Because greenhouse gases can’t easily be seen, it’s hard to know where a country’s emissions are really coming from. A foundational step is to have a national system of measurement, reporting and verification upon which mitigation options can build and policies can be established to help small-scale producers participate and benefit.
This is a top priority of the Global Research Alliance on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases (GRA), which ACIAR will be chairing on behalf of Australia for the next year. To help contribute to the goals of the GRA, ACIAR is collaborating with the New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industries to co-invest in a project to help four different countries develop and use their measurement, reporting and verification systems and support and learn from each other.
For the past two years, Australian researchers have been helping Vietnam and Fiji to identify the potential contribution that their agricultural sectors can make towards their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The experience has given Australian researchers pause for thought, as they recognise the need to first establish a comprehensive National Greenhouse Gas Inventory in both countries.
‘As soil and agricultural scientists we’re used to focusing on mitigation and emission-reduction options, but we quickly realised that a lot of work is needed to complete Vietnam’s and Fiji’s national inventories of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture,’ says Dr Natalie Doran-Browne, research scientist at The University of Melbourne.
‘Until you have a lot of confidence in the data and the processes used to collect it, then it’s putting the cart before the horse—you need solid baseline figures before mitigation can commence.’
Under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), countries are required to submit their NDCs: the contributions they can make to reduce greenhouse gases to achieve a global goal of climate change mitigation.
The inventory and reporting system was established by the United Nations to facilitate common responsibilities across countries, including to enable developing countries to access the climate finance needed to create the significant changes that may be required.
While the team has identified promising agricultural mitigation options for both countries, the ability of Fiji and Vietnam to make commitments to the United Nations, report on them and attract finance may now depend on strengthening the agricultural aspects of their national inventory systems.
This is why the team has commenced a subsequent project to identify and fill the most critical gaps for agriculture in these two national inventory systems. Joining forces with the New Zealand Agricultural Greenhouse Gas Research Centre, who have been conducting similar research in Indonesia and Kenya, provides a key opportunity for developing countries to learn from each other to help accelerate the process of inventory improvement.
A solid knowledge base
Luckily, Dr Doran-Browne and her colleague, Queensland University of Technology research associate Dr Elaine Mitchell, have found a substantial amount of work has already been done by a number of organisations to quantify greenhouse gases (GHGs) in Fiji and Vietnam, which has resulted in three national communications to the UNFCCC.
‘We chose the two countries because although they might look different, with Fiji in the very early stages of developing an inventory and selecting mitigation options and Vietnam much further down the path, we could see how the process would be similar,’ says Dr Mitchell.
‘Both countries are extremely cognisant when it comes to analysing the options for smallholder farmers. They realise that it’s not just the reduction of GHGs to consider; they must take into account the range of co-benefits associated with mitigation that include profitability and productivity, and soil health and food security for sustainable systems moving forward.
‘There are developed countries that could learn a lot from the dedication that both countries have to reducing GHGs—particularly Fiji, which has only a small amount of emissions from agriculture.’
The project has already developed a governance checklist that outlines the institutional framework required for implementing agricultural mitigation options and provides guidance that will promote equitable outcomes for smallholder farmers.
Fundamental to this is the establishment of centralised data points and regular collection of information, says Dr Doran-Browne.
‘They have an agricultural census every 10 years, but if we want to implement an inventory of GHG emissions that’s updated every two years and submitted every four years, then the figures really need to be gathered annually.
‘There’s a big emphasis on collaborating with global experts through the GRA and with in-country colleagues to identify what data they need to start collecting more regularly and storing in one place, so that it’s updated centrally rather than in a piecemeal way.’
Vietnam and beyond
Vietnam submitted its new NDC in September 2020 with increased targets for GHG reduction. Actions to reduce emissions from agriculture include replacing long-duration rice varieties with short-duration ones; increasing areas of integrated cropping; reducing the rate of field burning of rice straw from 90% to less than 30%; and collecting and treating organic livestock waste to make it into fertiliser.
Le Hoang Anh, Senior Officer at Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, says the project has provided valuable information for policymakers and scientists to consider when developing NDCs for agriculture, despite the setback of the COVID-19 pandemic having limited face-to-face interaction.
‘This has given us the opportunity for deeper discussion on managing emission reduction options for agricultural landholders in Vietnam, especially if the project provides more technical support for local experiences and field studies in the second phase,’ she says.
‘It will help us to understand and prioritise better the most promising mitigation options for cropping and livestock industries and show us the capacity gaps in the GHG inventory for agriculture.
‘Our two countries are active in emphasising the importance of agriculture and food security in the climate change agenda through the UNFCCC’s Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture, and we would expect that the outcomes of this project would be adopted by countries in South-East Asia and the Pacific region that are also very active in this area.’
Dr Doran-Browne says understanding and developing relationships both with the two countries and within them is critical.
Vietnam has a large bureaucracy with many levels but is very efficient, very organised and quick to respond, she says, whereas Fiji has a much smaller, more laid-back system of government that means senior bureaucrats are always available. They have an equal number of experts in the climate space.
‘To make a lasting impact we need to address the governance side so that when we’re looking to reduce GHG from the agriculture sector we can recommend specific mitigation practices.
‘But in order for that to be reflected in the national inventory, there needs to be connections in particular departments—the Ministry of Agriculture needs to liaise with the division that manages climate change, for example—and all these connections have to be made for research on the ground to go through to policy level.’
The potential to implement some of the processes used to offset greenhouse gas emissions from Australian agriculture are still a way off, says Dr Mitchell.
‘To implement a Carbon Farming Initiative with credits like Australia’s we need firstly a baseline set of measurements and then a rigorous measurement, reporting and verification system to ensure the delivery of credits over the project period. We have that policy framework but there are many steps that need to occur before that can even start.’
There are also geographic and climatic differences to contend with.
‘Vietnamese agriculture in particular covers many ecological zones and the climate has a big impact on GHG outputs, so if you’re using generic emission factors across the whole country, they need to be further refined to reflect what’s happening in different zones,’ Dr Doran-Browne explains.
‘Sometimes the data is there but it hasn’t been processed through government levels and delivered to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to have it recognised.’
Until you have a lot of confidence in the data and the processes used to collect it, then it’s putting the cart before the horse—you need solid baseline figures before mitigation can commence.
Dr Natalie Doran-Browne, The University of Melbourne
Both countries are committed to the project and keen to formulate their own inventories, she says.
‘The National Greenhouse Gas Inventory of non-OECD countries is usually assessed by an international consultant but there is a strong desire in these countries to be independent—to do the initial work themselves before the audit.’
Initial project workshops in Hanoi, Vietnam, and Suva, Fiji, were well received but the COVID-19 pandemic put a stop to in-country visits in 2020.
‘We’ve had a really good reception from people and our in-country farmers to what we’re trying to do but, while we can communicate well through online meetings, we’re hopeful of holding more workshops and bringing some people to Australia to meet the National Inventory team in the future,’ Dr Doran-Browne says.
- Before a country can embark on reducing its greenhouse gas emissions it needs a system to measure, report on and verify its emissions.
- ACIAR partners are establishing and supporting processes for measuring, reporting and verifying agricultural emissions.
- This work aims to identify the capacity gaps in each countries’ GHG inventory for agriculture emissions and the most promising mitigation options.