Australian agriculture: creating a climate of change for a changing climate

1 Jan 2009

Australian agriculture both contributes to and is vulnerable to climate change. It is Australia's second highest greenhouse gas emitting sector, although this does not account for carbon sequestration, and is the sector most vulnerable to climate change with production expected to fall in the absence of effective abatement action. Sustainable farm practices that mimic and enhance natural carbon and nutrient cycles are increasingly being recognised for their ability to sequester soil carbon; the area with greatest mitigation potential for agriculture, while increasing soil carbon levels improves soil health, resilience and buffering - potentially providing a mitigation and adaptation co-benefit strategy. By reviewing the literature and conducting a case study in south-eastern New South Wales, this research describes the natural processes that lead to soil carbon formation and assesses the mitigation and adaptation potential of sustainable farm practices. It identifies the influences and impediments to the adoption of sustainable farm practices and the likely effectiveness of the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme as a mitigation measure for agriculture. It finds that sustainable farm practices have significant mitigation and adaptation potential and derives ten key principles to guide practice decisions. It finds that the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme is unlikely result in significant low cost abatement due to agriculture's complex socio-biophysical nature and proposes a suite of complementary measures that provide a "carrot and stick" approach to facilitate and accelerate wider adoption of sustainable farm practices, both mitigating climate change and improving agriculture's resilience and capacity to adapt to climate change.

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