Incorporating Biodiversity into Environmental Management Systems for Agriculture

This document is the first step in the process of incorporating biodiversity into performance standards and EMSs for an industry sector for Victoria (Australia). It focuses on the agricultural sector, as this is the predominant industry operating on private land, where many biodiversity assets are still intact. The aim of the discussion paper is to stimulate change through voluntary mechanisms that improve the understanding and encourage the adoption, among a broad audience, of the conservation and restoration of biodiversity in the Victorian agricultural sector using Environmental Management Systems.

East Melbourne, 8 June 2012: Recent years have seen a growing acceptance and adoption of Environmental Management Systems (EMS) by the industry, partly due to the role that market pressures play in motivating businesses to reduce resource costs, meet regulatory obligations and demonstrate environmental responsibility. However, while governments have been successful in establishing partnerships with the industry to develop EMSs that deal with pollution, waste and energy use, in Victoria work is yet to commence on developing EMSs that address biodiversity loss. As the maintenance of ecological processes is a key objective of Ecologically Sustainable Development, biodiversity must be included in EMSs to provide a more holistic approach to environmental management.
 
Section 1 outlines the purpose of the document, which is to stimulate change through voluntary mechanisms to improve understanding and encourage adoption, among a broad audience, of the conservation and restoration of biodiversity in the Victorian agriculture sector using EMSs. This audience includes agricultural industry peak bodies, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment (NRE) businesses and other State, interstate and Commonwealth Government agencies involved in sustainable land management and biodiversity conservation, and EMS consultants. The document is not an instruction manual for individual farmers.
 
Section 2 provides an overview of the policies under which NRE is operating. It identifies government policies that relate to biodiversity conservation on private land, and investigates the role of government in ensuring the incorporation of biodiversity into EMSs. It proposes that NRE could assist the agricultural industry to understand the impacts of agricultural activity on biodiversity and provide advice and assistance on how to improve practices; that is, to facilitate change through voluntary mechanisms. NRE could stimulate the development of biodiversity standards that would help industry to substantiate any green or biodiversity-friendly claims. These standards could also guide the development of a biodiversity module for an EMS. Government involvement would be required, because market forces have not yet created the need for these standards, and the agricultural industry does not have the expertise to develop them.
 
Section 3 defines biodiversity and identifies the importance of biodiversity for the continuation of agricultural systems. It describes the reversibility problem for biodiversity, discusses why biodiversity loss is a serious environmental problem, and summarises the impacts of Australias agricultural and pastoral industries on biodiversity. Section 3 also provides an overview of NREs strategy for managing and conserving biodiversity across all of Victoria. It identifies biodiversity management objectives for rural landscapes, particularly the recommendation to use EMS frameworks to ensure that biodiversity management principles are incorporated into agricultural activity.
 
Section 4 indicates that Victorian agriculture can rapidly develop a substantial national and international market advantage by adopting systems that show a full commitment to ESD. The EMS option proposed in this document will assist this development. It investigates the future terms of trade in relation to the potential requirements to demonstrate environmental credentials of products. Domestic and international examples show how Australian producers have been able to receive premium prices, guarantee market access for goods that have been produced through processes that meet established environmental management standards, or label produce in a manner that demonstrates a concern for biodiversity. Section 4 indicates the need to be cognisant of future market demands and establish programs that have appropriate environmental (including biodiversity) performance standards which producers must meet to substantiate any clean and green claims. Lastly, it identifies the potential benefits that could flow from the adoption of EMSs in agriculture.
 
Section 5 defines an EMS and describes the most common types being used by industry, including those stemming from the ISO 14000 series of standards and the European Unions Eco-Audit and Management Scheme (EMAS). It reviews the current status of biodiversity in EMS as well as several international and domestic EMS initiatives for agriculture, including a National Framework. While noting that the agricultural industry has been slower than other industry sectors in Australia to adopt EMSs, a number of individual agricultural enterprises are leading the way, including the grains, cotton, wine, meat, horticulture, tomato, and beef sectors. However, some of these EMSs have focused almost entirely on pollution and waste management issues.
 
Section 6 explains the need for EMSs to go beyond a basic process system, to include specific and measurable performance standards relating to the conservation and restoration of biodiversity in Victoria, if claims of clean and green production are to be made. At present there appear to be no schemes that incorporate performance standards for biodiversity in agriculture. It then outlines the need for, and the development of, performance standards for biodiversity in agriculture to assist the sector to work towards becoming an ecologically sustainable industry. Section 6 also reviews some existing agricultural certification systems and the limited manner in which they generally address biodiversity conservation. Finally, it discusses the use of market mechanisms (such as labels, guarantees and sanctions) to achieve environmental conservation objectives.
 
Section 7 outlines a generic biodiversity module within an EMS framework that has been developed to exemplify how biodiversity conservation and management objectives can be translated into measurable standards and actions on an individual farm enterprise, and also on a bioregional level. A scenario is used to illustrate how this biodiversity module within an EMS framework could be applied to individual farm enterprises (in this case a dairy farm in Gippsland). Section 7 also outlines the process NRE staff could undertake, in partnership with farm owners, to develop and apply this biodiversity module. Existing NRE programs (such as Land for Wildlife and FarmSmart) could be used as a vehicle to deliver this program, assisting in the rollout and assessment of biodiversity modules within an EMS framework.
 
Section 8 concludes that governments have a role in facilitating change to ensure that biodiversity management concerns are integrated with the normal business operations of the agricultural industry. A biodiversity module within an EMS framework will help this process. Government has a role to provide the impetus to ensure uptake of this new system. This will require close relationships with the relevant industries, and also within NRE businesses, to assist in the modification of biodiversity modules for specific farm enterprises. The successful integration of a biodiversity module into an EMS framework (that also includes other modules such as waste and salinity) will lead to a more holistic approach to environmental management and will help to achieve ecologically sustainable development.
 
Please find the discussion paper on developing a methodology for linking performance standards and management systems here.
 
 
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