Thursday, May 01, 2008

Furphies lead Emissions Trading debate astray

Ministers Wong and Burke and agriculture industry association leaders are being led down the garden path by ‘expert’ advisors. This is clear from the furphies being accepted as facts in the debate.

The biggest furphy of them all is that emissions trading is going to be difficult for the farm sector because of the sheer number of farms which would need to be individually measured. No one is proposing that we measure every cow’s belch and fart, or every paddock’s fertiliser load, or every hectare for soil carbon. All measurement of emissions across both greenhouse gas inventories and in emissions trading schemes around the world use estimates rather than direct measurement. Even with direct measurement, you take a sampling approach then extrapolate up to the total amount of emission.

The Australian Greenhouse Office was well aware that measurement of emissions from individual farms was not the issue. It reported in 2005 that: “uncertainty about activity levels rather than the complex and variable biological processes that
generate greenhouse gases” was the big problem. It said: ‘…uncertainty in the reported cattle numbers was the most significant contributor to the overall uncertainty’. (National Greenhouse Gas Inventory 2003, AGO 2005, p.121.) Have things changed so much since then?

Graziers are already required to report their stock numbers for different functions and these systems can be easily tightened. One consultant economist told a gathering of farmers at Yass last month that they would simply include their stock numbers with their BAS statement.

The language coming out of the consultation process indicates that the Ministers and industry association leaders are being guided Sir Humphrey-like by advisors. ("Ministers will generally accept proposals which contain the words simple, quick, popular and cheap. 

Ministers will generally throw out proposals which contain the words complicated, lengthy, expensive and controversial.”)

The Land reports the meeting as follows: “The complexities of trying to fit the farm sector into the scheme were obvious… Agricultural emissions from livestock and cropping inputs in particular are hard to measure, while abatement opportunities in soil sequestration are equally difficult and not currently recognised under the Kyoto protocol… agriculture will have significant cost increases to contend with….”

It is reported that there are 4 options:

1. Agriculture “in” from day 1, paying its way with emissions and trading the offsets it is allowed to trade.
2. Agriculture “out” for purposes of paying its way, but “in” for selling offsets (forests, soil “if the science allows”)
3. Agriculture “out” for emissions and “out” for offset trading.
4. Agriculture “out” for emissions and “out” for offset trading. Regulations force changes on land and stock management.

Naturally everyone would like No. 2, but there is a sting in the tail. When you don’t stand on your own two feet – when you’re beholden to Government, you are not free to control your own destiny. We believe that “waiting for the science” could blow out into a permanent state of being controlled.

The Coalition believes the science will never be ready, that more scientific exactitude will even deepen the bog we are in, and that practical solutions must be developed.

The Government must sweep the debate free of furphies and red herrings, or risk being “Sir Humpreyed” by well-intentioned but misguided advisors.

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