Submission

To: Victorian Climate Change Green Paper

Made: September 2009

EFN represents farmers in Southeast Australia interested in sustainable farming in a social, environmental and economic sense. We represent mostly commercial farmers very concerned about the impact of climate change on farms, people and landscapes, loss of farm biodiversity and the loss of farmland and relatively natural areas to urban expansion. Our policies are available at www.environmentalfarmersnetwork.net.au.  In particular, we encourage strong greenhouse gas mitigation and adaptation to climate change. We strongly support State and Federal Governments developing market mechanisms that reward those landholders providing ecosystem services such as retention and protection of biodiversity on farms and carbon sequestration.

General Comments on the Green Paper

EFN congratulates the Victorian Government on the Green Paper initiative and understands that the State is constrained by Commonwealth Government initiatives especially the CPRS which override any State initiatives. We also recognise that the State has undertaken a wide range of actions to inform and empower the Victorian community to respond to climate change but would like to emphasise that all combined efforts to date are just a small first step in the process. We are in no position to rest on our laurels.

The State should at every opportunity ensure that the CPRS is designed to actually reduce our carbon emissions and undertake planning to ensure a rapid response as soon as the Commonwealth Act is enacted. EFN believes that agriculture should be included in the CPRS as soon as possible as we will miss out on the opportunities of the evolving low carbon economy.  This inclusion will need to be strongly supported at the State level by relevant research, development and extension

The most important point that EFN can make is to emphasise the urgency of action needed to combat climate change. The longer we delay, the harder it will be to cope. The southern states are already experiencing impacts of climate change. Primary production is on the front line in dealing with reduced rainfall and runoff in the last 15 years, extreme weather events, greater climate unreliability, associated storm and fire damage and failed crops. The impact on biodiversity if climate change continues on its current course will be devastating in southern Australia.

The impact on farmers and farming communities has already been severe especially in northern irrigation districts and adaption to climate change is already occurring. We expect that landuse change and associated demographic change will grow at disruptive rates. A 2007 survey by the Australian Institute of Family Studies found that 17% of farmers in drought affected areas were suffering mental health problems compared with 8% in non-drought areas. The State must monitor and address social and business issues associated with these changes while at the same time facilitate critical structural adjustments. Adaption to climate change has been occurring across the State especially in irrigation, cropping and grazing industries.

There is no doubt that farming businesses will continue to react and adapt to factors such as changes in international markets, financial/business considerations, labour availability, technology and especially climate. These factors will change rapidly as the carbon economy becomes the new business driver. For example fuel and fertiliser prices will increase, unsustainable water use will decrease and environmental impacts of farming will be heavily scrutinised. Matching appropriate landuse with land capability will be very important. Large areas of the State may be best suited to the farming of ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and biodiversity security.

EFN sees control of statutory planning and associated issues as one area where the State has effectively lost control and needs to radically rethink how to regain control of the continual urban and rural residential sprawl with its associated climate costs such as increased energy use, infrastructure costs and fire damage.  We understand that Planning issues are currently being reviewed and we have made a submission to this process. EFN believes that the quantity and quality of rural lands is critical to providing primary support and resilience to any climate change mitigation activities.

Our established institutions will be tested in the fire of global warming. Are they robust enough to cope? We suspect not. Even before the advent of climate change our approaches have encouraged a land use system which has highly suspect sustainability credentials.  We have an opportunity to change and leadership, not consensus, is essential.

A constant supportive message from government is required for the take-up of renewable energy and energy saving technologies. The rejection of a gross feed-in tariff has damaged community confidence, in both the governments support for household power generation and its decision making processes.

Particular Comments on Sections.

1.4 Our long term goals
The goals are too generic and aspirational. Perhaps this arises because they are not manifest from a strong and shared vision for the future of Victoria. EFN recommends that a hard-nosed, down to earth vision be compiled as part of the white paper to give the goals a proper grounding and direction.  

 

1.5 Our priorities
The document states at the bottom of page 12 that planning and infrastructure delivery is a State and Local Government responsibility and failure to address this area in the short term will make the transition to a low carbon economy more difficult and may limit the potential for gains from the sustainable buildings markets and public interest in liveable communities. The importance of planning warrants more discussion in the White Paper and specific references to the likely outcomes from the “Future Farms: Providing for Victorias Future Rural Land Use” discussion paper. Following is part of EFN’s response to the discussion paper.

 EFN is concerned that the continual encroachment into farm land of rural residential and urban subdivisions is having the following negative affects:

  • Imposing additional infrastructure costs on all levels of Government (roads, rail, schools, hospitals etc)
  • Increasing the area that cannot be effectively guarded against wildfires
  • Reducing the area of productive farm land that can generate ecosystem services such as food, oxygen, more resilient ecosystems, water catchment, etc
  • Impacting on biodiversity and water catchments (farm dams)
  • Increasing our total energy use and greenhouse gas emissions
  • Inflating land values making farming unviable
  • Restricting essential farming activities.

2.2 Our current emissions
EFN see that we as the Victorian community can only start to mitigate the effects of climate change by focussing first on emissions. As stated earlier, sequestration activities associated with rural land can support work on emission reduction, and can offer buffering, but the primary effort of government must be in emission reduction.

We reiterate your last paragraph on page 81:
“However, it is clear that changing our current patterns of consumption could prove vitally important for Victoria in addressing climate change.”

3.4 The built environment
The primary focus is missing; restrain urban sprawl.

3.6 Land use and forestry
EFN believe that the primary role of land is to deliver ecosystem services. We as humans are then able to use some of these for our personal use. The majority of these services however are required to keep the land habitable. The focus on the land and soil carbon cycle is strongly encouraged as a base tool to build our landscape use activities. Carbon compounds from photosynthesis fuel the ecosystems. Keeping a high flow of carbon into soil has a multitude of benefits beyond those of reducing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

3.7  Agriculture
The simple conclusion must be that the future of agriculture is based on integration of the carbon, water, phosphorus and nitrogen cycles. As mentioned above, carbon is the energy supply for agricultural products. If we do not get this right, agriculture is not sustainable and agricultural activities would provide undesirable emission of greenhouse gases.

4.1 Creating Opportunities.
What new sectors offer the greatest opportunities for Victoria’s green economy under CPRS?  EFN agrees that ecosystem services markets are important to farmers’ wellbeing and the State needs to quantify its commitment to the market in both the Land and Biodiversity and Climate Change White paper processes.

Whilst there are opportunities in developing sustainable food and farming systems there are also many challenges and the State will need an ongoing commitment to Research and Extension in this field to ensure we take the opportunities identified.
For example the measurement and storage of carbon on farm could become a critical issue when farming is included in the CPRS. Research into all aspects of carbon sequestration in soils on farms is vital. Aspects include measurement, best practices, soil biology, impact of drought and heat etc.

However EFN considers that the State’s role should be not to enable the next goldrush –like green industry, but to enable maturation to a sustainable economy where we no longer equate physical economic growth and greater throughput with economic development. In the farming sector this would include creating cyclic mineral flows, non-toxic methods, a reduction in agricultural area, a dramatic reduction in energy use, a dramatic rise in the efficiency with which we use energy and much more extensive accounting for the effects of economic activity… as acknowledged in the paper under “The Role of Government in Adaption”  … without government action to change the economic ground rules and expectations, we will only see slight improvement in environmental outcomes, because individual farmers will still be subject to the contradictory incentives: market forces requiring business as (nearly) usual, and responsibility as a citizen, requiring less resource intensive operations. 

4.4 Supporting adjustment to change.

Rural adjustment
EFN agrees that the State should provide support to communities and farmers where major adjustment is evident. The Government focus outlined in the sectoral case study on pages 61 and 62 is sound. As agriculture is 10% of the Victorian economy EFN assumes that the Government commitment to adjustment will be commensurate, but will also recognise the primary nature of primary productivity.  The apparent  independence of the high-tech and service parts of the economy from the growth of living things is achieved only through use of cheap (underpriced) resources.

Subsidising elite industries and low income individuals should not be done to an extent which completely removes the incentive to use less fossil fuel. This would completely undermine the aim of pricing carbon. 

As a general direction for guiding the adjustment to a low carbon society, EFN supports the policy of  taxing resource use and using these funds to promote a similar amount of economic activity in more sustainable sectors, ones based on labour, such as upgrade, repair and renovation through labour ( rather than new materials).

We support the comments of Greg Bourne in saying that economic planning has until now been based on the assumption of never ending expansion, and of finding new resources to exploit. Despite the stark evidence in front of us that this is impossible, we see the same thrust for endless growth in the green paper in the promotion of the idea that we can have “massive growth” in green products.  It is unlikely that these products would be completely green (sustainable), and we also consider that placing our hope in things massive is part of the same set of aims that have lead us to where we are. We suggest that government support transition to a much more efficient and effective economy.  If we do not do this we will trigger new unimagined environmental problems in our rush to implement massive “solutions” to our oversized human project on the planet.

 5.0 Adaptation

Research / Education
The communities’ ability to change is dependant on understanding and accepting the causes of climate change, having the support of research, education and facilitation to give confidence to adapt.

Regional support
Adapting to climate change issues are best addressed at a regional level and may be best served by a regional body that co-ordinates, enhances and provides support and advocacy on behalf of many local groups working in adaptation and mitigation.

5.1 Water Management.
The operation of water markets must take into account adverse environmental impacts and not as in the past group these into the externality basket.  Incentives for re-cycling of both urban and rural water resources should be built into the water allocation system.

5.2 Natural ecosystems.
Statutory planning instruments are needed to control the impacts of urban sprawl on remnant vegetation and ecosystems on private land.  Promote ecosystems service payments to land owners.

5.3 Emergency services
The congregation of peri urban development into clearly designated communities of higher density living will increase the effectiveness of emergency services and the safety thereof during deployment. Deployment ability of mobile strike teams to quickly attend emerging fires needs to be enhanced as extreme fire day incidents related to climate change worsen.

 6.0 A shared responsibility  
The White Paper should be much more explicit about roles and responsibilities. Who has the leadership role? Who has responsibility for the particular objectives? Who makes the rules?

6.3 Making decisions in a time of climate change
Climate change is bringing a lot more variability into our ecosystem activity. We have built most of our community and social structures (infrastructure) assuming a relatively low level of climatic variability. We need to build considerably more flexibility and resilience into out community and social structures.

The Environmental Farmers Network appreciates the opportunity to contribute to the White Paper process with this submission. We also note that many of our members have contributed either as individuals or in organised regional workshops.

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