Carbon target too hard to hit

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Bill Sykes has been actively striving to reduce emissions for more than three decades.

Meat & Livestock Australia should immediately scrap its carbon neutral by 2030 target for the red meat industry.

It should replace it with a more realistic target of carbon neutral by 2050 in line with the Australian target and that of many major trading partners.

That’s the view of Bill Sykes and he has written to MLA calling on the new managing director Michael Crowley to take this action.

Dr Sykes, a beef cattle farmer, veterinarian and former Victorian MP, has been interested in climate change and has been actively striving to reduce emissions for over three decades.

Dr Sykes said when he was an external research coordinator for Meat Research Corporation, he liaised with climate change scientist Mark Howden, who with others, produced a report for the corporation on greenhouse gas emissions from Australian beef and sheep industries in 1994.

“I recently re-read the report which in summary states that the Australian Sheep and Beef industries produce about eight per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and 0.32 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions,” Dr Sykes said.

“The report also said that Australia should focus on policies that reduce emissions by efficient sustainable agricultural practices which should be able to be implemented at little or no cost and that Australia should encourage international and national policies to focus on major emission sources.

“This advice remains relevant today.”

Cattle grazing under agroforestry

Mark Howden was awarded a Nobel Prize in 2007 for his work on climate change and has continued to be a world authority on the subject.

Recently he has been quoted as stating: “We don’t have the technologies to go to net zero in agriculture, but we do have the technologies and management to make a significant reduction.”

Mark Howden joins Mark Woonton, sheep and beef producer from western Victoria; Richard Eckhard, globally recognised climate change scientist; and Harvey Gaynor, chief executive officer of Paraway, a large beef and sheep operation with 500,000 head of cattle and sheep, all stating that carbon neutral cannot be achieved without a significant technological breakthrough.

“This view is shared by many others,” Dr Sykes said.

“Further, if and when we get the technological breakthrough, there will be a lag of many years before there is widespread adoption sufficient to significantly reduce national livestock carbon emissions.

“Further, MLA has acknowledged that falls and later increases in livestock emissions two to three years ago were due to falls and rises in estimated livestock numbers.

“More recently, MLA has acknowledged that the reported 78 per cent drop in emissions from the livestock industries is due to decreased tree clearing and increased vegetation growth due to higher rainfall. (Note these figures are being questioned by experts.)

“Further, MLA acknowledges that much of these gains will be lost when the weather pattern returns to the more normal drier seasons,” Dr Sykes said.

“The bottom line is producers must maximise efficiency and sustainable production which will also reduce carbon emissions.

“A focus on improved fertility and average daily liveweight gains are priorities.

“Governments and industry must support well-targeted research and argue the case for carbon neutral efforts to focus on the major carbon emitters.”

According to MLA, in 2021, net CO2 emissions of the beef industry were reported to have fallen 78.2 per cent since the baseline year of 2005, a significant improvement on the 64.1 per cent reported for 2020.

Australian Beef Sustainability Framework Sustainability Steering Group chair Mark Davie said the reduction was immensely positive and extremely complicated as the industry strives towards the target of being carbon neutral by 2030 (CN30).

“The beef industry has been working hard for many years to avoid and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so this is a testament to everyone in the beef value chain who has been implementing practical solutions while continuing to produce the highest quality product for consumers,” Mr Davie said.

“But this figure represents a single point in time in 2021 when carbon sequestered through vegetation was very high as the landscape responded to drought-breaking rain.

“The picture is made more complex by the fact that methane emissions rose in line with a rebounding national herd and that soil carbon sequestration is not accounted for in the current methodology even though it may have increased markedly in 2021.

“If we are to achieve bold carbon reduction targets, we need more accurate, cheaper and timely carbon reporting.”