Can farming be excluded and still reach 2050 net zero?

The Morrison Government’s absurd position on climate change is slowly evolving. Gone are the denials about climate change replaced by a motley crew of rent-seekers. We’ve shifted from the coal fixation to a “gas-led recovery” which is twenty years too late and won’t work anyway given the gas supply cartel on the east coast. Now it’s about 2050 net-zero and carving up the pie among the mates accordingly. The media reports today that any net-zero acceptance will carve out trade-exposed emissions-intensive industries, including agriculture, a policy-driven by the Nats. Is such a thing possible?

The first observation we can make is that Labor’s carbon price did precisely the same thing. It wasn’t a great idea, doing serious harm to the efficiency of the mechanism, but that was the political reality.

Second, Climate Action Tracker is a good reference point:

Key findings

  • Accelerating the transition towards a renewables-based electricity supply by the 2030’s will bring large additional employment opportunities to Australia which, if combined with policies to incentivise more local manufacturing of wind turbines, solar panels and batteries, would reach 76,000 by 2030.
    • Renewable energy in electricity supply can reach 97% by 2030, 99% by 2035 and 100% by 2040.
  • Gas is not needed as a transition fuel, contrary to government claims
    • The share of gas for power generation would decrease from today’s level of 20% to around 3% by 2030, 1% by 2035 and gone by 2040.
    • Gas needs to be phased out globally by the 2040’s, with the LNG industry reducing emissions well before then.
  • There is no need for any increase in gas for power generation due to the increasing cost-efficacy of battery storage, pumped hydro, demand-side management and the integration of hydrogen and EV storage systems into the grid.
  • Coal-fired power can be phased out by 2030 in a planned and regulated process to enable a just transition – using renewables and advanced storage – without gas.
  • Electrification of transport and industry requires an increase in electricity generation by 2030 of 32% above 2019 levels, and a further 23% increase by 2040 above 2030 levels.
    • This enables electrification of end-use sectors, including EV’s in transport and green hydrogen for domestic use.
  • Accelerated climate action can halve Australia’s GHG emissions from fossil fuels, transport, industry and agriculture and other sectors (not including land use, land-use change and forestry sectors – LULUCF) by 2030, and reduce these to 90% below 2005 levels by 2050.
  • To fully reach a Paris Agreement compatible pathway strong action to halt deforestation by 2030 and maintaining forests for carbon storage through to 2050 will be needed.
    • By 2030 total GHG reductions of 66% by 2030 can be achieved.
    • Net-zero GHG emissions can be achieved by 2050
  • Land sector carbon storage is needed to outweigh remaining GHG emissions from hard-to-abate sectors, especially agriculture, and requires a balanced approach that protects biodiversity, water resources and avoids relying on carbon storage in the land sector beyond sustainable limits.
  • The Australian car and bus fleet can be close to 40% (38%) electric on the road by 2030 and, combined with the decarbonisation of the power sector, can be fully decarbonised by the middle of the century.
  • There is huge potential in decarbonising the buildings sector, so far untouched by any climate policies, promoting energy efficiency, and bringing other benefits, such as health.
  • Reductions of non-energy emissions in the agricultural sector, particularly of methane and nitrous oxide, are expected to be much slower than in all other sectors and will rely on enhanced agricultural management (e.g. manure management, improved livestock feeding practices, and more efficient fertiliser use) and other measures to achieve a 35% reduction of methane and nitrous oxide emissions by 2050.

The answer to the question can we exclude agriculture and still reach net-zero emissions by 2050 is largely yes. So long as other large scale transitions accelerate, in particular electricity and transport where Team ScoMo is still actively retarding progress with its ceaseless support for the gas cartel, QLD coal and near-total EV failure.

The answer will be an outright no if all trade-exposed sectors are included or no effective carbon pricing regime is installed to trigger scaled-up carbon abatement schemes in agriculture such as reforestation.

In short, I have severe doubts that the Morrison Government can do it.

David Llewellyn-Smith
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