Friday, July 03, 2009

The future ain't what it used to be

Minister Wong must be feeling shock as Agriculture slips out of her grasp under the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. But she and her advisers failed to imagine the future. Six factors were overlooked in the Minister’s analysis of the future:

Factor 1: American Pride.

To anyone who has been looking, it was obvious that the Americans would not simply rubber stamp Kyoto, a Euro-centric arrangement rejected by the USA in the first round. American pride demanded that they submit to the demands of the global community on their own terms.

Factor 2: American domestic politics.

This means American domestic politics would drive the agenda. The farm lobby in the USA is the strongest in the world. It may be hard for Australians to understand the respect shown to Agriculture and its representatives there, given the disregard encountered here. The American farmer would not be hung out to dry – paying for methane and nitrous oxide while being denied soil carbon credits, like the Australian farmer. The US legislation passed last week effectively decouples agricultural emissions from sequestration. Farmers will not be held responsible for emissions generated from the processes of growing food. And the Americans are calling on the world to have a global arrangement for Agriculture.

Factor 3: Global Food politics

The third factor stood out like the proverbial on April 4 in Bonn when – while Penny Wong’s chief adviser was in the next room discussing administrative matters – a gathering which included the USA, the EU, the World Bank, the International Federation of Agricultural Producers, and the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation – informed the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (the Masters of Kyoto) that they intended to push for Agriculture to be given special status. The reason given was the looming food crisis facing the global community. The FAO had been conducting a series of consultations and workshops – the Carbon Coalition was involved in the USA series – around the world to build momentum towards Copenhagen in December 2009. These meetings were public knowledge.

Factor 4: Australia’s isolation

Minister Wong’s plan for including Agriculture in a cap and trade regime – like any other industrial emitter - astounded other nations gathered to submit a proposal to the Copenhagen round of talks last week. According to one report, only Australia and NZ’s governments have done it. It is hard to imagine this injustice being allowed to continue in the light of world opinion. The powerful Iowa and Illinois Corn Growers Association – in their draft Agricultural Soil Credit Standard released in May 2009 – argued that agrculture does not fit into the current model because of the many variables at play in natural systems. The International Federation of Agricultural Producers agreed, saying the ‘specificity’ of agriculture has to be recognised: “Agriculture is different by nature and must be differentiated from other sectors. Most of agriculture’s green house gas (GHG) emissions are directly linked to natural biological cycles. The future accounting framework should allow a distinction to be made between anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic emissions. Farmers cannot be held accountable for natural biological processes. The origin, monitoring and reporting of emissions from agricultural land is inherently different from those associated with fossil fuels. Agriculture should not be penalized for natural emissions that are beyond human control, independent from management effects. Natural emissions are due to climate conditions such as variable rainfall, drought and bushfires."

Factor 5: Australian domestic politics

The Farm Institute’s Mick Keogh predicted the almost complete anihilation of Agriculture when the imposts of a climate change ‘tax’ on emissions are added to the reductions in production projected as a result of declining rainfall and increasing temperatures (already experienced). Senator Bill Heffernan says Australian farmers will be killed on world meat markets if they have to pay for animal methane while countries such as America and Brazil (with 3 times the number of cattle) and India (10 times the number of cattle) do not. Australian producers would also face US competitors without the credits for reductions in emissions that US farmers wll enjoy. The decimation of the Agriculture Sector in the name of climate purity would not be acceptable to the electorate. But the Rudd/Wong line on Agriculture has not been open to negotiation. Minister Wong made that clear. The Government left the door open for the Opposition to take up the cause of soil carbon – which it did with the eager assistance of the Carbon Coalition.

Factor 6: The world is waking up to the power of soils.

The FAO says that the mitigation potential of agriculture is estimated to reach 5.5-6 Gt of CO2eq. per year by 2030 . This potential is enormous relative to agriculture’s emissions which represent 13.5% of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). 89% of this potential can be accounted for by soil carbon sequestration; 70% of the total mitigation potential can be realized in developing countries. Many studies acknowledge that GHG sequestration by agriculture is a quick and cost-effective means to mitigate emissions, e.g. document FCCC/TP/2008/8 and work by the IPCC . Significant benefits associated with soil organic carbon storage make sustainable land management a solution to the inter-related issues of poverty, resilience and sustainable development.
1.‘Enabling Agriculture to Contribute to Climate Change Mitigation’, FAO submission to the UNFCCC, January 2009, fig. IPCC 2007
2 According to the fourth report of the Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
4 IPCC 2007 Climate Change 2007: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution…

Having failed to imagine the future, Penny Wong and Assistant Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet are still in a rush to put the noose around farmers’ necks, by passing legislation that will add to their costs while refusing to allow them to defray these costs by trading in soil carbon. Domestic offsets are not provided for.

Even Mick Keogh of the Farm Institute, whose main contribution to the debate has been as the purveyor of worst case scenarios supplied by ABARE and the CSIRO, concedes that the game has changed. Kyoto is not The 10 Commandments. It was an agreement for a period of time. Now Copenhagen will forge a new Kyoto. Noting the starkly different treatment of farmers in the USA and Australia, the Farm Institute cannot bring itself to ask the obvious question: Why?

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