Opinion: Why a national strategy on climate change and agriculture is vital

Verity Morgan-Schmidt, Farmers for Climate Action, 25/01/2019

Australia’s farming sector faces a pressing challenge to work proactively in 2019 to drive a national strategy on climate change and agriculture, writes Farmers for Climate Action chief executive officer Verity Morgan-Schmidt

If you’re a farmer you’re more than likely sweltering through another scorching week as long standing temperature records shatter and the brief cool change felt in some regions quickly disperses. If you’re like us, you’ll arrange your days so you stay out of the sun in the hottest part of the day, but, ultimately, the heat will take its toll as the scant remaining pasture dries out and even the wildlife swelters. Stock still need to be fed and watered, crops irrigated and bores maintained—now more than ever. The work rolls on irrespective of the temperature gauge.

FCA CEO Verity Morgan-Schmidt

When the next cool change comes—as it eventually will—it will provide only temporary relief. As the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO found in their State of the Climate report, released late last year, climatic extremes have become par for the course in Australia.

The report, which draws on the latest monitoring, science and projection information to describe variability and changes in Australia’s climate, and to predict future climate change, found that heat waves, droughts, floods and cyclones are all are set to occur with increasing frequency and severity as global warming makes itself felt.

Farmers, firefighters and rural communities are all being stretched to their limits.

Our industry has a long and proud tradition as land custodians. We’ve shown ourselves to be innovative, adaptive and in many cases, downright visionary. We’ve borne the costs of Kyoto, while reducing our emissions intensity and improving our efficiency. We’ve invested in RD&E, adapted our practices – recognising that increasing our sustainability simply makes good business sense.

However, as the impact of climate change begins to bite, our industry is coming under growing scrutiny. “Veganuary”the initiative encouraging people to go vegan in January—is indicative of individuals searching for  solutions in the face of policy failure. The tragedy unfolding in Menindee is unleashing waves of anger and despair across communities, both rural and urban.

We know that many of the criticisms being levelled at agriculture are misplaced, that most producers have been rapidly increasing water use efficiency to reduce environmental impacts and that initiatives like the red meat industry’s plan to be carbon neutral by 2030, the Northern Australian Climate Program and industry sustainability frameworks are supporting farmers to achieve sustainability goals.

However, we also know that as a sector we are far from infallible.

Failure to adequately incorporate climate science into management plans is already being touted as one of the factors contributing to the tragedy unfolding in one of our greatest river systems. Social science tells us that failure to accept and incorporate climate science into farm management triggers greater levels of stress for farmers. There is no longer room for an ostrich approach.

It is essential—for the climate and for agriculture’s social licence—that we embrace robust evidence based policy positions  and that we do not waste our precious energies on defensive squabbling, or attempting to deny reality.

We can, and must rise to the challenge of climate change.

The brutal reality is, if we want to farm into the future, and want our children to inherit a world which is habitable, we don’t have a choice.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report last year which showed what a difference 1.5 degrees celsius warming was compared to 2 degrees – the ‘upper limit’ scenario we’re currently forecast to miss.

Two months later, the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO released the fifth annual State of the Climate; demonstrating that Australia’s average air and water temperatures have already warmed by 1 degree since 1910.

Yet, merely a day later, Australia’s emission projections report was released, demonstrating that we are set to miss our emission reduction targets by a wide margin, reducing emissions by only seven per cent on 2005 levels, well short of our 26-28% target.

We can no longer assume that incremental adaptation will be enough to keep us out of trouble.

Agriculture is already bearing the brunt of failings in climate change policy—experiencing the direct physical hits of increasingly severe droughts and extreme weather events, and the policy ramifications of comprehensive failure to proactively manage a climate change mitigation program.

Australian agriculture has a choice. We’re either at the table; proactively driving a National Strategy on Climate Change & Agriculture, demanding accountability and evidence based policy from ourselves and others, or, as the Veganuary example shows – we can be on (or off) the metaphorical menu.

So while you’re staying in the shade (or in the cab) today, take a moment to get informed.

Farmers for Climate Action is making all resources and presentations from Managing Climate Risk in Agriculture conferences freely available.

This is your chance to learn directly from leading experts what you can be doing on your property to mitigate risk and prepare for the future.

We’re at a point where every year matters. Every choice matters. Make yours count in 2019.

  • Verity Morgan-Schmidt is the CEO of Farmers for Climate Action CEO


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  1. Luke Hargreaves, 03/02/2019

    Well said Verity,

  2. Jennifer Macdougall, 29/01/2019

    The biggest barrier to any political action on climate change by the Coaltion is the National Party. So why do farmers keep voting for them? Beats me! I left them decades ago. We need more Tony Windsors.

  3. William Graham, 29/01/2019

    You are right Verity, Agriculture must set an example and develop some solutions to climate change, otherwise we will become the scapegoat. Perhaps we could become energy farmers as well as food producers. The other challenge is to convince society(who live mostly in the city) to reduce wasteful consumption. This will have the effect of reducing GDP…but so what! I would rather have a smaller economy than not be able to walk outside because of the heat!
    Paul Zlotkowski, I think you are a little nieve in imagining that humans cannot influence the climate. Large areas of north Africa the middle east and the Levant have been desertified. Even closer to home, the desert has crept past Goyder’s Line in South Australia. There are many abandoned homesteads there. This desertification took place before we were burning 9 billion tons of coal a year

  4. Megan Rikard-Bell, 29/01/2019

    There’s no time to wait for politicians to lead. We have to do it our selves. You already have some wonderful leaders in the Regenerative Farming community. People like Charles Massey (“Call of the Reed Warbler)and Peter Andrews and many many more. They’ve worked out hour to farm and graze while vastly improving the carbon content of their soil and also its water holding capacity. the same time restoring biodiversity, removing the need for all the Industrial Farming inputs such as herbicides and insecticides.
    I’d love to hear you talking about how farmers and sustainable foresters can be the ones that save this planet from ecological Collapse. Because I think that’s where our last chance will happen …if enough farmers wake up to the benefits

  5. TERRY Raymond MCGREGOR, 29/01/2019

    Well said Paul, we should be working on controlling and moving flood water to where it can be stored/ used.

  6. Colin Steddy, 29/01/2019

    Great talk about climate change. Please offer a way to do it.
    Peter Andrews has a option to fix many problems this landscape can show us how to work with nature. It is the only option that anybody has put forward. Stop talking and do it.

  7. Paul Zlotkowski, 27/01/2019

    It appears that globally we are all being educated to believe that our changing
    climate is something we can control, like our ability to drive a motor vehicle
    or send a man to the moon in a spaceship, But this is not the case, and as I will try and show you our changing weather patterns started over 8 billion years ago, billions of years before the first creature crawled out of the sea and evolved into the homo sapien.

    Let us start at the beginning, first there was the big bang over 8 billion years
    ago when the universe as we know it was created. I have not been able to find any scientific journals that can tell us how long before our planet became vegetated, and I can only assume that from the first day the weather continued to change, being driven by sun-spots and changing intensity of
    the sun beating onto our oceans and desert. The other great weather changer was and still is the variability of our planet spinning on its axis. Our planet
    continually changes its positions as it spins on its axis, which is a great driver of our changing weather

    Now let us move forward in time to the start of the fifth ice age some 1.5 million years ago, as the global weather cooled down from the extremes of
    the heat period that followed the previous ice age some billion or so years before. As the global weather cooled into the fifth ice age, sheet ice began to
    build and freeze the country south from the north sea until all of Europe was covered in sheet ice about 5 kilometres think probably half or two thirds of the way down to the Mediterranean Sea. At the same time great glaciers were formed at both the north and south poles, The effect of the glaciers and the sheet ice covering much of Europe and North America caused the ocean to drop by some 600 feet or so.

    My research shows that the homo sapien evolved into Africa during the earlier years of this the fifth ice age. As man as we know him evolved and the numbers built up, over the next thousand years or so he started to migrate and move out of Africa, and unbelievably were able to settle most parts of our planet, because the low sea levels made land bridges between some land masses

    At the end of the last ice age about 11,000 years ago our planet started to warm ( and still is warming ) and the sheet ice across the northern hemisphere melted and the glaciers also started to melt and consequently the
    oceans began to rise. The weather was warming from the end of the ice age for about 6,000 years before archeologists found evidence that man burn the first lump of coal

    I think that many of our activists, leaders and scientists are very confused about the difference between our warming weather and pollution. Pollution
    is another subject and i believe can be controlled just like driving a car, but we are talking about our warming weather, pollution is another subject for
    another day. What we now need is for our leaders to encourage our scientific and archaeological communities to determine to what temperature did the weather rise in between the previous ice ages. Also we need to know
    for how long a period did the temperature rise before it levelled out, and again how long was it before it started to cool before the next ice age. There is no evidence to show that the weather patterns between past ice ages would be repeated, but I think we could learn a lot if we had this data.

  8. James Madden, 26/01/2019

    Hear Hear

  9. Edward Averill, 26/01/2019

    Like your editorial a lot. Looked for the resources you were mentioning and didn’t recognize them. Expecting topics on soil and water management. Sourcing, vs growing feed, etc. with comments on soil carbon , etc.
    Pointers would be welcome.

  10. Geoff Edwards, 25/01/2019

    Well said, Verity Morgan-Schmidt.

    Natural resource plans of many titles have not adequately factored in climate change and have left our entire agricultural sector unprepared for the adjustment that is rapidly becoming unavoidable. There are several reasons for this, including a lack of scientific literacy among our political and policy leaders; and the hostility directed by the conservative press towards any scientist or environmentalist who issues a warning.

    I suggest that given the disarray in national policy circles, it may be easier to produce a new “Queensland strategy on climate change and agriculture” and aim to scale it up nationally later, than to tackle Canberra first.

    Queensland’s natural scientists stand ready to collaborate with your group and with farmers generally to craft a new approach.

    Royal Society of Queensland

  11. Paul Franks, 25/01/2019

    I think anyone would be a bit naive to think some sort of equitable sensible national strategy could even be created.

    I have come to the conclusion that the majority in urban areas are keen to find a scapegoat that can hopefully wear the brunt of the cost or even be used as a facade to make sure they themselves will not suffer a reduction in living standard.

    Looking at the reports you can see the poor science automatically put into the reports. If I clear some land it automatically gets put onto the emissions list even if it never burns up, ever. Not only that, it gets detected and “measured” from a satellite image. I was not aware satellite technology has progressed to the point it can measure vegetation weight and height.

    I have totally lost any faith in any government doing anything that is fair and equitable. Environmental science seems to be full of assumptions, guesses and algorithms with rural landholders always the bad people.

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