Australia, the fourth-largest wheat exporter, risked more climate-change damage than other developed countries partly because of the threat to its agriculture, said Ross Garnaut, the federal government’s adviser on the topic.
“Our agriculture is particularly vulnerable,” Garnaut told reporters in Canberra. “Australia is already a country of climate extremes where in many places in some parts of the year, temperatures are already near the upper limits of agriculture.”
Australia, also the fourth-largest cotton shipper and biggest coal exporter, will impose a price on carbon in July next year before the start of a trading system as early as 2015, according to plans set out by the ruling Labor Party. Record rain, flooding and a cyclone in the nation’s east damaged crops this season, while drought cut output in the west, increasing concerns that climate volatility and warming will curb output.
Australia is the canary in the coal mine for climate-change impacts (see “Australia faces collapse as climate change kicks in” and Northern Territory Chief Minister on Carlos’s deluge: “So a really one in 500 year event; nobody’s experienced anything like this before”).
It is the most arid habited continent in the world. As Garnaut notes, some regions are already at times near the upper limits for farming. The tropical north is vulnerable to staggering floods. The country is increasingly being whipsawed by human-caused global warming — just as the U.S. SouthEast is (see “Study: Global warming is driving increased frequency of extreme wet or dry summer weather in southeast, so droughts and deluges are likely to get worse“).
As a major exporter of agricultural products, Australia will be ground zero in the world’s growing climate-driven food insecurity.
Garnaut also notes another contributor to food insecurity, “”Mandatory requirements for use of biofuels is taking land out of food production for biofuel production … that has had a significant effect for grain and oilseed prices.” Duh (see “The Corn Ultimatum: How long can Americans keep burning one sixth the world’s corn supply in our cars?“)
“In southern Australia, and most clearly and strongly in southwest Australia, the warming will be accompanied by a drying, on average, that will create a special challenge and that is already being felt in the Western Australian wheat belt, leading to some major changes in farming patterns,” Garnaut said today, based on the climate outlook provided by models….
World food prices are expected to gain in the first half of the twenty-first century after declining in the second half of the previous century, reflecting a rising population and higher incomes, slower agricultural yield growth and the effect of climate change, Garnaut earlier told the Australian Bureau of Agricultural & Resource Economics & Sciences outlook conference.
“The big effects on rural production of climate change are in the future, but there have already been some effects and the intensification of extreme weather events is one of the things the science tells us to expect,” he said….
Warming would also have the effect of reducing runoff into Australian irrigation dams and drying out soils more quickly, Garnaut said….
The federal government intends to exclude agriculture from the price set for carbon. The government is also planning to allow farmers to earn credits for measures that reduce emissions, which could provide a financial benefit to farmers through trading opportunities, Garnaut said.
The opposition Liberal-National coalition has vowed to repeal Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s carbon-price proposal if it wins the next election.
It’s good news that the country is finally run by people who understand the threat posed by unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions and are apparently poised to take some action. Sadly, they appear to have almost as self-destructive a political opposition as we do.