The government today announced its “Clean Coal Initiative“, spending $500 million on carbon capture and storage projects.

But does carbon capture give taxpayers the best return on “CO2 storage” for the money? Industries already exist that may, unknowingly, be doing a better job for a lot less.

The indigenous revegetation industry has rapidly evolved across rural and urban Australia over the last 30 years. From humble origins in indigenous nurseries, seed collection and revegetation, it has become a multi million dollar industry, employing thousands across Australia. Even the mining industry plays a key role in major indigenous revegetation projects.

The growth of this industry is based on the inherent efficiency of “indigenous plants” — an economic efficiency. Locally sourced indigenous plants are pre-adapted to the soil and climatic changes of thousands of even millions of years in that particular area. Their survival rates are very high and their maintenance cost and water requirements very low.

The predominant motivation of this industry was to encourage the planting the original vegetation across a myriad of landscapes to preserve it. It later dovetailed into the Landcare movement with hundreds of kilometres of streamsides, roadsides and fence lines planted annually by businesses and volunteers. Every weekend in urban and rural communities across the country, members of every cultural group can be seen working side by side weeding, planting, seed collecting, tending to nurseries or buying plants for their gardens and properties.

Hundreds of wetlands have also been created and restored across Australia, some striping nutrients from sewerage outfalls that were once directed to rivers and the sea.

In these swamps are water plants that die off annually, their ‘carbon’ laid down in mud and sediment at the start of a “geological journey” that eventually forms coal. Indigenous revegetation also stores carbon in the roots, wood, soil at a rate that increases annually with both the growth on existing sites and with an increasing annual rate of plantings. It is far less likely to be burnt than State Forest or National Parks and likely stores more CO2 per hectare than single tree species plantations.

The massive amount of carbon being stored by this industry annually needs to be quantified: thousands of Australians have been and are ‘accidentally’ storing tens thousands or even millions of tonnes of carbon. We need to know just how much.

There are already major industries investing in maintaining bushland for carbon credits but the role of carbon sequestration by vegetation in Carbon Trading is presently unclear and poorly defined.

Unlike the high cost of coal power related CO2 capture and storage, the ‘technology’ exists now for indigenous revegetation: a massive problem with a human-scale solution.