Senate report on climate change deserves action

A Senate report on climate change and carbon pricing has worthy recommendations on how to mitigate the effects of federal climate-change policies, but it’s unlikely to significantly affect how farmers work in the near future.

That’s because most farmers have already made the most important changes affecting climate change.

The Senate agriculture committee’s report on climate change and carbon pricing accepts the reality of climate change and that Canada is the ninth largest emitter of greenhouse gases responsible for 1.6 percent of the world’s total emissions (in 2013). It notes that agriculture “would be one of the sectors most damaged by climate change” due to wild weather swings and all that comes with it. It accepts that agriculture is responsible for 10 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gases (which contribute to climate change), asserting that five percent of greenhouse gases come from livestock, three percent from crops and two percent from farm energy and transport.

Among its 16 recommendations is that “the government of Canada fully implement the policy measures contained in the Pan-Canadian Framework,” a central thrust of which is carbon pricing. It acknowledges that, as price takers, farmers have no means of recovering production costs.

That’s an important acknowledgement because it affects just about every cost the farmer faces — rail transport, fertilizer, heating, and manufacturing equipment.

Farmers do not use more fuel than they have to. They do not use more fertilizer than they have to. They do not feed their cattle more than they have to (creating more methane gas). Hence the impetus behind a carbon tax — to incentivize change in processes or adaption of new technology — is not applicable to much of Canadian farming today.

But the tax, well, that is applicable, and the report addresses that.

Key recommendations include exempting propane and natural gas used for farming and the fuel costs to heat and cool equipment. That covers a lot of the fossil fuel use on farms, including powering big machines, heating barns, and drying grain.

One recommendation advises incentives for “beneficial management practices,” but the degree to which that affects farmers is not clear.

Another recommendation suggests that carbon offsets be established to allow farmers to receive income through credits. The report notes the contention that Alberta’s carbon offset system, which has been in place since 2007, has yielded $180 million for agriculture.

Still another recommendation pushes for research to establish base line levels of soil organic carbon with the idea of developing offset credits for carbon sequestration.

That’s important because the report also cites Cereals Canada president Cam Dahl’s contention that $1 billion worth of carbon is sequestered in Canada’s crop soil sector. There is no indication of whether the federal government is inclined to accept this. Past discussions have not yielded such a policy change.

There are several other recommendations to support research on technology and practices that would be of benefit to agriculture.

There is reason to view this report with optimism, but the House of Commons has yet to consider the recommendations and the government’s response remains unclear.

Reports such as these often end up on lonely shelves, but this one should not. It is a serious attempt to address legitimate issues in agriculture in the face of the government’s climate change measures.

Karen Briere, Bruce Dyck, Barb Glen, Brian MacLeod and Michael Raine collaborate in the writing of Western Producer editorials.

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