Date released
24 March 2021

For Australia, addressing climate change is a particular focus of our international agricultural development, says Australia’s Ambassador for the Environment, Mr Jamie Isbister.

‘Climate change is a critical issue for many people in our region. There are small-island nations, in particular, that are likely to be severely impacted,’ he says.

‘The majority of people in the Pacific still rely on agriculture and fishing for their livelihoods and food security.

‘We will need to look at how we support communities impacted by climate change and how we can help them develop and evolve agricultural practices that are more resilient to factors such as sea level rise, higher temperatures and extreme weather.’

‘Helping our neighbouring countries to develop climate-smart agricultural systems will increase resilience, productivity and employment and, potentially, reduce greenhouse gas emissions.’

This focus on climate change was strengthened by Australia’s 2015 commitment to invest A$1 billion by 2020 in climate change solutions in developing countries. Australia exceeded this commitment, providing close to A$1.4 billion to support countries in the region, including with investments in the agriculture sector. In 2020, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced a new commitment of A$1.5 billion for 2020–25.

Helping international agricultural communities to tackle climate change has benefits for Australia as well.

‘Supporting overseas development in this space builds Australia’s reputation as a leader in science and agricultural research. A good reputation supports long-term trade and investment opportunities,’ says Mr Isbister.

‘Helping others cultivates our reputation as a “smart agricultural country”, which helps us export our knowledge, research and expertise. It’s a win-win.’

Reducing emissions overseas

Australia is committed to promoting a shift to lower-emissions development in the Indo-Pacific region. Many developing countries need technical and financial support to reach their climate change goals. Lower economy-wide emissions must be part of successful and sustainable economic development.

Australian investments have helped overseas agricultural communities to reduce their emissions and increase their productivity. Often, this has the added benefit of improving the bottom line for local farmers.

‘For example, we’ve invested in a project in Papua New Guinea with the Australian National University’s Climate Change Institute,’ says Mr Isbister.

‘We are working with smallholder coffee growers to look at ways in which more carbon can be sequestered. The aim is to help the coffee sector improve production practices and reduce emissions, and enable coffee growers to access the carbon market.’

Emissions are often a waste product from the production process. So, it’s no surprise that reducing emissions can lead to productivity improvements, and vice versa.

‘Another project we are supporting in Vietnam is called AgResults. Through AgResults we work with the private sector to develop new tools and technologies to reduce emissions in rice production. Some 23,000 smallholder farmers have been involved,’ he says.

‘The issue for paddy rice production is that poor on-farm fertiliser and water management lead to high emissions of methane and nitrous oxide—powerful greenhouse gases.

‘The AgResults project works with the private sector to scale out simple changes to farm practices that tackle this problem, resulting in a 10% emissions reduction as well as increasing rice yields by 8%.’

Helping neighbours adapt

Australia’s international efforts to reduce emissions are supported by its work to help developing nations adapt to climate change. For many small island neighbours, climate change and the associated rising sea levels, temperatures and the rising frequency of extreme events represent a significant threat. There is ample opportunity to utilise Australian research and expertise to mitigate climate change impacts.

‘In the atoll states of Tuvalu and Kiribati, we are helping rural farmers adapt to increasing soil salinity caused by rising sea levels. By adopting new raised garden beds and turning organic waste into fertile compost, farmers are now able to continue to grow traditional crops including taro,’ says Mr Isbister.

Investments in the Pacific region have also seen agricultural infrastructure built to withstand extreme weather conditions and rising sea levels.

‘In Gizo, Solomon Islands, we funded the construction of a new food market which sits well above projected sea level rises. And thanks to the Australia Pacific Climate Partnership Support Unit it has been designed to withstand a Category 5 Hurricane,’ adds Mr Isbister.

The market provides secure facilities for women to sell their produce, enabling them to engage in the formal economy and improve the livelihoods and health of their families. The design also includes a sustainable water supply and sanitation facilities, ramps for disability access and an affordable, secure clean energy supply. Even in the face of a disaster, the market is equipped to enable women producers to get back on their feet quickly and re-engage in their livelihoods.

Looking ahead

Climate change has exponential impacts. As more of these impacts in the next decade occur, the challenges for agriculture will become more difficult.

‘We’ll have to be looking at how we ensure developing communities have the latest technology to keep pace with climate change. Also, the Asia-Pacific is the most disaster-prone region in the world so we’ll need to develop strategies to help countries ravaged by disasters to build back better,’ says Mr Isbister.

And there are strategies that could turn these challenges around.

‘First would be uncovering cheap, clean hydrogen energy which accelerates the transition from fossil fuel systems to a zero-emissions system. That’s a game-changer,’ he says.

‘The other big breakthrough would be finding a way to improve transportation of agricultural products. The logistical element, including cold chains, can be an expensive and highly emitting part of the sector. This is where clean hydrogen energy will also help. If we can move to a future with ships, trains and trucks powered by clean hydrogen fuel cells, the agriculture sector can meet its transportation needs without emitting carbon.’ 

Key points

  • Australia is investing A$1.5 billion for 2020-25 in climate change solutions in developing countries.
  • In agriculture, solutions that reduce emissions and improve outcomes for farmers continue to be the target.
  • Investments are seeing agricultural infrastructure built to withstand extreme weather conditions and rising sea levels.