With the Coalition government's two parties negotiating terms for a commitment to reaching net zero carbon emission by 2050, a new report from the Grattan Institute says farmers should not be exempt.
The report by the institute's Tony Wood - Towards net zero: Practical policies to reduce agricultural emissions - shows that the agriculture sector was responsible for 15 per cent of Australia's greenhouse gas emissions in 2019, emitting 76.5 million tonnes.
Cattle and sheep account for 75 per cent of emissions in the sector. Assuming herd numbers recover from recent years of drought, emissions are projected to rise, reaching 82 million tonnes by 2030.
But agriculture is one of the most difficult sectors in which to cut emissions, even as it one of the industries that has been hardest hit by the already changing climate and rainfall patterns.
Including agriculture in any net-zero target is necessary if Australia is to reach net zero across the economy, Mr Wood said. Doing so will reduce the risk of Australian exporters being subjected to future carbon tariffs from other nations.
"Net zero by 2050 is a tough target and the climate clock is ticking. An economy-wide carbon price would be the best policy, but we can't wait around for that."
Australian farmers stand to benefit considerably from actions that reduce emissions and limit climate change, he said, but curbing emissions today is the key to maximising this economic opportunity.
The view is supported by groups like Farmers for Climate Action, which believes changes can boost farm productivity and profits by scaling up initiatives, including around land use and management, already under way.
Fiona Davis from Farmers for Climate Action says building resilience into our farm businesses, our sector, our communities and our democratic and economic models is essential.
"Much of what needs to be happening - planting trees and ground cover on non-productive land and within productive systems, adopting best-practice grazing management - is already underway. We just need to scale it up."
Mr Wood proposed encouraging deployment of lower-emissions technology and practices today, and spending the decade wisely to allow for more effective technology and policy in future.
Smarter land management can boost farm productivity and store carbon, creating carbon credits that will be in-demand as the economy approaches net zero.
The more that farmers can reduce emissions, the fewer credits they will need to offset their own emissions, and the more they can sell to others - diversifying their revenue stream.
Mr Wood's proposals for actions that can be taken now including encouraging farmers to deploy low-emissions technologies and practice, with the federal government investing in a multi-decade outreach program to support farmers on how to practically reduce farm emissions and secure resilient income streams.
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