According to a recent report released by the Australian Government, the country’s agriculture, forestry, and other land use sector (AFOLU) accounted for approximately 104.1 MtCO2e (19%) of its total 2013 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (agriculture, 89.6 MtCO2e, and LULUCF, 14.5 MtCO2e).
Between 1990 and 2011, reductions in land clearing and removals from afforestation/reforestation resulted in a decline in emissions in the country’s LULUCF sector. Between 1990 and 2010, emissions from deforestation alone decreased by 68% due to economic conditions and regulatory changes. Future emissions from land clearing will depend heavily on the farmers’ terms of trade, which is defined as “the ratio of an index of prices received by farmers to an index of prices paid by farmers” (Australian National Greenhouse Accounts, 2013). In other words, higher prices for agricultural products would likely result in farmers increasing their land clearing efforts to allow for greater levels of production.
In 2010, the majority of emissions within Australia’s agriculture sector came from enteric fermentation (68%), followed by agricultural soils (17%), savanna burning (11%), manure management (4%), field burning of agricultural residues (0.4%), and rice cultivation (0.2%). Emissions from the agriculture sector are projected to increase to 94 MtCO2e in 2020. Livestock emissions (enteric fermentation and manure management) are projected to continue to account for the majority of the sector’s emissions, followed by emissions from agricultural soils and prescribed burning of savannahs.
While the abatement potential within Australia’s agriculture sector is relatively small (14 MtCO2e in 2020 and 25 MtCO2e in 2030), the abatement potential within the forestry sector (a subset of LULUCF) is significant (McKinsey & Company). Possible emissions reductions in the forestry sector are projected to be 109 MtCO2e in 2020 and 172 MtCO2e in 2030. However, the agriculture sector holds more cost-effective abatement solutions than the forestry sector, specifically with regard to emissions reductions from livestock.
Key Initiatives Within the AFOLU Sector
As previously mentioned, the implementation of regulations to restrict land clearing in New South Wales and Queensland has resulted in a steep decline in deforestation in those areas since 2003. However, recent revisions made to regulations in these areas (as well as in Western Australia) could impact future emissions reductions.
Additionally, a primary financing mechanism within Australia’s AFOLU sector is the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI), a voluntary carbon offset scheme that enables farmers and land managers to earn Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs) through GHG sequestration and mitigation projects. In order to be eligible to receive these credits, projects must pass the “additionality” test, proving that they will go beyond business-as-usual approaches to provide extra reductions in GHG emissions. As of January 2014, approximately 4.2 million ACCUs had been issued, amounting to 4.2 MtCO2e of avoided missions.
The Carbon Farming Initiative is expected to continue under the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan, indicating federal-level support for emissions reductions in Australia’s agriculture sector. However, challenges to emissions reductions in the AFOLU sector remain, including the profitability of the farming and logging industries, skepticism regarding the effectiveness of reforestation efforts, and the financial hurdles associated with abatement measures in the forestry sector. In sum, while emissions reductions in Australia’s AFOLU sector are worth pursuing, they must be accompanied by efforts to reduce emissions in the other high-emitting sectors, such as energy production. A multi-level and cross-sectoral approach, supported by Australia’s federal government, will be vital to achieving emissions reductions at the national level over the coming months and years.