A leading Charles Sturt University (CSU) researcher has called for caution amid a recent newspaper report claiming efforts to mitigate carbon emissions in the Murray-Darling Basin could be ‘damaged’ by proposed cuts to irrigation in favour of returning water to the rivers.
Professor Max Finlayson, Director of the University’s Institute for Land, Water and Society
(ILWS) said the claims in the article, ‘Murray plan 'may harm carbon cuts’’ in The Age
on Monday 20 December are fraught with uncertainty and need to be placed within context.
“Unfortunately no supporting evidence is provided in the report from an ‘inter-departmental committee’ on how changes to the Murray-Darling Basin could damage carbon mitigation efforts,” Professor Finlayson said. “A pity, as it would be helpful to see the evidence and to place this within the context of an ongoing and informed discussion.”
However the CSU researcher said, “Rather than bemoan this as a new twist could we see the developments as a new opportunity?
“I understand agriculture is excluded from any plan to introduce a carbon tax, or some other financial mechanism, to encourage efforts to reduce carbon emissions. Are we now seeing senior government officials providing a case for the agricultural sector to be included?
“If the issue of carbon storage in irrigated soils is so important that it could derail the proposal to return water to the rivers, I’d suggest that we should be making the case to include agricultural land in the carbon debate, not keep it aside for a rainy day.
“I also wonder if we can also do better than excuse the problems caused by past bad decisions about water use by using them to justify bad decisions about a carbon-intensive economy.
“We do though seem to be woefully short of hard evidence about the relative merits of efforts to reduce carbon emissions from soils, including those from the wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin which, for many reasons, would benefit from more regular wetting and flooding.
“We do know from research done elsewhere that degrading wetlands can lead to more carbon emissions, and there is increasing evidence that some wetlands can be used to store carbon, and there is an increasing call for wetlands to be restored to increase carbon storage.
“Is this less important than carbon storage in irrigated soils? This worthwhile discussion is though bedeviled by misconceptions and incomplete evidence, but the bigger question remains - is the value of carbon storage in irrigated lands so important that we can afford to dump the opportunity to restore the health of the rivers and wetlands of the Murray-Darling Basin?
“And, if the importance of carbon storage in irrigated lands is so high shouldn’t we be grabbing the opportunity and including these lands in the next iteration of our national carbon policy?
I would like to see more hard evidence on carbon storage and emissions and to see this related back to a water plan for the entire Murray-Darling Basin – the two can be combined and not treated as separate bits and pieces.”