The red meat industry, which represents farmers who collectively own more than 80 per cent of farmland in Australia, has been investing since 2017 in measures to achieve net zero by 2030.
Along with transport, agriculture is one of Australia’s largest emitters behind the energy sector. Last year it produced 12.9 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gases – down 5.8 per cent as farmers reduced their stock due to drought.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison highlighted in March the risks of setting an emissions reduction deadline without a detailed plan, and said he would not make a commitment “when I can’t look Australians in the eye and tell them what it costs”.
Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said he is working with the farm sector to reduce its emissions, but the government “won’t set a target without a plan”.
“Our technology not taxes approach means reducing emissions without imposing new costs on farmers or reducing their international competitiveness,” Mr Taylor said.
“Through the Emissions Reduction Fund, the Government has already committed over $2 billion to projects that reduce emissions in rural and regional areas, with more funding available under the $2 billion Climate Solutions Fund.”
Agriculture Minister David Littleproud criticised NFF for “blindly setting a course” for net zero without a strategy, which he said risked “serious implications not just on farmers but the entire nation”.
Labor’s agriculture spokesman Joel Fitzgibbon welcomed NFF’s policy and said there was now an “overwhelming” number of organisations committing to net zero emissions.
“I look forward to working with our growers and producers in their on-going efforts to both reduce and sequester greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.
Another member group of NFF, the Farmers For Climate Action group, which represents 5000 members, said ambitious goals are necessary.
“In business if you don’t set goals you never get anywhere… often it’s a case of politics catching up to the leading edge,” said Farmers for Climate Action chairwoman Lucinda Corrigan, who runs an Angus cattle stud in NSW’s Murray Valley. “It would be great to see the climate policy become even more ambitious.”
NFF’s climate statement said any net zero policy must benefit the economy and said “Australian farmers expect a greater focus on industry and government investment in integrating climate change solutions”.
Australia’s commitment to the Paris Agreement requires a national greenhouse gas reduction of at least 26 per cent by 2030, based on 2005 levels, and to reach net zero emissions by the end of this Century.
Paris also locks all member countries into following the “best available science” to achieve the emissions reduction required to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees – which climate experts say means hitting net zero global emissions before 2050.
Mr Taylor has committed to meet the 2030 target and has released a discussion paper on a technology roadmap, which he is aiming to make a “cornerstone” of that goal, and argues Paris requires Australia to reach net zero only in the second half of the century.
Representatives for power suppliers, the heaviest-polluting Australian industry, have endorsed a nationwide target to achieve “net zero” emissions by 2050, as have employer representatives the Business Council of Australia and Australian Industry Group, and big miners Rio Tinto and BHP.
The Reserve Bank of Australia has endorsed a warning that economic disruption under the trajectory of climate change will cause global GDP to fall by 25 per cent by 2100.
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Mike is the climate and energy correspondent for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald.