Article by: Hari Yellina (Orchard Tech)
Political momentum is growing in Australia to cut greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero by 2050. On Friday, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was the latest member of the federal government to throw his weight behind the goal. However, for Australia to achieve net-zero across the economy, emissions from agriculture must fall dramatically. Agriculture contributed about 15% to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 – most of it from cattle and sheep. If herd numbers recover from the recent drought, the sector’s emissions are projected to rise.
Cutting agriculture emissions will not be easy. The difficulties have reportedly triggered concern in the Nationals’ about the cost of the transition for farmers, including calls for agriculture to be carved out of any net-zero target. However, as our new Grattan Institute report today makes clear, agriculture must not be granted this exemption. Instead, the federal government should do more to encourage farmers to adopt low-emissions technologies and practices – some of which can be deployed now.
Many farmers want to be part of the climate solution – and must be – for three main reasons. First, the agriculture sector is uniquely vulnerable to a changing climate. Already, changes in rainfall have cut profits across the sector by 23% compared to what could have been achieved in pre-2000 conditions. The effect is even worse for cropping farmers. Livestock farmers face risks, too. If global warming reaches 3℃, livestock in northern Australia is expected to suffer heat stress almost daily.
Second, parts of the sector are highly exposed to international markets – for example, about three-quarters of Australia’s red meat is exported. There are fears Australian producers may face a border tax in some markets if they don’t cut emissions. The European Union, for instance, plans to introduce tariffs as early as 2023 on some products from countries without effective carbon pricing, though agriculture will not be included initially.
Third, the industry recognises action on climate change can often boost farm productivity, or help farmers secure resilient revenue streams. For example, trees provide shade for animals, while good soil management can preserve the land’s fertility. Both activities can store carbon and may generate carbon credits. Carbon credits can be used to offset farm emissions, or sold to other emitters. In a net-zero future, farmers can maximise their carbon credit revenue by minimising their own emissions, leaving them more carbon credits to sell.