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Farmers sow seeds for ‘climate action’ with Garnaut & Government

14 January 2008

THE National Farmers’ Federation’s (NFF’s) submission to the much-anticipated ‘Climate Change Review’, by esteemed economist Ross Garnaut (the ‘Garnaut Report’), rams home the absolute need to turn the rhetoric around climate change adaptation and mitigation into tangible action.

“This can no longer be a subject for pontificating and hollow rhetoric,” NFF President David Crombie said today.

“We’ve seen politicians – of all persuasions – pay lip-service to the challenges and opportunities... now they must ante up with workable, forward-looking solutions.

“Any responsible policy response must take account of the need for new investment in climate adaptation and mitigation strategies for Australian agriculture – including the drought preparedness measures we foreshadowed during the election campaign, that is, investing today to better drought-proof Australia tomorrow through mutual obligation measures, as well as new research, development and implementation of technologies, systems and programs that can fast-track adaption by farmers to the threat of increased climate risk.

“These capture the ‘new vision’ we called for during the election. Labor said they ‘got it’, that they understood the need and reiterated much of our intent. Now is the time to see the substance of their commitment. The Government will have to deal with us on the detail to have any hope of getting it right.

“Our farmers have a lot at stake in any Australian Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS). An ETS is a sensible response to dealing with climate change – provided the policy settings are appropriate. We must be fundamentally involved in its development, both the framework and actual rules. In doing so, the Government must recognise a few home truths.

“Australian farmers have already made a huge, and often unrecognised, contribution, leading the way in reducing Australia’s net greenhouse emissions – with primary industry emissions plummeting 40% over the past 15 years.

“That the Australia Government can, in any way, boast its international credentials by meeting Kyoto commitments is almost entirely due to our farmers changing their land use practices... not only have they halted land-clearing, but they now plant over 20 million trees a year for conservation.

“Further, both Garnaut and the Government must acknowledge that the existing international greenhouse accounting rules fail to adequately recognise the carbon cycle of agricultural systems – that is, taking account of not only emissions, but also sequestration.

“In farming, a natural ‘life cycle’ is at play. While it is true agriculture is responsible for around 17% of Australia’s total carbon emissions, no account has yet been taken of the carbon being sequestered in farm soils, crops and trees in this assessment. It needs to be.

“These ‘Life Cycle Assessments’ must ensure we have an emissions scheme that reflects a fully-informed and accurate understanding of the complete carbon profile across the vast array of Australian farm systems.

“A farm, being a biological system, is not like a power station and must not be treated like one.

“Indeed, people are less concerned about agriculture’s emissions – given food and fibre are fundamental to human existence – than other sectors simply looking to trade-off their unabated emissions, rather than make genuine attempts at reducing them.

“The last thing the world needs, especially at this time of global food shortage, is for food production to be traded-off or hindered as a perverse outcome of carbon policies – after all, people can’t eat carbon credits.

“Government policy should not artificially drive down agricultural output. We need to be smarter. Policies must be geared towards encouraging increased production from low-emission farm systems, like those in Australia. The Rudd Government has the opportunity to promote this to the world.

“Australian farmers can make a genuine contribution in overcoming the challenges presented by global climate change. It is seldom appreciated, but our farmers are unsurpassed in their innovation and adaptability – achieving leading productivity growth of 3.8% per year over the past 20 years, at the same time as pioneering new environmentally-sustainable, low-emission farm systems.

“Farmers are willing to do their fair share in the future, too. But it’s time for Australian farming to be afforded credit and recognition it has already earned.

“As a trade-exposed sector with a very sensitive cost base, the implications, if the policy settings to reduce emissions are disproportionally anti-farming, will be calamitous. Today, despite the ‘roadmap’ out of Bali last December, the existing international greenhouse accounting rules remain skewed against agriculture – something the Australian Government must challenge.

“ABARE’s Climate Change: Impacts on Australian Agriculture, and the dire predictions if Australia fails to proactively deal with a changing climate, reflect the urgency of the NFF’s proactive stance in pressing the previous, and new, Government on appropriate and equitable action to reduce the risks of increased climatic variability or adverse climatic changes.

“If we are to maximise the opportunities, and minimise the risks, for farmers from a changing climate, agriculture must be directly involved in both the international rules for a post-Kyoto agreement and the design of any ETS.

“Australian farming’s nation-leading productivity growth has been achieved on the back of the adoption of new technologies and sustainable farm practices, which deliver efficiency gains that secure and maintain our internationally-competitive edge. These are entirely underpinned by a focus on research and development (R&D).

“The Rudd Government, if it is serious about climate change adaption and mitigation, must ‘step up’ on the NFF’s mutual obligation drought-proofing initiative, sooner rather than later. It must invest in robust R&D programs that are relevant at the local and regional levels, where farm decisions are made, and assist farmers in developing tools to adapt their farm systems to climate risk.

“These must be the Government’s immediate priorities. As the NFF stated in our national television advertising campaign highlighting our plan to deal with drought in the face of climate change, “a lot is riding on agriculture’s ability to meet these challenges”.

“As Agriculture Minister Tony Burke continues his road show of regional Australia, serious issues await him in Canberra. We hope his travels have been educational, and we look forward to seeing this translate into astute and appropriate policy.”

The NFF’s Garnaut Report submission is available online at: Garnaut Report

[ENDS]

Media Enquiries: Brett Heffernan on (02) 6273 3855 or 0408 448 250

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