Australia’s Emissions Trading Scheme and Animal Agriculture

For WP intergalactic readers, the emissions trading scheme (EMT) is basically an attempt to bring the economy in line with environmental imperatives; to set real prices that include the environment in the ‘bottom line’ of businesses; and to make sure that the market helps achieve a quick transition to a sustainable economy.

This post makes a couple of quick suggestions regarding how to quantify emissions in Australia’s agricultural industry.

Under an EMT Industries that currently exploit the environment by polluting the atmosphere with greenhouse gases will become less viable, while those that enhance the environment by mitigating climate change will be made more so.

Sill, it seems that a tremendous amount of industry pressure is and will be leveraged to make sure that certain industries remain unaccountable. Age old ploys such as emotional appeals to ‘national interest’ are being made to attempt to circumvent this responsibility.

As climate change is a global problem the solution must also be globally inclusive. Economic imperatives for the nation must also be viewed in an objective sense. If each part of the world continues to look at its interests subjectively, as if it were isolated, then he problem will continue until it is unsolvable – and we don’t know when that point will arrive.

Ideas for Australia’s Emissions Trading Scheme

The “cap and trade” scheme, in which total emissions are capped and permits issues up to that cap, seems like the best overarching design. However there are a multitude of questions that are now puzzling policy makers such as Ross Garnaut. Here are just a few ideas relating to animal agriculture, which contributed around 30% of Australia’s GHG according the the CSIRO’s ‘Balancing Act’ 2005 report.

Primary Livestock Emissions Sources and Methods for Quantifying

  • The animals and their waste
  • Fertilizer for crops and feedcrops
  • Land clearing (which makes up about half of the agricultural emissions)

Quantifying Emissions

The main questions about the upcoming EMT revolve around the point of responsibility and quantification of emissions. It seems that individual farms are too small an entity to enable cost efficient monitoring, and individually their emissions may be too small to be efficiently counted. Here are some suggestions regarding different ways to account for the emissions of animal agriculture:

1. Animal Direct Emissions

Certain emissions can be counted by the animal, such as those related to methane excretion. This factor will vary according to breed and diet and a classification system for the animals could be created based on these differences. These emissions would be accounted for and paid for at the abattoir.

Thus in one step, a very large percentage of the emissions from the entire agricultural sector can be accounted and paid for.

The dock must also be a point of consideration, more on this in the last section.

2. Land Clearing Indirect Emissions

In Australia the vast majority of land clearing occurs directly for the livestock industry, mostly for grazing but also for feedcrops. This land clearing will obviously cost carbon credits.

Australia used to be mostly woodland forest. Without a massive export-oriented agricultural sector (that makes little economic impact) it still would be a massive carbon sink. I think there should also be a cost on using land that has been cleared in the last 100 years: ie., not revegetating or foresting land but keeping it cleared. There should also be assistance in the form of resources made available to rural businesses that wish to involve in revegetarion / afforestation.

“NSW has a large area of land that is potentially plantable to new forests. In many areas these forests will also contribute to the control of dryland salinity. Hence, planted forests can now play an even more important role in farm management.” NSW DPI, (Forests and the Greenhouse Effect)


Emissions costs for Agricultural fertilizer could be wound into the costs of the wholesale product. It would not need to be accounted for at any other point of call seeing as if it is bought, it will be likely be used.

International Cooperation

Internationally we should be a leader and try to beat our emissions targets 200%. Seeing as the science is unsure of what changes climate change will bring, but is sure that it is speeding up exponentially due to unforeseen positive feedback loops, it is better to play it safe and encourage the world to do so too.

Economic Responsibility?

Carbon Trading should be implemented so that our targets are easily met and with as little concessions to particular industries as possible. There is a weakness in the current models being proposed, which include exceptions to the rules to ensure comparative advantage, and also to ensure that GHG heavy industries are not simply outsourced to countries without EMTs:

In taking the lead before an effective international agreement is in place, it is also vitally important that a domestic scheme does not undermine Australia’s competitiveness and provides mechanisms to ensure that Australian operations of energy-intensive trade-exposed firms are not disadvantaged. (About the ETS)

The way around this weakness, which is a significant weakness which will damage our efforts to deal with climate change, would be to monitor and tax imports that are not covered under foreign EMTs.

The creation of a government agency to monitor the importing of carbon heavy products would help apply import taxes regarding carbon emissions in the country of origin. For example, beef grown in nations without EMTs might be much cheaper. In these cases import origin must be monitored and an import tax imposed accordingly – so that no unfair and environmentally damaging opportunities exist.

The most extremely environmentally damaging and unnecessary industries such as the Livestock industry, will feel this transition hardest. Seeing as people don’t physically need to eat meat it should not be feared that the industry will shut down altogether. No special considerations should be made, on the basis of a minority’s emotional attachment to certain ideology.

Posted on June 21, 2008 Modified June 21, 2008