Sunday, July 06, 2008

No “poor bugger me” handouts for ag in climate change

Peak industry leaders are celebrating like they dodged a bullet (see below) after Garnaut recommended that agriculture remain outside the Emission Trading Scheme until the measurement and ‘administration’ issues are settled. But they are dreaming if they think that agriculture will escape from paying its way. The alternative to being covered in a market-based system that allows businesses to choose how to manage their response is being told what to do by government. In an ominous warning at the Farm Institute conference last March, a senior public servant said that, if agriculture is left out of the trading scheme, the government would resort to legislation to ensure agriculture makes the big changes needed to reduce emissions. The Carbon Coalition has been campaigning since 2006 for land holders to be given the right to trade the carbon they can grow in their soils. Sequestration rates in trials in WA and QLD confirm our belief that soil managed for carbon - using a portfolio of techniques such as grazing management, pasture cropping and biological farming - can capture and store enough carbon to offset the emissions from methane and nitrogen, when combined with other mitigation strategies. No official scientific research has tested these combinations of techniques, so anyone proclaiming that sequestration rates are too small to be bothered with is talking through their hat. The campaign of misinformation and intimidation waged against the morale of the farm community and its leaders has succeeded in frightening us into submission. In their presentations about the likely impacts of Climate Change, scientists and government officials and even some industry representatives have followed a strategy of presenting only worst case scenarios with no mention of factors that will balance the situation, such as new techniques and technologies or the potential contribution soils can make.

This barrage of pessimism has succeeded in softening up industry leaders who don't understand the issues or how they are being manipulated. For as long as Agriculture is content to be given 'special status', it will be reduced to the 'poor bugger me' hand-out mentality. It won't work this time because there are no free rides. We'll pay one way or the other. The excuses for leaving Agriculture out - difficulty of measurement and administration of many small enterprises - are both overblown furphies. No other industry is forced to measure its emissions directly. They all rely on estimations. Why not Agriculture? And if the Tax Office can deal with 130,000 enterprises reporting each year, why can't the Department of Climate Change? The arguments used against Agriculture's right to stand up on its own feet are disingenuous and unsubstantiated. The Carbon Coalition calls on the Department of Climate Change to release the substantive arguments and evidence and sources used to support the contention that measurement and administration are insurmountable problems. At the same time, we suggest that the farm community will not be satisfied to accept the reliability of government science as a basis for decisions that impact on their lives and businesses, given the gaps in the data sets in the soil carbon inventory. The Coalition requests that a panel of experts retrospectively audit the methodologies of all scientific studies on which major policy decisions have been based.

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