics @ 20%
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