New study: changes in climate since 2000 have cut Australian farm profits 22%



The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences farmpredict model finds that changes in climate conditions since 2000 have cut farm profits by 22% overall, and by 35% for cropping farms..
ABARES/Shutterstock

Neal Hughes, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) and Steve Hatfield-Dodds, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES)

The current drought across much of eastern Australia has demonstrated the dramatic effects climate variability can have on farm businesses and households.

The drought has also renewed longstanding discussions around the emerging effects of climate change on agriculture, and how governments can best help farmers to manage drought risk.

A new study released this morning by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences offers fresh insight on these issues by quantifying the impacts of recent climate variability on the profits of Australian broadacre farms.




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The results show that changes in temperature and rainfall over the past 20 years have had a negative effect on average farm profits while also increasing risk.

The findings demonstrate the importance of adaptation, innovation and adjustment to the agriculture sector, and the need for policy responses which promote – and don’t unnecessarily inhibit – such progress.

Measuring the effects of climate on farms

Measuring the effects of climate on farms is difficult given the many other factors that also influence farm performance, including commodity prices.

Further, the effects of rainfall and temperature on farm production and profit can be complex and highly location and farm specific.

To address this complexity, ABARES has developed a model based on more than 30 years of historical farm and climate data—farmpredict — which can identify effects of climate variability, input and output prices, and other factors on different types of farms.

Cropping farms most exposed

The model finds that cropping farms generally face greater climate risk than beef farms, but also generate higher average returns.

Cropping farm revenue and profits are lower in dry years, with large reductions in crop yields and only small savings in input costs.


Effect of climate variability on rate of return


Based on historical climate conditions (1950 to 2019), holding non-climate factors constant. See report for more detail. ABARES FarmPredict

In contrast, drought has a smaller immediate effect on beef farm revenue, because in dry years farmers can increase the quantity of livestock sold.

However, drought also lowers herd numbers, which lowers farm profit when herd value is accounted for.

Higher temperatures, lower winter rainfall

Australian average temperatures have increased by about 1°C since 1950.

Recent decades have also seen a trend towards lower average winter rainfall in the southwest and southeast.

This drying trend has been linked to atmospheric changes associated with global warming.

However, while global climate models generally predict a decline in winter season rainfall across southern Australia and more time spent in drought, there is still much uncertainty about what will happen in the long term, particularly to rainfall.

Climate shifts have cut farm profits

ABARES has assessed the effect of climate variability on farm profits over the period 1950 to 2019, holding all other factors constant including commodity prices and farm management practices.

We find that the shift in climate conditions since 2000 (from conditions in the period 1950-1999 to conditions in the period 2000-2019) has had a negative effect on the profits of both cropping and livestock farms.


Effect of 2000 – 2019 climate conditions on average farm profit


“Farm profit percentiles for the period 2000-2019 relative to 1950-1999, holding non-climate factors constant. See report for more detail. ABARES

We estimate that the shift in climate has cut average annual broadacre farm profits by around 22%, which is an average of $18,600 per farm per year, controlling for all other factors.

The effects have been most pronounced in the cropping sector, reducing average profits by 35%, or $70,900 a year for a typical cropping farm.

At a national level this amounts to an average loss in production of broadacre crops of around $1.1 billion a year.

Although beef farms have been less affected than cropping farms overall, some beef farming regions have been affected more than others, especially south-western Queensland.




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Like previous ABARES research this study finds evidence of adaptation, with farmers reducing their sensitivity to dry conditions over time.

Our results suggest that without this adaptation the effects of the post-2000 climate shift would have been considerably larger, particularly for cropping farms.


Effect of post-2000 climate on average annual farm profits


Per cent change relative to 1950-1999 climate, holding non-climate factors constant. See report for more detail. ABARES FarmPredict

Risk and income volatility have also increased

The changed climate conditions since 2000 have also increased risk and income volatility.

This is particularly so for cropping farms, where we find the chance of low-profit years has more than doubled as a result of the change in climate conditions.


Effect of climate variability on typical cropping farm


Distribution of farm profits for 1950-1999 climate and 2000-2019 climate. See report for more detail. ABARES FarmPredict

Handle with care – the drought policy dilemma

Drought policy faces an almost unavoidable dilemma, that providing relief to farm businesses and households in times of drought risks slowing industry structural adjustment and innovation.

Adjustment, change and innovation are fundamental to improving agricultural productivity; maintaining Australia’s competitiveness in world markets; and providing attractive and financially sustainable opportunities for farm households.




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For these reasons, the strategic intent of drought policy has shifted away from seeking to protect and insulate farmers towards the promotion of drought preparedness and self‑reliance.

The best options for reconciling the drought policy dilemma focus on boosting the resilience of farm businesses and households to future droughts and climate variability, including through action and investment when farmers are not in drought.

The government’s Future Drought Fund, which will support research and innovation, is a good example of this approach.

Developing new insurance options is one worthwhile avenue of research which could provide farmers a way to self-manage risk. It would require investments in data and knowledge to support viable weather insurance markets: where farmers pay premiums sufficient to cover costs over time.




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Supporting farm households experiencing hardship is legitimate and important, but for the long term health of the farm sector this needs to be done in ways that promote resilience and improved productivity and allow for long term adjustment to change.The Conversation

Neal Hughes, Senior Economist, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) and Steve Hatfield-Dodds, Executive Director, Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES)

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Climate explained: which countries are likely to meet their Paris Agreement targets



To keep temperatures from rising above 1.5℃ requires reducing fossil fuel burning by half by 2032.
from http://www.shutterstock.com

Robert McLachlan, Massey University


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Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.

If you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, please send it to climate.change@stuff.co.nz

Which countries in the world have met or bettered their Paris Agreement targets?

The 2015 Paris Agreement is much more than a one-off climate change deal. Its main aim to limit global warming to well below 2℃, ideally 1.5℃, was a breakthrough.

A follow-up report shows that keeping warming below 1.5℃ will require reducing fossil fuel burning by half by 2032. The 1.5℃ target has been written into New Zealand’s Zero Carbon Act.

But the ongoing process is also notable. Each country has registered a pledge (Nationally Determined Contribution, or NDC) to indicate how it plans to meet the agreement’s terms.

Without climate action, we are heading for 4.5℃ of warming by 2100. Current pledges, if fully realised, take us to 2.8℃.




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Countries have complete freedom regarding their target and how to achieve it. The NDCs will be revised every five years, first in 2020, and are required to be increasingly ambitious over time. The idea is that the international community can check the targets against performance and global goals. Best practice can be shared, and poor performance exposed.

This flexibility made it possible to get the agreement through, but it can be confusing. Targets have been set for different dates, from different baselines and for different types of emissions.

Countries may have good reasons for setting weaker targets – they may be starting from a low base, like India. Or they may have unusual emissions, like New Zealand’s large proportion of agricultural methane.




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So for each country we can ask:

  1. Does the target really reflect its highest level of ambition, as agreed in Paris?
  2. Is it consistent with 2℃ or 1.5℃ of global warming?
  3. Is it on track to meet its target?
  4. Will it ratchet up its ambition in 2020?

Let’s look at two large emitters, the EU and US, together responsible for 47% of historic, and 24% of current, emissions.

EU 2030 target: 40% reduction from 1990 levels

The European Union is on track for a 48% reduction, partly due to a collapse of heavy industry in Eastern Europe in the 1990s and more recently from a phase-out of coal. Despite this, because of lack of action on transport and buildings, and an increasing reliance on natural gas, the EU has been rated insufficient by Climate Action Tracker, an independent research unit founded in 2009 and partly funded by the German Ministry for Environment.

Last week, the new president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced plans for the EU to increase the target up to a 55% reduction, along with sweeping implementation plans. Some European countries are moving faster: Denmark, already down 32% on 1990 levels, has this month legislated a 70% reduction by 2030.

US 2025 target: 26% reduction from 2005 levels

So far the US is down 11%. The Obama-era climate plan would have achieved the 2025 target, but is now being rolled back, and the US will leave the Paris Agreement on November 4 next year, the day after the elections.

On the other hand, city and state-level actions and the continued decline of coal mean some further reductions in emissions are likely.

Now let’s consider two rapidly growing emitters, China and India, responsible for 16% of historic and 33% of current emissions.

China target: peak emissions by 2030

China is well on track to achieve this. Emissions actually levelled off for five years before rising again in 2018. China is the world’s largest installer of renewable energy, but also the world’s largest consumer of coal. It also funds a lot of coal power stations in other countries. China has announced it will greatly strengthen its target next year.

India’s 2030 target: reduce emissions intensity relative to GDP to 33% below 2005 levels

India is well on track to meet this, having rapidly moved into solar energy. Its target involves an increase in total emissions, but should be seen in light of India’s very low emissions of only two tonnes of carbon dioxide per capita. This is compatible with the 2℃ target.

Australia 2030 target: 26% below 2005 levels

Australia is presently only on track for a 7% reduction. But a decrease in forest clearance has masked the fact that emissions from fossil fuel burning have increased and are projected to increase further, to 8% above 2005 levels by 2030.

Australia has become the world’s third-largest exporter of fossil fuels, behind Russia and Saudi Arabia. On the other hand, many state governments have set ambitious targets and made either aspirational or legal commitments toward zero emissions.

New Zealand 2030 target: 30% below 2005 levels

New Zealand is projected to reduce by 15% under current policies, with the difference to be made up by purchasing carbon units from overseas. This may set up a clash with the Zero Carbon Act, which requires that “emissions budgets must be met, as far as possible, through domestic emissions reductions and domestic removals.” However, these figures mask the fact New Zealand is, most unusually, using “gross-net” accounting. The 2030 target is for net emissions (that is, including the carbon sink of forests), but is measured against their 2005 gross emissions. The target allows net emissions to grow by up to 24% and is woefully unambitious.

Using a different methodology, taking into account each country’s situation, performance, and plans, the Climate Change Performance Index found that the top three countries are Sweden, Denmark and Morocco, and the bottom three are Taiwan, Saudi Arabia and the US. New Zealand is ranked 34th and Australia 53rd of the 58 countries assessed.The Conversation

Robert McLachlan, Professor in Applied Mathematics, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Blue carbon is not the silver bullet the Coalition wants it to be



Mangroves can store large amounts of carbon, but by themselves they’re not a solution to climate change.
alexmerwin13/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Oli Moraes, RMIT University

The only Australian achievement on display at last week’s COP25 conference was “blue carbon”, paraded in three minor side events on including carbon stored in coastal ecosystems in national carbon reporting.

Blue carbon, which is the storage of organic carbon in mangroves, seagrasses and tidal salt marshes, is irrefutably important. But it is not a panacea for climate change. Australia has been using it as a smokescreen for inaction and a tool to bully our Pacific island neighbours.




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How much longer can the Coalition government defend inadequate climate commitments dependent on insufficient carbon conservation measures?

What is blue carbon?

Ecosystems like mangroves, seagrasses and tidal salt marshes are very good at storing carbon. They pull it out of oceans and atmosphere and store it in their roots and mud. It can remain there for thousands of years.

Mangroves in Fiji can store carbon in their roots and mud for thousands of years.
Oli Moraes, Author provided

Beyond carbon storage, these landscapes provide habitat, spawning grounds and nurseries for fish, invertebrates and turtle species. They also provide protection for coastal communities from extreme weather events and rising sea level.

Shrimp farming, coastal development and agricultural expansion are a global threat to coastal ecosystems. These areas are also susceptible to heat waves, cyclones and storms, which climate change is intensifying.

When mangroves, seagrasses and tidal marshes are cut down, cleared or degraded, the carbon that was safely stored in mud is released back into the ocean and atmosphere as blue carbon emissions, further contributing to global warming.

So, conserving blue carbon ecosystems is critical to avoid a potential blue carbon bomb. Coastal areas in small island states, like those in the Pacific, are particularly vulnerable.

How is Australia responding?

During 2017’s COP23 climate summit presided over by Fiji, the then Australian minister for foreign affairs, Julie Bishop, announced Australia would invest A$6 million in protecting and managing Pacific blue carbon ecosystems.

This pledge has been cited often over the past two years to demonstrate Australia’s commitment to action on climate change; most recently by the government’s inexperienced COP25 delegation led by Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison cited Australia’s support of blue carbon in a much-criticised speech to the UN in September 2019.

Not the caring neighbour we pretend to be

While it is undeniably important to protect blue carbon ecosystems, there are major problems with the Coalition’s approach that must be scrutinised.

Throwing money at blue carbon projects generates carbon credits, which nominally offset Australia’s emissions. Meanwhile, Australia remains one of the world’s largest polluters per capita and the third-largest exporter of fossil fuels.

Yet our government claims the moral high ground through modest blue carbon conservation efforts.

Most wickedly, the government’s own emissions data show Australia’s pollution continues to rise. It looks increasingly like we won’t reach our own inadequate targets of 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2030. The issue of Australia using carbon credits already earned under the Kyoto Protocol, which has been derided as exploiting a loophole, has been postponed until next year.

This is totally at odds with what regional leaders called for during the Pacific Island Forum in August. Earlier this month, former prime minister of Tuvalu Enele Sopoaga said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison “denies climate change is happening in the Pacific”.

It is completely disingenuous for our leaders to use blue carbon as an example of Australia’s support of our Pacific neighbours in the climate crisis.

The Paris Agreement will not force Australia to undertake ambitious climate mitigation until the late 2020s. We will then be forced to buy expensive international carbon credits through schemes like blue carbon conservation and restoration.

Rather than curbing our emissions now, Australia is sinking more research dollars into cheaper carbon credits to meet these future commitments. It’s clear Australia is bullying the Pacific into bailing us out on our failure to act.

Coastal ecosystems are getting squeezed between rising seas and human construction.
Oli Moraes, Author provided

Blue carbon is not a silver bullet

A UN oceans report released earlier this year highlights problems with countries depending on blue carbon as their main form of climate change mitigation.

The report says blue carbon would offset only about 2% of current global emissions and would not be an effective replacement for the “very rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions” required to avoid catastrophic climate change.

While recent studies in Australia found sea-level rise could improve coastal ecosystems’ ability to sequester more carbon, the UN report states: “[…] under high emission scenarios, sea level rise and warming are expected to reduce carbon sequestration by vegetated coastal ecosystems”.

If emissions keep rising, the speed and scale of climate change will overwhelm blue carbon ecosystems’ ability to adapt. This problem will be compounded by “coastal squeeze” as rising seas butt up against human infrastructure, leaving coastal plants with shrinking habitats.

This demonstrates the perverse reality Pacific islands now face.

Australia is essentially telling our Pacific neighbours, who are on the front line of climate change: “We will protect your coastal carbon sinks in the short term for international credit, while continuing to burn and export coal, oil and gas.”

In the long term, Pacific islands will be devastated and even destroyed by cyclones and storms. Because those mangroves won’t be able to adapt in time to the hot, acidic and rising seas.




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The Conversation


Oli Moraes, Research Officer, School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Attention United Nations: don’t be fooled by Australia’s latest report on the Great Barrier Reef


Jon C. Day, James Cook University

For some years, Australia has been on notice: the world is watching how we care for the Great Barrier Reef. The iconic natural wonder is the largest living organism on the planet. But its health is deteriorating.

In 2017 UNESCO, the United Nations body that granted the reef world heritage status, asked Australia to report back on how the reef was faring.

Australia this month submitted its latest report. It provides a wealth of information on many threats to the reef, such as water quality and crown-of-thorns starfish.

But the report’s overall message is that the reef’s world heritage values are fine and the threats are in hand, when the reality is far different.

Bleached coral on the Great Barrier Reef.
OVE HOEGH GULDBERG

A global jewel

The Great Barrier Reef was listed as a World Heritage Area in 1981. It was recognised as globally significant or, in the parlance of the world heritage committee, having “outstanding universal value”.

In ensuing years, a myriad of impacts have devastated the reef’s health. They include coral bleaching exacerbated by climate change, poor water quality from land-based runoff, and unsustainable fishing and coastal development.




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UNESCO considered listing the reef as “in danger” but in 2017 decided against it. Australia was asked to report back to show it was protecting the reef’s outstanding universal value.

But Australia’s report is deficient. It claims the reef “maintains many of the elements” that make up its outstanding universal value – yet its methodology fails to properly assess this.

Why the report is deficient

The report relies on assessments made by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority in its five-yearly outlook report released in August. Our analysis shows four flaws in that otherwise commendable report have carried over to the report to UNESCO.

First, instead of assessing the world heritage values themselves, the report assessed the four natural criteria for which the reef was granted world heritage status.

These four broad criteria cover the reef’s exceptional natural beauty; its evolution over millennia; its outstanding demonstration of significant ecological and biological processes; and its enormous biodiversity of habitats and species.

Each of these criteria comprise many “values”, or features. The outlook report assesses the status and trends of these values but fails to identify which are specifically world heritage values – which is what UNESCO really needs to know.

A photo depicting two threats to the Great Barrier Reef: coal ships anchored near Abbot Point and a flood plume.
Matt Curnock

Here’s an example. The biodiversity criterion encompasses coral reefs, sandy and muddy habitats, mangroves and seagrass, dugongs, whales, dolphins, turtles and birds.

For biodiversity, the report gives an overall grade of “poor”. But this obscures the fact large areas of coral – a key world heritage value – are in very poor health.

This method is used despite the federal government’s own legislation specifically requiring the reef’s world heritage values, not the criteria, be assessed.

Second, the latest assessment is measured against results in 2014. So it does not show the degradation since the reef was listed 38 years ago.




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Third, the report wrongly assesses the reef’s “integrity”, an important part of its outstanding universal value. Integrity refers to the “wholeness and intactness” of the area and its threats, and requires separate investigation. Instead, the report assumes the assessments of the criteria answer the integrity question.

Fourth, both reports fail to acknowledge Indigenous people’s links to the reef are clearly part of its outstanding universal value.

In essence, the report to UNESCO sends the message Australia is well in control of the threats to the reef. This is misleading, and does not accord with the 2019 outlook report which downgraded the reef’s prospects from “poor” to “very poor”.

These criticisms may seem semantic. But the report will be critical when the world heritage committee meets next year in China to assess how the reef is faring.

What the report should have said

The table below demonstrates a more logical and relevant way of reporting back to UNESCO. Information in the outlook report is rearranged in this example against one of four world heritage criteria.



CC BY-ND

If a summary against all four criteria, plus integrity, is necessary, it would be better presented as per the table below showing the grades and trends of all relevant values.



CC BY-ND



Read more:
The Barrier Reef is not listed as in danger, but the threats remain


Looking ahead

Problems with the government’s report to UNESCO extend beyond the issues outlined above. The government acknowledges climate change is the biggest threat to the reef, and limiting temperature rise to 1.5℃ this century is widely accepted as the critical threshold for reef survival.




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But the government’s report fails to explain how Australia is reducing emissions in line with this goal. A recent analysis suggests if Australia’s efforts were matched globally, warming would not be kept within 2°C, let alone 1.5°C.

Without clear and unambiguous information, the world heritage committee cannot draw an informed conclusion about whether the Great Barrier Reef should be listed as “in danger”. The listing would not fix the problems – but it might force Australia to act.


Correction: a previous version of Table 2 in this report contained outdated figures for the category “Habitats for conserving biodiversity”. The figures have been corrected.The Conversation

Jon C. Day, PSM, Post-career PhD candidate, ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.