AGRICULTURE IN A CHANGING CLIMATE:
The New International Research Frontier
3 September 2008
The Theatrette, Parliament House, Canberra
This is another of the Crawford Fund’s provocative free annual development conferences.
The Crawford Fund’s annual conferences highlight an important aspect of feeding and greening the world and we believe that this year’s event will be another in our series of thought provoking, well attended and nationally reported events.
The current global food crisis with escalating food prices and the risk of food shortages only adds to the urgency of our 2008 topic “Agriculture in a Changing Climate: The New International Research Frontier”.
Climate change is now accepted as a fact by most members of the Australian community. This acceptance provides a new climate for governments, decision-makers and researchers to assess the impacts and the necessary solutions across many important sectors around the globe, in our region and in Australia.
But many would argue that agriculture is the sector that is most affected by climate change and with a significant impact on climate change, and there are grave implications in developing countries and Australia not least of which relate to food security and economic prosperity.
Between one quarter and one third of greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, including deforestation. The Asia-Pacific region may contribute almost half of the agricultural emissions. So there is a real role for agriculture in terms of mitigating climate change but also a pressing need for agriculture to adapt to the new climate change environment in order to ensure improved food security.
Therefore, it is timely that the Crawford Fund’s conference should focus on climate change in 2008 in order to assist us to better understand the current position and what action is necessary, particularly in relation to the role of international agricultural research for development.
The conference will be about the impact of agriculture (including deforestation) on climate change, the potential impact of climate change on the distribution and productivity of agriculture, fisheries and forestry, and the need for ongoing and re-directed international research to mitigate these effects.
While all speakers will be given the task of presenting the current problems, they will also be focusing on the way forward. This year we hope to provide additional opportunities for audience participation and input, in addition to Q&A discussion, and conference proceedings will once again be produced.
And we have invited ACIAR to mount a photographic exhibition on the theme of agriculture, development and climate change.
BACKGROUND AND CONTEXT
Climate change caused by a build-up of greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide etc) is now a reality. The world is warming. Even if current rates of greenhouse gas production are reduced and atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations are stabilised at 445-490 ppm CO2 equivalents with emissions peaking by 2015, it is predicted that there will be additional warming of 2.0°C-2.4°C during this century. If emissions do not peak by 2015, other scenarios are significantly worse. This has grave implications for agriculture, forestry and fisheries, both in developing countries and Australia.
Of the annual emissions of greenhouse gases, about 30% is contributed by agriculture and deforestation. Agriculture is the principal source of methane and nitrous oxide emissions. Methane is generated chiefly by domesticated ruminants and rice paddy fields whereas high amounts of nitrous oxide are produced by soils. Deforestation produces very large amounts of carbon dioxide. CO2 production by farm tractors and machinery is trivial by comparison with these emissions. Collectively, the Asia-Pacific region that is the focus of Australia’s aid program may contribute almost half of the global agricultural emissions.
Conversely, climate change caused in part through contributions from agriculture also has a major impact on agricultural production. Extreme events (droughts, cyclones, floods) are likely to become more common. Lowland areas in tropical Asia may be permanently flooded, while in temperate Asia water shortages may become more severe.
The positive effects of increased CO2 levels on plant growth are well known. However, recent studies have shown that grain yields of rice and wheat are reduced as night temperatures increase, more than cancelling out the yield gains that might have been expected from higher levels of CO2. Climate change also has implications for where crops can be grown. Some scenarios suggest that in addition to reduced yields of rice and maize at low latitudes there will be shifts in global cultivation of maize and wheat towards higher latitudes. The centres of genetic diversity of major crop plants will be under even more threat than at present. Also, while it may save water, any proposed shift from conventionally-irrigated rice monocultures to rice/maize rotations and reduced-irrigation rice will have profound effects on soil organic matter and will potentially release large volumes of CO2.
Climate change will also affect livestock production through direct effects of higher temperatures on reproduction and health, and by indirect effects on the distribution of pests and diseases and on the quality of forage available to grazing animals. Fisheries, already under pressure from over-fishing and pollution, will be affected by changes in ocean currents and water temperature. These will affect fish distribution and migration, growth rates, population dynamics and genetic diversity. The distribution of weeds and of plant and animal pests and diseases will change; some environments will become more susceptible to invasions by foreign species which in turn can have dramatically deleterious impacts on agriculture and the environment. And of course, the impact of climate change on small farmers is of critical importance to the developing world.
These impacts will dramatically change the agenda for international agricultural research during the next decade.
The Crawford Fund conference will alert the Australian community to the potential impact of climate change on the distribution and productivity of agriculture in the Asia-Pacific region and Australia, and the need for ongoing and re-directed international agricultural research to mitigate these effects.
We have called on a group of outstanding international and national specialists on climate change and agriculture who will consider the key issues across agriculture, scenarios for a range of key industries, and what international agricultural research has to offer.
Our speakers include:
- The Hon Tony Burke MP, Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry;
- Ms Katherine Sierra, Chair, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research and Vice President for Sustainable Development at the World Bank;
- Professor Ross Garnaut, ANU’s Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, author of Garnaut Climate Change Review and Chair of the International Food Policy Research Institute;
- Dr Cary Fowler, Executive Director, the Global Crop Diversity Trust;
- Dr Mark Howden, Theme Leader, CSIRO Climate Adaptation Flagship;
- Dr Segenet Kelemu, Research Director, Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa;
- Dr Trevor Nicholls, Chief Executive Officer, CAB International;
- Ms Frances Seymour, Director General, the Centre for International Forestry Research;
- Professor Shaun Coffey, CEO, Industrial Research Limited, NZ; former Chief, CSIRO Livestock Industries;
- Dr Rob Lewis, Executive Director, South Australian Research and Development Institute;
- Mr Peter Core, CEO, of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research