Fire recovery ‘to cost $16 billion a year’

Emergency alert systems will be upgraded to improve communication during natural disasters.

Emergency alert systems will be upgraded to improve communication during natural disasters. Photo: AAP

It will cost $16 billion a year to partially restore the environmental damage done by the Black Summer bushfires, scientists say.

Researchers from the University of Queensland and WWF-Australia have published the results of a complex number-crunching exercise sparked by the catastrophe.

They say an investment of $16 billion is needed every year to promote the recovery and restoration of native flora and fauna, and reduce extinction risks – and even that will only partially do the job.

“Our research shows an annual investment of $16 billion could restore 65 per cent of fire-impacted species’ habitat,” Dr Michelle Ward, from the university’s School of Earth and Environmental Sciences, said.

“Restoring 95 per cent would cost $73 billion per year.”

UQ Professor James Watson said while the work appears costly, it will offer benefits beyond the conservation of Australia’s unique biodiversity.

“Restoring fire-damaged land could see up to 291 megatons of carbon dioxide sequestered,” Prof Watson said.

“That could make around $253 million per year in carbon market revenue – a huge win for nature and for the climate. Priority should be given to areas most likely to provide cost-effective benefits to species.

“And invasive species such as weeds, deer and pigs also need urgent removal, along with replanting and stopping native forest logging.”

Dr Ward said the restoration of fire-affected ecosystems must be teamed with ambitious goals to protect areas that escaped harm.

“While we invest in replanting, weeding and appropriate fire management we also need to prevent further degradation of ecologically and culturally important places,” she said.

“This requires a big investment and an even bigger government commitment. But our research shows that restoring degraded habitats is both attainable and could provide massive co-benefits.”

Federal Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek is currently exploring new ways to fund the vast environmental challenges Australia faces.

She has flagged the possibility of setting up a new biodiversity credits scheme that would pay Australian landholders to nurture habitat on their properties.

She raised the idea after the scale of the nation’s environmental crisis was laid bare in the shocking State of the Environment report earlier this year.

It found the overall condition of the environment was poor and deteriorating in the face of climate-change threats.

It said the list of threatened species was growing because of shrinking and increasingly degraded ecosystems that have been poorly managed under inadequate laws, with too little money.

The study was completed by a team from The University of Queensland, WWF-Australia, Charles Darwin University, Western Sydney University, James Cook University, The University of Melbourne, NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment, The University of New South Wales, CSIRO and The University of Western Australia.

It has been published in Environmental Research Letters.

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