Australia needs to look at its landscapes in new ways if it is to meet the 21st Century challenges of climate change and food, water and energy security.

Without a new vision for creating healthy, resilient landscapes, we will experience continuing environmental decline and degradation.

For all the policy developments and practical achievements of the past 20 to 30 years in managing our environments and ecosystems, we are not closing the gap between the magnitude of the challenge and the scale of our response.

The new vision would:

  • Embrace all Australian landscapes and all Australians, rural and urban alike. Landscapes are a vital part of local, regional and national identity; all our futures depend on them.
  • Acknowledge climate change as a 'game changer', in terms of both the role of landscapes in mitigation and adaptation, and the huge, varied, but still uncertain, impacts of climate change on landscapes.
  • Move beyond a 'regreening' conservation ethic to embrace multiple functions and values to achieve the best combination of environmental, economic and social benefits.
  • Build on the synergies and convergences between these functions, as well as acknowledging potential tensions and conflicts. Many industries, resources and communities would benefit from expanded landscape revegetation and regeneration.

Specific objectives include to:

  • Stimulate the growth of a landscape regeneration and management industry to produce the capacity to use available funding and meet policy objectives.
  • Generate more private-sector involvement, including investment in traditional products and new markets for carbon, water or biofuels, using instruments such as carbon credits and 'patient' investment by superannuation funds.
  • While being national in scope and ambition, devolve governance and design to the local level, so that landscapes are managed by farmers and other landowners, and interventions meet the needs and harness the resources of local environments and communities.
  • Encourage better integration of policy and science, including effective, early evaluation and long-term monitoring.
  • Build on existing policy, such as the Biodiversity Fund and Carbon Farming Initiative, and present institutional structures such as Landcare groups and regional natural resource management bodies.

The benefits of large-scale landscape regeneration, reforestation and revegetation, include: preserving biodiversity; reducing soil and water loss and degradation; providing shelter, shade and fodder; a cooler regional climate; carbon sequestration; increasing soil fertility and productivity; more sustainable agriculture; more timber and other tree products; better pollination; production of biofuels; enhanced food, water and energy security; benefits to tourism; supporting rural communities; creating employment; bridging the cultural divide between city and country; promoting national reconciliation; improving people's wellbeing; and higher civic morale.

The continuing failure to close the gap between what we are doing in landscape management and what we know we need to do means we are squandering our natural heritage and betraying future generations. The reasons for the lack of progress are not, now, primarily to do with poor policy or lack of public funding, and the remedies do not, therefore, lend themselves to specific recommendations. The failure is a challenge for all Australians, including city-dwellers, not just those who 'work the land'; it affects urban parks and suburban gardens as well as our farmlands and national parks.

This situation is also true of other major issues facing the country. It relates to a failure of political philosophy: an inability to see and accept that focusing too narrowly on economic growth and material prosperity and opportunity is creating growing social and environmental costs that jeopardise our future as a nation. This is another reason why all Australians should be concerned – and involved.

Conversely, what we have achieved in the last two to three decades provides the foundation for a much bigger and bolder endeavour to maintain, restore and regenerate our unique environments. In doing that, it could become a symbol of a much broader transformation of Australia into a genuinely sustainable society.