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Bali 07: much at stake amid talks on new greenhouse rules

11 December 2007

WITH the Australian Government ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and discussions now underway on a new international climate agreement in Bali, Australian farmers want the issues of climate change adaptation and mitigation brought to the fore.

“Our farmers have already made a huge, and often unrecognised, contribution to reducing Australia’s net greenhouse emissions – primary industry emissions have plummeted 40% over the past 15 years,” National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) President David Crombie, who is heading the NFF delegation in Bali this week, said today.

“In fact, that Australia is on track to meet its Kyoto commitments is overwhelmingly due to our farmers changing their land use practices. But the existing international greenhouse accounting rules ignore the carbon cycle of agricultural systems – that is, taking account of not only emissions, but also sequestration.

“Unlike any other emitting sectors, farming sees a natural ‘life cycle’ at work. For instance, while it is true agriculture is responsible for around 17% of Australia’s total carbon emissions, no account is taken of the carbon being sequestered in soil, crops and trees in this assessment.

“‘Life Cycle Assessments’ must be undertaken to ensure we have rules that reflect a better-informed and more accurate understanding of the complete carbon profile across the vast array of Australian farming 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 is so vital – than other sector’s looking to use international rules to simply trade-off their emissions, rather than making any genuine attempt at reducing them.

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

“The new international rules being thrashed out in Bali must fully recognise the potential for agriculture to make a significant contribution to reduce the global carbon footprint. Further, these rules have implications in the context of an Australian Emissions Trading Scheme (AETS). Agriculture will be significantly affected regardless of whether it is directly involved in an AETS or not.

“While agriculture accepts that it will be affected by any AETS, the current proposals indicate that this will be disproportionate.

“At a time of increased competition for global food supplies, Government policy should not artificially drive down agricultural output. Instead, policies should be geared towards encouraging increased production from low emission farm systems, like those in Australia. This would better serve the interests of the world community, in its efforts to reduce total global emissions.

“Given appropriate and equitable policy settings, Australian farmers can make a genuine difference in overcoming the challenges presented by climate change – aided by their unsurpassed ability to adapt, achieving leading productivity growth (3.8% per year over the past 20 years) at the same time as pioneering new environmentally-sustainable farm systems.

“Farmers are willing to do their fair share in the future, too. But it’s about time farming was given the credit and recognition it deserves.

“As a trade-exposed sector with a very sensitive cost base, the implications, if the policy settings to reduce emissions are disproportionally skewed against the farm sector, will be dire. At present, the existing international greenhouse accounting rules are heavily skewed against agriculture – something that must be taken up by the Australian Government and addressed in Bali this week.

“ABARE’s dire predictions if Australia fails to proactively deal with a changing climate underscores what we’ve said for years... there must be appropriate and equitable action to reduce the risks associated with increased climatic variability or adverse climatic changes. This is in farmers’ interests and the national interest.

“The bottom line is that in order 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 AETS.”

These are the key issues Mr Crombie will be impressing upon the Australian Government delegation in Bali this week.

[ENDS]

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

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