Ross Garnaut, in a special report commissioned by all the governments of Australia, is proposing to pay farmers big money for biosequestration.
Garnaut has advanced a plan to extend over many years, and much of what he has written describes how Australia must proceed to remain a member in good standing of an international community trying to solve its climate problems.
How much money might be involved?
Numbers are hard to get when you are forecasting the future, but current international (Kyoto) rules suggest farm revenues from sale of carbon credits of $2.25 billion, which is the value of the Australian wool crop.
Other studies of the land use sector suggest a speculative figure as high as $40 billion per year payments to farmers for biosequestration activity.
The interesting thing about the Garnaut report is that agriculture and forestry are singled out as possible solutions to the Australian climate change problems.
This is because carbon farming on available land could sequester twice the carbon currently emitted in the whole country.
But Canadian farmers will be interested in the Australian approach to climate change for at least two additional reasons: Australian farmers will benefit whether they are believers in climate change or not; and the Canadian situation is similar to the Australian. If it can happen there, why not here?
Look at the similarity of the Canadian situation.
Our farm sector produces about $40 billion in sales in any year. The Australian farm sector is about the same size.
Our mining and petroleum sector produces a huge export surplus and sends up clouds of emissions to go with it.
Australia is more specialized in the export of coal and iron ore, but it has the same emissions problem. Australians sell more to the Chinese, we sell more to the Americans.
Our emissions per person rank with Australia and the United States as the largest in the world.
Fortunately, the Australians have an enormous land base currently used for forestry. They claim their forests are the largest in the world on a per person basis. Ours are also huge.
They have huge areas of low quality grazing, and large areas of dryland cropping, but only small irrigated acreage. Canada has the same.
Australia’s major agricultural problem is drought, which is also threatening their big cities. Our major agricultural problem is a cold winter that limits the growing season and precludes double cropping.
All in all, when it comes to confronting climate change, the Australian and Canadian situations are similar.
How will farmers in the two countries benefit?
Any action to mitigate emissions will almost inevitably involve charging the big industries an incentive charge based on a carbon dioxide equivalent in their emissions. This is the so-called carbon tax. The incentive charges get very big very fast in industry.
Of course farmers will have to pay a carbon tax based on fuel use, fertilizer gasification and methane emissions.
Big companies will be able to reduce emissions over time, but it won’t be enough. Biosequestration will be needed.
In the final analysis, one does not have to believe climate change is real, only that the guy who agreed to pay you for growing trees or other activity will in fact pay.
Garnaut is not a climate scientist, but he believes the evidence that climate change is real and anthropogenic is overwhelming. He says Australia must do something. It must work with other countries or become a pariah nation.
George Winter is professor emeritus at Athabasca University.