Australia’s emissions reduction burden shifting to political hot potatoes

“When you get into transport and agriculture you’re talking about a large number of small sources – with millions of cows, millions of sheep, millions of cars – which means that your pattern of change is a lot slower because you have to do lots of very small individual things.

“You can’t chop it off in, in big chunks like you can with closing a coal-fired power station.”

The federal government has committed to imposing a fuel efficiency standard for vehicle manufacturers aimed at encouraging them to sell more electric vehicles but is yet to finalise the final design.

“You need that standard to push hard enough such that all new cars are zero emissions by 2035 because we keep our cars for 15 to 20 years so the car that you buy in 2035 is potentially still on the road in 2049,” Reeve said.

Australian Farm Institute general manager Katie McRobert said Australian farmers are leading the global pack on emissions reduction and while further gains were still possible, they would be increasingly challenging.

“Australian farmers have actually done a lot of heavy lifting, with a great deal of work on practice change over the past three decades,” McRobert said.

She pointed to the example of farmers in the United States now being paid to change their cropping practices to be more effective in storing carbon in soils, when Australian farmers moved to conservation tillage 20 years ago for productivity gains.

McRobert said the “low-hanging fruit for agriculture has been plucked” and “the gains now are going to be really hard”.


Wei Sue, head of strategy at the Climateworks Centre think tank said while there were some relatively straightforward opportunities to cut emissions in agriculture, like swapping diesel equipment for new electric machines, other policies will be more challenging and affect consumers as well as producers.

“There are policy considerations that require more coordination – for example, reducing food loss and waste could actually have a big impact on things like reducing beef or cattle emissions and also fertiliser use,” Sue said.

“Put simply if we reduce the amount of food waste that we generate, we therefore reduce the amount of food we need to produce, to feed the same population.”

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said warned against forcing the heavy industrial companies he represents from doing all the heavy lifting.

“A much wider swathe of the economy will need to make investments and change practices to hit more challenging emissions numbers for 2035,” Willox said in response to government’s plan to work with the private sector to drive emissions reduction.

Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen announced in June that government would work with industry to produce, for the first time, plans to cut emissions from industries considered more challenging than the energy sector – but has stressed he is not contemplating emissions reduction targets for sectors of the economy.

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