Tuesday’s revelations in the Sydney Morning Herald that the Baird government has dipped into the Climate Change Fund to find the $240 million for private land conservation is the latest piece of worrying Coalition climate policy says the National Parks Association of NSW (NPA).
The $240 million has been repeatedly touted by the government as being a safety net against a return to broad scale land clearing resulting from the repeal of the Native Vegetation Act, but has been labelled by the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists as ‘a taxpayer subsidy to farmers to clear land’.
Now it appears that it’s to come from a fund designed to mitigate climate change.
The SMH story comes hot on the heels of a report released by The Green Institute last week that exposed rorting of the federal Direct Action fund by paying farmers to protect native vegetation that wasn’t going to be cleared anyway—so-called ‘avoided deforestation’.
And the two bioregions in NSW that have received the lions share (approximately $1 billion) of Direct Action funding, Cobar Peneplain and Mulga Lands, were estimated by WWF to be at risk of losing 77 per cent and 96 per cent of their native vegetation through the new ‘equity code’, part of Mr Baird’s land clearing laws that came into force last week.
NPA Senior Ecologist, Dr Oisín Sweeney said: ‘There is an extremely worrying pattern playing out across Australia at the moment and questions need to be asked urgently of our leaders.
‘There are strict rules around carbon accounting, and one of those rules is the concept of additionality. In other words, projects that can be counted must be above what would have occurred under business as usual.
‘With rules in place to protect native vegetation, such as the Native Vegetation Act in NSW or the Vegetation Management Act in Queensland, it probably wouldn’t be possible to claim carbon reductions for avoided deforestation in most circumstances.
‘But when those rules are removed, as they are now in both states, then that brings native vegetation into play in the carbon sphere.
‘It may be a coincidence that the federal government has put its major focus on vegetation projects as Queensland and NSW relax vegetation controls.
‘But whether it’s by design or by accident it’s a chronic waste of money and a distraction from tackling the big emitters like the energy sector.
‘The federal government’s own figures show emissions from the land sector will rise by 212 per cent over the next five years, despite $1.2 billion of Direct Action funding being poured into land-based projects.
‘Instead of relaxing rules on clearing, the Baird government should retain them, leave the $240 million in the Climate Change Fund and put up new money to help farmers protect nature.’