What have farmers around the world done to compensate for emissions, and has it made any difference?
Agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions – in Australia it accounts for around 13 per cent. Australian farmers use a range of sustainable soil management techniques that encourage carbon sequestration in the soil as well as the growth of vegetation on their soil that also captures carbon. But farmers have delivered, indirectly, the vast majority of Australia’s emission reductions to date due to the state government’s ban on land clearing in NSW and Queensland since the mid-2000s.
So-called deforestation, which means more vegetation remained in place than would otherwise have been the case, has contributed around 90 per cent of the emission reduction Australia has achieved since the base year of measurement in 2005.
But government schemes to encourage greater emissions reductions in agriculture are underway, including the possibility of private investment incentives for landowners who plant more natural vegetation and use agricultural techniques to increase soil health and sequester more carbon.
The agricultural sector supports these initiatives. The National Farmers’ Federation has set a target for net-zero emissions by 2050, while the crop and red meat sector is pursuing a target for net-zero greenhouse emissions by 2030.
The stability of food supplies is expected to decline around the world as the climate warms and extreme weather events become more common, according to a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2019.
Global warming is already reducing rainfall in fertile areas, and extreme weather events such as fires, heat waves and floods are becoming more frequent.
In Australia, a joint study by the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO found that southern Australia had already lost significant seasonal rainfall. Winter rainfall has been reduced by 11 per cent in the south-east, and winter rainfall has fallen by 20 per cent in south-western Western Australia since 1970 compared to the previous 70 years.
How does the CO2-compensating credit market work?
Carbon offset schemes allow individuals and businesses to invest in environmental projects around the world – such as solar energy projects or replanting – to offset their emissions. Proponents of a CO2-compensating credit market argue that it has the potential to play an important role in smoothing the economic transition to a low-emission economy, while striving to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. But critics say they allow emissions to continue to mask a lack of global effort to reduce greenhouse gases without taking meaningful action.
Carbon compensation can be voluntary, such as paying extra when you buy a plane ticket to help fund the airline’s commitments for replanting projects or green energy financing. Or they could be compliance credits, the type used to meet legally binding ceilings for CO2 emissions – such as the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. For example, Norway has paid nations like Brazil and South Africa to switch to cleaner industrial fuels as a way to keep its own net-zero commitments.
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Are there standard measures across all countries that determine whether movement towards the goal is achieved?
Countries submit nationally determined contributions, known as NDCs, to the UN every five years. These contributions are national climate plans that highlight a country’s climate efforts, including climate – related goals, policies and initiatives that a government aims to implement as their contribution to global climate efforts. Under the 2015 Paris Agreement, these targets are expected to increase over time, but they are not binding. Commitments vary widely across nations, making it difficult to compare countries’ progress. For example, Argentina’s latest NDC says it will not exceed 359 tonnes of carbon dioxide by 2030, while Canada says it will keep its emissions 40 to 45 percent below 2005 levels in 2030.
What will Australia look like in 2050 and beyond if we do not achieve net zero?
CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology are planning longer fire seasons, heavier rainfall in parts of the country, rising sea levels and more drought. We will live in much warmer, fire- and drought-prone, dry conditions, and this will put increasing pressure on all aspects of our society: from housing to transportation, agriculture to health care. And the extent of that temperature rise will be governed by the amount of carbon emitted globally.
Although it is difficult to guess exactly what our environment will look like in the future, CSIRO estimates that by 2030, eastern Australia’s temperatures could be 0.5 to 1.4 degrees above the climate from 1986 to 2005, while in the southern parts of the country, including Victoria and Tasmania, temperatures could rise by 0.5 to 1.2 degrees above those in 1986 and 2005.
Everyday Australians are likely to suffer significant financial costs, including higher mortgage rates, if the nation resists global pressure for net zero emissions by 2050, Reserve Bank and Treasurer Josh Frydenberg warned earlier this year.
“Australians need to be very aware of the effects of this change in the financial markets because Australia is heavily dependent on foreign investors,” Mr Frydenberg told the National Press Club earlier in October.
Reserve Bank Vice Governor Guy Debelle reiterated the treasurer’s concern in a speech to financial advisers, noting that global investors would withdraw from emissions-heavy industries such as thermal coal, an export market currently worth about $ 21 billion a year.
What mechanisms will emerge from COP26 to monitor and enforce actions to achieve the goals?
So far, the countries have been asked to come to the summit with ambitious 2030 emission reduction targets consistent with reaching net zero by the middle of the century. To do so, COP26 has said that countries will need to speed up the phasing out of coal, limit deforestation, speed up the transition to electric vehicles and encourage investment in renewable energy. However, details of these mechanisms have not yet been released.
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Will the EU be able to effectively impose tariffs on non-performing countries?
The EU is considering imposing a tariff aimed at offsetting the price of carbon between domestic products and imports and reducing the risk of carbon leakage.
This term refers to when production costs are transferred from one country to another that has more lenient emission restrictions. The Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism would impose emission taxes on exports from countries that do not have a carbon price.
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