Can Australian Agriculture Reduce Emissions and Obtain Food Security?

Claire-Marie attended the UNFCCC forum. She is in her last year at Central Queensland University studying a Bachelor of Agribusiness and Food Security through distant education in Townsville. 

Abstract

Can Australia reduce excess greenhouse gases and other emissions while increasing food productivity? This paper will investigate the possibility of this claim through determining how Australia is currently performing and how Australia can achieve the climate agenda targets. By improving their approaches towards efficient farming practices and policy recommendations will ensure Australia’s future food security.

Australia is currently on track to achieve the Kyoto Protocol by 2020, however, under the Paris agreement a reduction of 26-28 percent below 2005 levels, 612 MtCO2-e to 441 MtCO2-e, by 2030 deems to be more challenging. Technology, infrastructure, policies, and programs need to be improved with the future development of agriculture relying on the Government to support changes to reduce emissions while increasing food production. However, is it feasible and possible to collaborate with Government and producers to make this happen?

Policy Recommendations

1.     Embrace the opportunities for emissions reduction and sequestration in the farm sector and facilitate participation of farmers in carbon markets. While ensuring farmers are not burdened by the costs of achieving emission goals or excessive development4

2.     Development of credible consistent best management practice (BMP) farm management standards for all agriculture commodity sectors, that reduce net greenhouse emissions while optimising farm production8.

Background

Climate change in Australia will provoke significant environmental and economic impacts across numerous industries, including agriculture. Thus, developing solutions to effectively manage degrading land, damaged ecosystems and depleting resources when seeking to create a more sustainable future will be difficult. These challenges will threaten to undermine the nation’s future food security[1].  Therefore, the agriculture industry’s emissions need to be analysed to identify key contributors in ought to develop effective management strategies to assist in mitigating the impacts of climate change. 

Firstly, the agricultural industry is the second largest contributor of Australia’s total greenhouse emissions with around 16 percent of net national emissions in 2008, producing predominantly methane (58 percent) and nitrous oxide (75.5 percent)[2]. Different sectors within the industry have varying emission intensities. This is represented in figure one.

Figure 1.png

Figure 1: Australia's net greenhouse gas emissions for the Australian sector9

The reduction of methane and nitrous oxide soils are a priority when attempting to increase the sustainability of production practices. Reducing these emissions to zero, as desired in the climate agenda3, from emissions as high as 63 percent is unrealistic and should be targeted to half Australia’s agriculture emissions instead[3].  

Furthermore, as the world’s population is predicted to exceed 9 billion people by 2050, demand for food and fibre is projected to increase by 60 percent in that timeframe[4] action needs to be taken now. Changing climates and the attempt to reduce agriculture emissions will further challenge the growth in demand for food and fibre.  Naturally, emissions would continue to increase year to year as agricultural practices intensify to sustain the increasing population and international export demands.

Currently, Best Management Practices, BMP, are reducing those concerns by involving set efficient practices in certain sectors, that encouraged farming communities to improve their overall sustainability, reduce emissions and increase food production. Current BMP’s are designed for farmers to adopt the best sustainable and efficient practices in their sector, commonly used in the sugar cane and wheat industry[5]. However, the Australian government needs to make sure that any strategy developed achieves food security and reduces future emissions has continued support.

Overall, the challenge of increasing food production will require farmers to become more efficient within agricultural practices, adapt to varying climatic and market conditions and improve their land management practices to ensure sustainable outcome occurs. However, this can only be achieved through targeted Government support and programs, which are efficiently structured thus, leading to significant changes in current farm practices.

What is being done?

The Australian Government has developed many initiatives to address reducing emissions to mitigate climate change as opposed to a traditional carbon trading scheme like in many other countries. Currently, the initiatives include The National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy, which involves the agriculture industry and is designed to manage the risks of a volatile and changing climate, with a wide range of adaptation and resilient initiatives. Within agriculture, it will assist in dealing with climate change by supporting farmers through supplying climate and weather information, investing in agricultural research and development, building drought resilience and preparedness and more[6].

It is through this initiative the Reef 2050 Plan exists, which details a structure to manage and protect the reef until 2050. The plan responds to the rising pressures facing the reef and sets to address these impacts and increase resilience to mitigate long term threats such as climate change.

Within agriculture the program aims to assist in improving the water quality that enters the reef from agricultural runoff. Positive outcomes have been achieved including the reduction of; pesticides by 28 percent, sediment lowed by 11 percent, total nitrogen by 10 percent and dissolved inorganic nitrogen by 16 percent compared to 2009 baseline6. This program demonstrates how improved practices can make a significant positive impact on the environment.  

Secondly, the Emissions Reduction Fund is a voluntary scheme that provides incentives for Australian farmers and holders to adopt new practises and technologies in ought to reduce contributed greenhouse gas emissions. This scheme is similar to the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) which provides financial enticements to farmers and land managers to store carbon or reduce greenhouse gas emissions on the land[7].  However, both these schemes are a voluntary based participation and currently, uptake is low with only 4 percent in agriculture out of the 178 CFI projects have been actioned7

Often these projects (figure two) are not currently being implemented due to either the lack of a formal prioritisation, improved farming methods, not feasible within the region, cost-effective uncertainty or certain practices have just become available to producers. Viability is very important in agriculture, as if certain activities are too costly they will not be applied in farmers daily practices. Such an example is a project developed within the dairy industry which couldn’t operate at all due to a carbon price of $23 per tonne of CO27

Figure 2.png

Figure 2: Project and crediting7.

Whereas on a state level (Queensland) the Land Clearing act aims at decreasing the removal of trees through a regulatory control implemented since 1990 preventing farmers from clearing native scrub or trees on agricultural land, thus, successfully reducing greenhouse emissions[8] by 85 percent from 1990 to 20124.

Overall, most of the action being taken towards reducing emissions is via various organisations at a local level like the Meat and Livestock Australia who have set a target to be carbon neutral in the red meat industry by 2030. Or within the sugar cane industry in North Queensland focusing on implementing BMP’s within their farming practices.  Furthermore, the increase in sustainable practices will naturally produce lower emissions and will increase food production via sustainable productions9.

Recommendations

The Australian agriculture industry can lower their current greenhouse emissions levels by:

1.     Embrace the opportunities for emissions reduction and sequestration in the farm sector and facilitate participation of farmers in carbon markets. While ensuring farmers are not burdened by the costs of achieving emission goals or excessive development4.

Increasing the amount of carbon in agricultural soils assists in carbon sequestration or emission abatement during production of agricultural outputs, will increase the sustainability of all farming systems and consistently achieve higher yields. As well as an effective method in reducing greenhouse gases.

Carbon sequestration can be achieved through many different methods, including; soil management (improved tillage, controlled traffic, moisture management), Agro-forestry or ‘carbon farming’ and Char an emerging technology that is produced through an incomplete combustion and has the possibility to store carbon in the soil for hundreds of years9.

However, these opportunities can only be achieved by improving incentive payments and developing policies that encourage the increase in storing carbon, mitigating and offset greenhouse gas emissions. By supporting adaptation ensures that agricultural productivity and farm business profitability can be sustained with varying climatic conditions9.

2.     Development of credible consistent best management practice (BMP) farm management standards for all agriculture commodity sectors, that reduce net greenhouse emissions while optimising farm production8.

The fate of achieving the climate agenda relies within the agriculture farming community. The only way primary producers will significantly reduce both methane, nitrous oxide and other emissions is through the implementation of consistent BMPs, Best Management Practices, across all sectors of agriculture. These regulated practices are dependable in improving the efficiency of agricultural production, potentially these practices will attract future payments if traded as offsets9. These BMPs therefore represent a clear win‐win opportunity for producers to improve efficiency and profitability, meet world food demand, while also reducing the emissions per unit of food produced[9]

However, for this to be successful, all primary producers need to be united in their approach and a consistent framework of sustainable recognised practices implemented in all sectors. Currently, within the industry, some practices may be already sustainable and thus, need to be recognised as BMPs, allowing an easier implementation process.

The bottom line is the Australian Government needs to ensure that all primary producers are consistently and united in the implementation of BMPs across all sectors and advance their practice by investing in new technology and carbon sequestration. To be delivered as either a single policy, levy and incentive payments or as an accreditation of standards. Farmers will then deliver higher standards of practice, in turn dramatically improve the environmental operations of the sector. 

Conclusion

Overall, increasing food production can only be achieved by prioritising the agriculture industry and collaborating to provide a systematic long-term plan that will support producers. Through creating feasible opportunities will increase the sustainability of farming in Australia. It is clear the policies and incentives currently in practice need to be more effective in reducing the impacts of climate change. Therefore, Australia needs to focus on halving its emissions rather than striving for completely zero emissions, however, this can only be achieved through improving the efficiency of farming production practices.

Australia should be a leader in combating climate change by facilitating strong policies, programs, development of technology, this in turn assists in the reduction of emissions, and encourages farmers to contribute to the worlds food security. If action is not taken now, agriculture in Australia could become the biggest importer of food commodities and will lag behind.

References

Australian Government (2015). National Climate Resilience and Adaptation Strategy. Retrieved from: https://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/3b44e21e-2a78-4809-87c7-a1386e350c29/files/national-climate-resilience-and-adaptation-strategy.pdf

Amelang, S., Wehrmann, B., & Wettengel, J. (2016). Germany’s Climate Action Plan 2050. Factsheet. Retrieved from Clean Energy Wire website: https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/germanys-climate-action-plan-2050  

Appunn, K. (2017). Germany’s greenhouse gas emissions and climate targets. Factsheet. Retrieved from https://www.cleanenergywire.org/factsheets/germanys-greenhouse-gas-emissions-and-climate-targets

Commonwealth of Australia. (2014). Carbon Farming Initiative Review Climate Change Authority Retrieved from http://www.climatechangeauthority.gov.au/sites/prod.climatechangeauthority.gov.au/files/files/CCA-CFI-Review-published.pdf.

Eckard, R. (2010). Greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture ‐ reduction options. Paper presented at the Hamilton Field Day http://www.greenhouse.unimelb.edu.au/pdf_files/Hamilton_Field_Day2010.pdf

Hanna, E. (2016). Climate change—reducing Australia’s emissions. Retrieved from https://www.aph.gov.au/About_Parliament/Parliamentary_Departments/Parliamentary_Library/pubs/BriefingBook45p/EmissionsReduction

IISD Reporting Services. (2017). Earth Negotiations Bulletin. A Reporting Service for Environment and Development Negotiations, 32(27), 1-7.

Keogh, M. (2010). Australian Greenhouse Policy and Australian Agriculture: A discussion paper Retrieved from http://www.rga.org.au/f.ashx/Australian-Greenhouse-Policy-and-Australian-Agriculture_A-discussion-paper.pdf.

National Farmers Federation (NFF). (2016). Climate Policy

Saddler, H., King, H. (2008). Agriculture and Emissions Trading. Retrieved from http://www.tai.org.au/sites/defualt/files/dp102_7.pdf

Voros, M., & Taberner, J. (2010). National Carbon Offset Standard released. Retrieved from Lexology website: https://www.lexology.com/library/detail.aspx?g=2e9d115a-c498-4c19-b7b7-42689b3dbd0f

[1] United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change (UNFCCC)

[2] (Commonwealth of Australia, 2010)

[3] IISD Reporting Services

[4] NFF, 2016

[5] Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.

[6] Australian Government, 2015

[7] Australian Government, 2012

[8] Keogh, 2010

[9] Eckard, 2010