Land of opportunity: more sustainable Australian agriculture …
(MENAFN – The Conversation) European Union moves forward with border carbon taxes – taxes on carbon-intensive products from countries like Australia that have failed to take strong action to reduce emissions. The EU will impose such measures on a range of imported industrial materials, including aluminum, steel and cement.
But what if these tariffs are one day applied to another key Australian export industry: agriculture? As National Farmers’ Federation chief executive Tony Mahar said last month:
In addition to a large greenhouse gas footprint from agriculture, Australia also has a truly terrible record when it comes to biodiversity loss. The argument for farmers to adopt more sustainable practices – and for governments to help with the transition – is becoming more and more compelling. Not only would this protect our exports, it would reduce emissions and help protect nature.
Australian agriculture must prepare for a more carbon-conscious future. Dean Lewins / AAP Imminent carbon tariffs
The EU policy, officially known as the Carbon Border Adjustment Measure, aims to protect local industries operating under the EU Emissions Trading System and other policies similar.
From 2026, European importers of certain commodities must purchase carbon certificates equivalent to the cost that would have been incurred had the goods been produced under the EU’s emissions trading system.
The measure aims to level the playing field – by protecting EU companies from competition from producers in countries that do not have carbon pricing regimes. The policy also puts pressure on exporting countries to implement their own effective emissions policies.
Read more: No need to complain, Australia will face carbon taxes unless it changes course
Australia does not export large volumes of industrial products to Europe, so the immediate effect of the carbon tariff will be small. However, in 2026 the EU will consider extending the scope of the measure to other products.
Carbon tariffs could also be imposed by other countries to which Australia exports, as they increasingly demand cleaner production of goods and as the principle of free trade appears to be losing importance. These tariffs could also apply to goods subject to regulation, in addition to emissions trading systems.
There is no immediate prospect of a carbon tariff on agriculture. But as many countries tighten their emissions targets until 2030 and adopt or strengthen net zero targets, agriculture could be part of the mix.
The carbon tariff at the EU border aims to protect European producers operating under a carbon price. OLIVIER HOSLET / EPA Carbon taxes on agriculture?
Agriculture accounts for around 13% of Australia’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The main source of emissions is methane from cattle and sheep. Others include paddy fields, fertilizer use, agricultural waste, and fuel use.
The industry is clearly sensitive to the problem. The National Farmers Federation has endorsed a net zero economy-wide “aspiration”. It also calls for investments in carbon neutral agricultural technologies to, among other objectives, develop new export markets. Meat and Livestock Australia has set a 2030 carbon neutral target for the red meat industry.
If Australia’s major trading partners apply carbon tariffs on agricultural products in the future, Australian farmers will have a strong incentive to make production less emission intensive. Potential ways to achieve this include:
- better management of soils and native vegetation cover
- less fertilizer use
- switch to low-emission sheep and cattle breeds
- feed additives that cause livestock to emit less methane
- switch from ruminants to other sources of meat, such as kangaroo.
Such measures can lead to an increase in agricultural productivity.
Australia can avoid a carbon tariff on agricultural exports in two ways. First, agriculture can adopt cleaner production methods and have its products certified as low-emission products. Second, the federal government can implement a comprehensive emissions reduction policy, which in agriculture could mean minimum production standards to avoid high emission practices or a carbon price wherever possible. .
The existing Emissions Reduction Fund would not avoid carbon tariffs. Indeed, it only applies to participating companies and it subsidizes emission reduction projects rather than imposing obligations on those that generate emissions.
Read more: Carbon pricing works: Biggest study ever, no doubt
Feed additives can reduce methane emissions. PAA Tariffs on biodiversity loss?
In the future, environmental tariffs may well extend to a wider set of environmental damages, such as loss of biodiversity.
Australia’s record in terms of species extinction is truly appalling, including in the agricultural landscapes which have been greatly altered.
Some countries are already using financial incentives to reduce damage to nature. For example, the UK government’s plans would require farmers to demonstrate environmental improvements to receive farm subsidies.
A major challenge for the agricultural sector is to simultaneously reduce greenhouse gas emissions and improve biodiversity outcomes. There are proven, science-based ways to do this, such as:
- protect patches of remaining native vegetation that provides habitat for animals and helps attract and store carbon from the atmosphere
- create healthy agricultural dams that can provide better quality drinking water for livestock, improve agricultural productivity and create wildlife habitat
- plant “windbreaks” – strips of woody vegetation that protect livestock from wind and sun, provide wildlife habitat (when properly designed and managed), and prevent loss of soil moisture.
This integrated approach to agricultural production, climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation is explored and championed by the Australian National University’s Sustainable Farms project.
Changes in the management of farm dams can improve biodiversity and agricultural production. Peter Lorimer / AAP Sustainable Australian agriculture
The Australian government has recognized the need to find agricultural solutions to climate change and biodiversity loss. For example, she is currently developing a stewardship program to encourage farmers to improve environmental conditions on their land.
A crucial part of this and similar programs will be to establish reliable systems to estimate and certify agricultural emissions and biodiversity outcomes. Indeed, a solid long-term follow-up is essential for such programs to be considered as credible, at the national and international levels.
The opportunities are ripe for Australian farmers to adopt much more environmentally sustainable land management practices and in doing so safeguard or even expand Australian agricultural exports.
Read more: Australian farmers want more climate action – and they’re starting in their own (huge) backyard
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