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Published: 25 Jul 2019

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Rachel Brown, Sustainable Dairying Adviser

Cape Grim Air Monitoring Station at “Woolnorth” is one of three baseline stations around the world that monitor greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere.  Cape Grim Baseline Air Pollution Station first began measuring the changes in the composition of Earth’s atmosphere in April 1976 and has been in continuous operation ever since.

GAW Network

Greenhouse data from Cape Grim is updated monthly and is available at https://www.csiro.au/en/Research/OandA/Areas/Assessing-our-climate/Latest-greenhouse-gas-data. Graphs are available for carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide.

The graph shown below indicates carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere at Cape Grim are above 406 ppm (parts per million). Atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations were reasonably stable (typically quoted as 278 ppm) before industrialisation during the 1800’s.

Since industrialisation (measured from the mid-18th century), atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations have increased by 46%, as recorded in measurements from Cape Grim and from measurements obtained from Antarctic ice cores.

CO2 levels

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The molecular shape and structure of greenhouse gases means they trap solar heat radiating from the Earth’s surface, acting like a giant blanket surrounding the Earth.  The Earth’s climate is changing as oceans that drive our climate systems are warming.

It is estimated the current rate of warming will result in an increase in world temperatures of 4°C by 2100 which is drastically above the Paris Agreement goal of keeping the global temperature rise to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

A recent article in the Australia Financial Review (November 2018) has warned that at 4°C of warming we will be at the point where the world is “pretty much uninsurable”.

The latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, October 2018) states that to limit warming to 1.5°C we need a 97% reduction in energy from coal and a 97% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.

We are at the point where everybody needs to know. In the words of Professor Mark Howden (agricultural scientist and IPCC climate scientist): Each year matters * Each half a degree matters * Each choice matters

Farmers for Climate Action is a movement of farmers, agricultural leaders and rural Australians working to ensure farmers are a key part of the solution to climate change.  Check out their website (www.farmersforclimateaction.org.au) for excellent resources about managing climate risk in agriculture.

Some things you can do to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on your farm:
  • Feed stock high quality, balanced diet
  • Manage a healthy cow to promote longevity
  • Avoid over application of nitrogen fertiliser – right product, right rate, right time, right place
  • Conduct an on-farm, all fuel energy assessment to identify energy saving opportunities
  • Use renewable energy technologies