By David Crombie
ABC News Online,Posted Tue Jul 22, 2008 8:28am AEST
Updated Tue Jul 22, 2008 8:32am AEST
Agriculture's emission profile under Kyoto is linked to things beyond anyone's control, like bushfires and drought. (Getty Images: Ian Waldie, file photo)
Outlining its preferred Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS), the Australian Government's green paper recognises the unique complexities that impede agriculture's coverage.
We note that that Government has taken on board many of the National Farmers' Federation's key concerns.
The Government's green paper does not impose an arbitrary date for covering agriculture. Instead, it identifies a target date of 2015 - pending the need to first overcome practical impediments of measuring, monitoring and verification of carbon emissions - with a decision on inclusion, or exclusion, to be considered in 2013.
That analysis is consistent with both Professor Ross Garnaut's and the Productivity Commission's findings.
But pivotal issues of concern remain unresolved and must be dealt with ahead of agriculture's possible inclusion.
Firstly, the current Kyoto rules fail to fully account for agriculture's ability to store carbon in soil, crops and pastures. Further, that agriculture's emission profile under Kyoto is detrimentally linked to things beyond anyone's control, like bushfires and drought.
The green paper accepts the need for 'Kyoto II' to change to better reflect Australia's unique circumstances and the potential opportunities based on science.
Secondly, the potential increase in major farming costs - namely through fuel - will be offset for agriculture. This takes account of the cost pressures already be felt at the pump, and will alleviate farm costs, pressure on food security and prices at the checkout.
Thirdly, the Green Paper also highlights limited commercially-viable carbon abatement opportunities for farmers. That is, sensible cost-effective ways to further reduce emissions across all agricultural sectors simply do not exist at this time.
This is a clear signal that a new stream of research and development must be in place and delivering workable solutions before agriculture can be considered for inclusion in any scheme. Importantly, we must avoid cannibalising productivity-based research and development in the process.
Fourthly, and importantly, the Government has emphasised the essential need to work in close consultation with agriculture to overcome these problems and to develop appropriate responses.
Farmers maintain that we are willing to play our part in meeting Australia's, and the world's, climate challenge. We are committed to finding workable new solutions to reduce our carbon footprint, to build on our already leading contribution to cutting emissions, on an equitable basis.
We must pursue these opportunities, in partnership with Government, to be able to achieve this in a measured and sustainable way - ensuring that food production, and our national economy, are not threatened.
David Crombie is president of the National Farmers' Federation. This week he is leading a delegation of Australian agricultural representatives in Geneva.