Australia's "some polluters pay" principle

Land-clearings to grow crops have become increasingly inaccessible to farmers

Published: Friday 31 December 2004

-- (Credit: Griffith Unversity)Australia's farmers are bearing the burden of reducing the country's carbon emissions all on their own. While the government has imposed strict regulations on the farm sector in this regard, causing them a loss of over us$467.8 million, it has allowed other carbon emitting activities, like the functioning of coal-fired power stations, to flourish unhindered.

"Farmers are taking all the cuts without any recompense because the government has failed to create a viable carbon trading system. They are the one sector of the Australian economy that has so far felt any real impact from climate change policies," says Mick Keogh, executive director of the Australian Farm Institute, a privately funded think tank. Restrictions have been imposed on land-clearing in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia, bringing down annual carbon dioxide (co2) emissions from 120 metric tonnes to 40 metric tonnes. "By banning land-clearing, the states have created for themselves a fairly significant amount of credits," Keogh adds. But they have allowed other sectors to emit more co2.

Australia hasn't ratified the Kyoto Protocol, the global pact to fight climate change, under which it would have had to limit carbon emissions at 108 per cent of the 1990 level. But it would anyway need to achieve significant reductions, matching the target to prove its sincerity towards fighting global warming.

"The transport sector and the stationary energy sector, which is basically the coal-fired electricity generators, are currently producing about 130 per cent of their 1990 emission levels. They are continuing to grow," Keogh points out. One reason behind the government's favouritism could be the economic benefits it derives from electricity generation. The abovementioned three states earned more than us$701.5 million in dividends from the sector in 2001-2002. Keogh suggests introducing an emissions scheme under which co2 emitters like power stations could purchase credits from farmers. He says such an arrangement would be equitable.

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