National Farmers Federation proposed Net Zero Emissions target by 2050

RGA's Environment Manager, Neil Bull encourages rice growers to give feedback

The National Farmers Federation (NFF) is considering including an Australian wide Target of net zero emissions by 2050 in its Climate Policy. The Ricegrowers' Association (RGA) as a commodity group member of the NFF has representation that conveys the RGA position to the NFF on the whole raft of policies that the NFF develops. 

In relation to the NFF net zero emissions target policy position, the RGA Environmental Sustainability Committee has suggested obtaining broader RGA membership feedback before finalising the RGA position. This article aims to provide background information for RGA members to consider and then provide feedback to the RGA Environmental Manager. So that the RGA can finalise its position in relation to setting this aspirational target. More detailed information can be provided on request.

What does net zero emissions mean?
Net zero emissions refers to a zero balance of all greenhouse gas equivalent emissions against the quantum of carbon emissions sequestered from the atmosphere. Sequestering emissions could be achieved through vegetation works, soil management, blue carbon and other negative emissions technologies.
Would it be a done through a fixed target or an aspirational target?
The proposed target is aspirational - not fixed i.e. a target to set a goal or to aspire to achieving. The aim of setting an aspirational target by the agriculture sector is to keep the sector involved in government policy development and avoid the unintended consequences and allowing access to opportunities. 

Is the proposed target meant to cover the individual farm, the agriculture sector only or for all of Australia’s emissions?
The proposed aspirational target is an Australian economy wide target. The intent for agriculture is to not require that every farm would have to have net zero emissions. That farms’ emissions could be balanced by sequestration in alternate locations.

Why would you set such a target?

  •  In December 2015, 195 countries including Australia, under the banner of the United Nations Framework Convention negotiated the “Paris Agreement” which aims to hold the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C and pursuing efforts to limit it to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and to increase the ability to adapt to climate change. Specifically, the Australian Government committed to implementing an economy wide target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.  The Paris Agreement specified that to achieve the long-term temperature goal, countries should aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible to achieve a balance between emissions and removal by sinks in the second half of the century.
  • There is an opportunity for Australian agriculture to contribute to our national emissions reduction goals. This opportunity requires innovation to reduce the emissions intensity (units of CO2E emissions/ton agricultural product) and to enable farmers to efficiently participate in carbon markets.
  • As every Australian state has signed up to a net zero emissions target by 2050; this policy aligns with those of all states.
  • Australia’s Research and Development Corporations (RDCs) have recognised the need to work together on matters of strategic national importance by developing and delivering program-scale co-investments. The Council of Rural RDCs (this includes AgriFutures) has agreed to develop a co-investment program that can address climate adaptation, preparedness and resilience for rural industries. The initial stage of the project will include working with stakeholders to identify key challenges and areas of response. The investment program is anticipated to run for 5-7 years with potential for extension, and feature RDC contributions of $15-20 million per year. Level of funding will be determined based on the work required. The design phase is planned to be completed during the next six months to allow for consideration of the investment proposal as part of the budget cycle for 2021-22 and beyond.

If such a policy is formalised what protections would be included to protect the agriculture sector from adverse impacts from the policy?

The policy is to be reviewed by 2025 to confirm that there are identifiable and economically viable pathways to net neutrality, including impacts from inputs such as energy.
With ongoing reviews every 5 years to ascertain if technological and economically credible pathways to achieve this target remain evident and that Commonwealth and State legislation is effective, equitable and advantageous to deliver on ground programs that benefit agricultural interests and do not provide unnecessary regulatory impediment.

Suggested key elements of a Climate Change Policy for the agriculture Sector

Government policies must reflect a system-wide effort to transition to a low carbon economy and:
acknowledge that mandatory cap and trade policies are not suited to the farm sector, and specifically excluding the sector from such schemes;
recognise that more than 75% of Australian agriculture produce is exported, and that as a trade exposed sector we must remain competitive within international markets;
support adaptation and ensure that agricultural productivity and farm business profitability can be sustained with changing climatic conditions;
balance production and emissions policies, by adopting the principle of emissions intensity for agricultural emissions;
focus on innovation and investment in climate research and development that drives innovation and builds resilience;
embrace the opportunities for emissions reduction and sequestration in the farm and forestry sectors and facilitate participation of farmers and foresters in carbon markets;
acknowledge the role of vegetation and soil carbon in carbon sequestration via full commercial/compensation systems for agricultural land sequestration (both historical and current)
ensuring that vegetation management policies do not burden farmers with the cost of achieving emissions reduction goals, nor unreasonably restrict development; and
ensure that energy policy and regulation is coordinated so that growth in the use of renewable energy does not result in unintended energy price distortions.

What are the risks of setting this target?
There has been some criticism that agreeing to this policy position will give governments’ power to impose costs associated to meeting the target on to farmers. Please see the proposed protections above and provide feedback.
Others believe proposing a target is displaying a message of under-performing by the agriculture sector in the area of emissions. The agriculture sector is not under-performing.  For the period 1996-2016 the sector reduced greenhouse gas emissions intensity by 63 per cent.  This information and additional details of the agriculture sector’s current performance could be included in the policy. 

It has been suggested that the agriculture sector ensures it maintains its capacity to sequester emissions from its own production if payments are received from other sectors to sequester carbon.

Please contact Neil Bull RGA Environment Manager on 0428 603 557 or for more information or to provide your feedback.