An Australian farming group has called for a fully funded national strategy to deal with climate change and agriculture, warning farmers don’t have enough support to manage increasing risks associated with global heating.
It comes as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report on climate change and land, released in Geneva on Thursday, found limiting global heating to below 2C can only be achieved by reducing emissions from all sectors – including land and food.
That will involve transforming food production and land management, given agriculture, forestry and other types of land use account for 23% of human-induced greenhouse emissions globally.
The report finds even the current levels of global heating are increasing the risks of water scarcity, soil erosion, vegetation loss, fire damage, coastal degradation, permafrost thawing and declines in crop yields.
It finds the climate crisis is affecting all aspects of food security – including availability, price and nutrition – but that coordinated action to cut global emissions could simultaneously improve land resources, food security and nutrition and help to address hunger.
Verity Morgan-Schmidt, the chief executive of Farmers for Climate Action, said Australian farmers were already dealing with the effects of global heating, including worsening droughts, changing frost conditions and heatwaves.
But as the risks associated with global heating increase, she said it was becoming more difficult for farmers to adapt on their own.
Farmers are responsible for managing much of Australia’s ecosystem, with 48% of Australia’s land privately owned or leased for agricultural production.
Morgan-Schmidt said industry-wide measures were already being developed to reduce the sector’s climate footprint, including a grains industry sustainability framework that is under development and the red meat sector’s target to become carbon neutral by 2030.
She said individual farmers were also taking action through increased soil carbon sequestration, revegetation, and the adoption of “climate-smart” agricultural practices.
But she said an overarching government strategy for the agriculture sector was still lacking and farmers were looking to the federal government to better coordinate currently disparate efforts by industry, government and the non-government sector to deal with climate.
“What we still don’t have in the year 2019 is a national strategy on climate change in agriculture. There’s still no actual framework to help farmers manage these risks and implement solutions,” she said.
“That’s why we’re calling for a fully funded national strategy on climate change and agriculture.
“There’s a lot of good things happening but there is more work to do and we need support to do that.”
The minister for energy and emissions reduction, Angus Taylor, said: “The government recognises the importance of the land sector to Australia and is partnering with industry to improve productivity, sustainability and resilience.”
“Our suite of policies include the establishment of a Future Drought Fund, a national program of water reform, and the Emissions Reduction Fund which supports Australian businesses, farmers and land managers to take practical actions to reduce emissions and improve the environment.”
Mark Howden, the director of the ANU Climate Institute and an IPCC vice-chair, is one of the report’s authors.
He said the climate crisis was “rapidly ramping up existing threats to the land, reducing its ability to feed and support populations around the world and impacting on ecosystems”.
“At the same time, the land sector is currently contributing to climate change, even as it potentially offers some of the solutions to reducing greenhouse gases,” he said.
Howden said the land sector alone could not address the crisis and that cutting emissions from fossil fuels remained “absolutely vital”.
But he said improving land management would have multiple economic, environmental and health benefits.
“Better land management not only delivers win-wins for farmers, communities, governments and biodiversity but also helps address climate change,” he said.
Dermot O’Gorman, CEO of the World Wide Fund for Nature-Australia, says there “is tremendous potential for vegetation and soil to suck up and store greenhouse gases to help achieve a 1.5-degree future”.
“Right now too much of Australia’s soil is degraded or being eroded away. Too many forests have been lost and remaining trees continue to be cut down.
“Australia can turn this around by protecting our remaining forests, transforming marginal grazing or cropping land into profitable carbon farms by returning trees, and adopting innovative farming techniques.”