Renowned scientist says Australia could already be at “net-zero”


Inland Australia was responsible for a massive spike in Carbon Dioxide absorption in 2011. Image: Ben Poulter.

A WELL-KNOWN Queensland scientist says there is emerging evidence that Australia has already reached its goal of net-zero CO2 emissions and would require little effort to maintain it beyond 2050.

Dr Bill Burrows is a former senior principal scientist with the Queensland Department of Primary Industries (now Department of Agriculture) and served the State Government for more than 40 years. He has long been known as an expert in vegetation management.

Lately, he has been studying the Federal Government’s target of reaching ‘net-zero emissions by 2050’. He says it is likely the government has already reached that goal when it changed its wording about climate targets about 18-months-ago.

“In December 2020 Australia’s Department of Industry, Science, Energy & Resources advised an Inquiry on two Climate Change Bills instigated by the House Standing Committee on the Environment and Energy  that ‘for the Paris Agreement (PA) all net emissions from all lands (in Australia) will be accounted for – without restriction – using the independent monitoring systems of the national inventory’,” Dr Burrows said in a recent report.

“By way of contrast, for the Kyoto Protocol only about 1pc of Australia’s land mass was actually taken into account in determining net emissions.”

Earlier this month, a group of scientists in Tasmania discovered that the state was already carbon negative through a significant drop in native forest logging. Dr Burrows said if all of Australia’s rangelands were included in the accounting, the entire country would show similar results to Tasmania.

“Australia is the 6th largest nation in area in the world (and in the main has a land mass covered by CO2 absorbing perennial vegetation), yet it has far fewer people living in it than live in a single world ‘super’ city (e.g. Tokyo),” Dr Burrows said.

“Yearly fossil fuel emissions from anthropogenic sources in this country, either in terms of CO2 or CO2-e are thus more than offset by the ongoing capacity of our land use, land use change and forestry sector to absorb additional CO2 resulting from changed management – notably since the 1950’s.”

Satellites needed for accurate measurement

Dr Burrows said for Australia to consider “all lands” in its national greenhouse gas account, it needed to use satellite technology to measure CO2 fluxes at this continental scale.

“The only possible way to sample these net emissions over the whole continent (769 m ha – inclusive of all our rangelands), with acceptable accuracy and precision, is via spectral sensors positioned on satellite platforms,” he said.

“It is just not practical to undertake continental scale sampling of net CO2-e emissions using ground-based methodologies or computer models. Especially given the absence of appropriate means to validate the accuracy and precision of modelling outputs over such a huge area – combined with the complexity of the soils, vegetation, variable weather patterns and superimposed management.”

Dr Burrows highlighted four different studies using spectral sensors, which showed significant carbon uptake during both El Nino and La Nina weather episodes. But he said there was some conjecture over its application to Australia’s national greenhouse gas inventory.

“It has been suggested that any flux recorded in these lands cannot be included in our National Greenhouse Gas Inventory and PA accounts because this huge landscape is not identified or congruent with Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) guidelines,” he said.

But he said recent changes to IPCC guidelines had most countries, including Australia, adopting a “managed land” method which, if followed, would include the areas already covered in Australia using satellite borne spectral sensors.

Thickening timber sequestering carbon

Dr Burrows said there was strong evidence woody vegetation had been moving into new areas across large parts of Australia’s rangelands.

“The introduction of domestic livestock has led to reductions in the regular/frequent burning regimes of previous millennia. The latter were instigated under now displaced, pre-European, indigenous management,” he said.

“This vegetation switch has been further promoted by tree clearing bans imposed in many jurisdictions, increased concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere, and the widespread availability of 4WD vehicles and efficient fire-fighting equipment since WWII.

“So in our land ‘of droughts and flooding rains’ even mega droughts are not constraining this long term woody plant (carbon sink) thickening/expansion.”

Hopes for agriculture to talk up credentials

Dr Burrows said he hoped this information was used by the agricultural industry in promoting its environmental credentials.

“Rural landholders would be doing themselves and the Australian people a great service by publicising this fact at every opportunity,” he said.

  • Dr Burrows has done a more in-depth analysis on the rate of carbon sequestration in Australia. To read his full report click here.









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  1. Rick, 29/05/2022

    Amazing that it took this long to realize that an eco-system does not stop at an arbitrary line! Guess the eco-profiteers realized they were overplaying their hand and some common sense had to enter or face total backlash!

  2. Kerry Glasser, 18/05/2022

    Quick, can some body give this to info to the ABC and the Greens .

  3. One Maranoa, 18/05/2022

    According to KPMG Ireland, an 86% reduction in livestock numbers is required for Northern Ireland to achieve Net Zero.
    Contemplate that next time you are thinking we have any hope of appeasing the unappeasable. The nationals, lobbied by the NFF (of all people) signed up. Did the greens then love them? No. It will never be enough.
    The sooner producers realise you can’t negotiate with terrorists, and call it for what it is (nonsense) the sooner this will be over. Net Zero means no livestock, no farms, no communities and no towns.
    If you are still voting for the Nationals, you’re a masochist.

    Proper names required for future posts please, as per our long-standing comment policy. Failure to do so will simply mean the post is not approved for publication. Note that we do routinely check the bona fides of submitted names. Editor

  4. jim travers, 18/05/2022

    erik barker’s report on bill burrow’s paper re- carbon sequestration would cause massive changes to australian’s voting behavior if proven and if political parties dont block it.
    the gillard government offered$200 million for co2 reduction grant for nearly all the money went to just one local tasmanian electorate,and you dont have to imagine why– the rest to the csiro The other 150 genuine applicants were ignored.

  5. Alan Rideout, 17/05/2022

    Koalas are not becoming extinct in this area through lack of food, but because of disease. We had plenty of them here bout 25 years ago, but I have not seen one now for many years. Clamidia is responsible. It is the second time in my lifetime that this has happened. The last koala I saw here was dead on the ground, and the is just enough leaf here to feed several thousand koalas. Wake up before they all die. Alan

  6. Peter Moses, 17/05/2022

    I wish more people would consider the facts, rather than follow blindly what the Greens tell you.

  7. Lachlan Palmer, 17/05/2022

    Very interesting I would still like us to decrease what we are emitting into the atmosphere as we do have a simple fact the co2 levels in the atmosphere are currently going up and we can decrease what we are currently contributing so we should.

    Increase RE electricity what we can ASAP, things like pumps, pivots and transport. (some of the last one will be easy but most will be hard)

    • Rick, 29/05/2022

      Worried about CO2 emissions! How about you stop exhaling, you can breath in all you want, just don’t exhale! Small gesture but one you can do yourself!

    • Bill Burrows, 17/05/2022

      Thanks Lachlan. What seems to underlie your comment is that you believe rising CO2 levels in the atmosphere are intrinsically bad for us. This has not been proven in quantitative terms to the best of my knowledge. On the other hand there is widespread published evidence of the benefits of increased atmospheric concentrations of CO2 to agricultural production and the biosphere generally. What I love about “Global Greening” is that its leads to benefits for all the world’s people, irrespective of their politics or the size of their country or economy!

      • Peter O'Reagain, 19/05/2022

        Hi Bill
        In reply to your comment – aside from the reasons you mention, at least part of the reason that woody weeds and timber thickening is increasing is due to rising CO2 levels – so I don’t see how this ‘leads to benefits for all the worlds people’ ?

      • Lachlan Palmer, 19/05/2022

        The short reply is yes I think increased CO2 levels are causing bad things to happed, increased temperatures, extreme weather and damaging some ecosystems.

        The Long answer is bellow if anyone really wants to read it. feel free or don’t bother. (It sort of just kept going)

        Yes that would a sound understanding of my opinion. In general I believe in climate change I believe humans are causing it to happen faster than normal due to us increasing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. (This opinion is largely based on my understanding that most climate scientist are in agreement that this is the case, its what 90% plus)

        While increasing Co2 levels are unlikely to harm us directly it can stuff up ecosystems by increasing extreme weather or simply changing it in an unexpected way.

        Yes increasing Co2 levels can help speed up the growth of some plants as long is it was one of the limiting factors in allowing to to grow.

        Based on my limited knowledge increasing greenhouse gases makes it harder for energy to leave earths atmosphere. (I should note I ignore water as a greenhouse gas due to it moving from liquid to gas and back again so fast I think its only a couple of days on average)

        So more greenhouse gases = more heat, as some one who thinks our summers are plenty hot I don’t love the idea of more heat waves. (yes I know the difference between climate and weather, linked but different)

        Now in some other parts of the world hotter summer might be a good thing, so no it may not be bad for all.

        But if my understanding of what CO2 dose in water is still correct more CO2 = more carbonic acid that’s going to stuff up a lot of Marnie life. I like the great barrier reef I think observations have been made in the past that the shells of crustaceans seem to be getting thinner I think the increasing acidification was believed be the reason for this.

        And we should still move away from fuels in transport because that is expensive currently and we have to import all most all of our fuel but we can make our own power. oh and carbon monoxide is bad so is particulate matter.


        • Robert, 05/08/2022

          Some good points but the reef is in bloom ATM.but your suggestion for selected volunteers to cease exhaling is a great idea.

  8. Anita Lethbridge, 16/05/2022

    Some truth at last. Thanks Dr Burrows.

  9. David & Victoria Lampe, 16/05/2022

    What an interesting well researched article. However I am not sure this will go down too well with a lot of organizations.

  10. Paul+D.+Butler, 16/05/2022
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