Australia’s farms “particularly vulnerable” to climate change, adviser Ross Garnaut Says

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?“)

Here’s more:

“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.

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7 Responses to Australia’s farms “particularly vulnerable” to climate change, adviser Ross Garnaut Says

  1. mike roddy says:

    They need to cancel the $80 billion coal export deal with China. Then we’ll pay attention.

  2. Byron Smith says:

    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.
    Joe, unfortunately, this characterisation of the Australian situation is too simplistic.

    For a start, the opposition in Oz are not nearly as rapidly anti-scientific as in the US (a few of them aspire to it, but they are the minority) and accept the science of ACC. They oppose the carbon tax and the Emissions Trading Scheme because, well, because they are in opposition and think there is political capital in doing so, even though at various times in the past they have officially supported either a carbon tax or an ETS. The history here is quite complicated and involves leadership changes in both major parties, the outcomes of the last two federal elections and quite a bit of detail in between.

    But more worryingly, the present government is far from a climate hawk. They don’t actually have a plan on the table at the moment. They previously did, and it was blocked three times by the Senate, and even then, it was very weak, watered down with serious concessions to big coal (which is huge in Australia, the world’s largest coal exporter) and agriculture. The targets were poor and the loopholes massive. It was blocked by the opposition for being an economic burden (opportunistic politics at work) and the Greens for being a joke. Ironically, the failure to pass this legislation was a key factor in bringing down the previous Prime Minister (Kevin Rudd) and his replacement by his deputy Julia Gillard, who, in a subsequent election, lost her majority, largely to the Greens and independents, leaving a hung parliament and her just holding onto a minority government that relies on support from some combination of Green and independent MPs to pass any legislation. This could have the effect of strengthening the climate policy (and the fact that it is now back on the table is testimony to the Greens’ work), but it also makes any legislation more vulnerable to being hijacked by vested interests. The opposition are doing their best to spook the electorate and public opinion is deeply divided.

    Hope this helps.

  3. Joan Savage says:

    Australian rice production collapsed after a six year drought; the obituaries for the industry were written in 2008.

  4. Byron Smith says:

    As a major exporter of agricultural products, Australia will be ground zero in the world’s growing climate-driven food insecurity.
    I assume by this you mean that the loss or reduction of Australian exports through climate related damage could be a significant trigger for global food instability. Australia itself is fairly unlikely to run short on local food for some time, since it is a massive food exporter, being a very large place with relatively few mouths to feed.

  5. jyyh says:

    OT, and most of you probably know this place already:

  6. The Oracle says:

    What Byron said.

    Tony Abbott, the leader of the Opposition, is basically opposing everything the government does for short-term political gain. I don’t doubt that he himself is a climate sceptic, based on his own admissions, but thankfully he and his ilk are a minority in the Liberal party.

    Mr Abbott would have to be the dumbest Rhodes Scholar in existence. By that I mean he’s obviously intelligent as he attended Oxford but seems to have forgotten that climate research is also the product of some of the world’s finest educational institutions.

    Also, he only won the leadership by 1 solitary vote from Malcolm Turnbull, who is a fervent believer in AGW and of taking action. Already there is internal dissent in the Libs due to Abbott’s “oppose everything” philosophy, and he may not be there come the next election. We can only pray.

  7. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Australia is a typical ‘democracy without choices’. You get a choice of one or other pro-business party, one, the Liberals the long-term servant and creation of the money power, and the other the ‘Labor’ Party a typical social democratic party in that its job is to keep the rabble quiescent while the real rulers make all the decisions. The latter has moved Right steadily since the mildly reformist Whitlam regime was destroyed by elite subversion in the 1970s. It has thus pushed the Liberals further and further to the extreme Right. The media is totally dominated by the Right, the vast majority by the far, far Right Murdoch apparatus.
    With all this moving Right, a space has opened on the Left. It has been occupied by the Greens, who are mildly Left, what was the ‘centre’ as recently as the 1970s and 1980s. They are in favour of doing something about anthropogenic climate change, and also of gay marriage, euthanasia, drug law reform etc, ie rational and humane policy. This, and their success at last year’s election, has led the Murdoch pathocracy to target them with a vigorous campaign of vilification and threats. I read recently one of The Fundament’s (aka The Australian)opinion leaders open a piece on economics with the declaration ‘I detest Greenies, and every decent person I know agrees..’.Day after day, there is incitement of hatred and rage, but it is merely par for the course these days. Abbott is, even for an Australian politician of the Right, appears, in my opinion,bereft of any particle of conscience or scruple. His party is ceaselessly fomenting hatred with ‘dog-whistle’ appeals to racists, targeting Moslems, refugees and Aborigines, and more blatant, but perennial, abuse of Greenies, unionists, ‘latte-sippers’, ‘basket-weavers’, ‘do-gooders’-a whole lexicon of abuse. The mobilisation of votes through relentless incitement of hatred and fear is the greatest and most horrific development in this country in my lifetime. Allied to ecological collapse, resource depletion and global economic collapse and I see civil conflict flaring, and not too far off.