The IPCC has acknowledged that globally, greenhouse gas emissions must move rapidly to zero or below.
“To keep a good chance of staying below 2 degrees, and at manageable costs, our emissions should drop by 40 to 70 per cent globally between 2010 and 2050, falling to zero or below by 2100,” said the chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Dr Rajendrad Pachauri.
This is a big ask in a country that has gone backwards in climate action over the last few years.
The government’s preferred option for the Renewable Energy Target – currently the most effective in the suite of ‘Direct Action’ measured favoured by the government, will more than halve the future growth in renewables. The Warbuton review’s own modelling shows that this move will also increase electricity prices for the consumer.
With such reluctance even to continue with effective policy, how then do we meet the demands of the changing climate and the international community?
BZE has been researching the pathways to a zero emissions economy under the Zero Carbon Australia plan.
Following a packed Melbourne launch the latest report in this series, based on land use, was launched in Sydney last week. The land use sector is the only sector that can move Australia to beyond zero emissions through revegetation and sequestration activities.
Agricultural emissions in Australia could be responsible for over half of Australia’s total emissions. The land use sector has the most to lose, and the most to gain from climate change. Following discussion with farmers, it’s clear many of them are looking at ways they can stay on their land, and even make it more productive in the face of the changing climate.
There are those already revegetating their land, and experiencing the benefits of doing so. Others are looking to keep their topsoil, that otherwise blows all the way to Antarctica, with methods such as no-till farming.
Our research also found that just leaving native forests to recover could draw down more than 10 year’s worth of Australia’ total annual carbon pollution.
The recommendations in Land Use: Agriculture and Forestry are not radical – no more than the IPCC calling for global zero emissions is radical. They’re things that some are already doing, and that we must do if we’re to inhabit the planet into the future.
In fact one thing the fifth assessment report does very clearly is provide even stronger evidence that we’re already feeling the impacts of climate change. As if we needed it. We’ve already been in conversation with farmers who’ve been forced from their land, largely because of climate change. Farmers like John Pettigrew in the Goulburn Valley don’t bulldoze their 10,000 peach trees if there’s any hope of things improving.
We’re heading into a hotter, drier summer in a country where hotter, drier summers have become the norm. In fact over 75 per cent of Queensland & northern NSW are approaching four years of drought now, and the western districts of Victoria look set to join them.
Even the National Farmers Federation, based on ABARES data, acknowledge that “without actions to adapt to a changing climate and to mitigate the effects of greenhouse gases, Australian production of wheat, beef, dairy and sugar could decline by up to 10 percent by 2030 and 19 percent by 2050.”
One of the pathways identified in our paper is to reduce livestock by 24% in the intensive zone and by 16% in the extensive zone. This matches the trend of Australians overall eating less meat, and allows farmers to take control of their production before the decisions are taken out of their hands.
This number is fully encompassed by the controversial live export trade – meeting this target would still allow for consumption of far more meat than is healthy for everyone in the country.
The world is heading for a world that will be 4 degrees warmer in 2100. In this kind of world, one cannot imagine that we will still be clearing land, let alone burning coal and gas. As United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said “Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message”. “Leaders must act; time is not on our side.”
Many of those living with the impacts of climate change trying to live off the land are taking leadership on their own soil. BZE has taken the lead on devising the pathways that will lead to us to where science says we must be.
But it will be another type of leadership altogether – political leadership – that will determine the future of land use in Australia, and how that will impact on us all.
Dr Stephen Bygrave is CEO of Beyond Zero Emissions and adjunct Professor in the Faculty of Science at UNSW.