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Methane Pledge debated by Barnaby Joyce and Mike Cannon Brookes highlighting lack of net zero transition plan


Bush Summit 2021 with Clare Armstrong, Barnaby Joyce and Mike Cannon-Brookes

Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce said he took credit for preventing Australia signing the Global Methane Pledge as part of Australia’s Net Zero 2050 Plan. It was one of the 3 page list of demands to commit to Morrison’s Net Zero by 2050 Plan.

Methane was identified in the most recent IPCC 6th Assessment report as important to reduce emissions this decade due to its high Global Warming Potential in short term time frames like 20 years. “Strong, rapid and sustained reductions in CH 4 emissions would also limit the warming effect resulting from declining aerosol pollution and would improve air quality.” said the report. Nature Science journal also highlighted in an editorial on 25 August 2021: Control methane to slow global warming — fast.

The issue of not signing the Global Methane pledge was raised at the Daily Telegraph Bush Summit on Friday 29 October in a discussion compared by journalist Clare Armstrong with Nationals Leader Barnaby Joyce and Co-founder and CEO of Atlassian Mike Cannon-Brookes. It also highlighted the lack of any rigorous transition plan in the net zero 2050 policy, and lack of any transition plan for the agriculture sector.

Debate between Barnaby Joyce and Mike Cannon-Brookes on methane

Barnaby Joyce raised his advocacy in not signing the Global Methane Pledge as part of the 3 pages of conditions for agreeing to the Government’s Net Zero 2050 Plan. He said ” Lets look at some of the current levers, like methane reduction. A 30 percent reduction in methane on 2020 levels to 2030. 
“Now what that would mean is a massive reduction in the beef herd. Where is that going to hurt? Well, Regional Australians and not on those on the farm, but putting a value on the cap of the place by restrictions, but also where money flows.” said Joyce.
Co-founder and CEO of software company Atlassian Mike Cannon-Brookes responded on methane emissions
“We have got the Meat Livestock Association is going to be net-zero by 2030. The idea that we’re going to destroy the beef industry it’s bullshit, it’s nothing to do with the issue.”
“The methane challenges that we have is the expansion of gas extraction”.
“Forty per cent of Australia’s methane comes from gas extraction and will continue to grow as we want to grow that industry. That’s why we’re not signing up for it.”
“The good part about it, there are things in the pamphlet that I agree with, is that we are covering all greenhouse gases, so I would ask the PM ‘how are we going to get methane down to zero?'”
“Is it going to come at the expense of the gas industry or agriculture? Where is that going to come from? Because that’s what’s in the plan.”
“I don’t understand the how. I don’t understand the details of where the methane is going to go.”
No Overall Transition Plan
The essence of this discussion is the government has no overall transition plan, and no specific plan in agriculture and in coal and gas production to reduce methane emissions.
This was the exact point in the final comment to Clare Armstrong’s question “What’s needed to make it (The Net zero 2050 plan) to work?”
Cannon-Brookes replied: “We need a plan. We need a plan and we don’t have one. Where Barnaby and I agree is we need a transition. What he is describing is we need a transition. Thats great. We need to move from this, to that.” 
“That transition requires a plan. It requires saying that by this date we are going to do this in this industry in this area, here is what it is going to effect, here is how it is going to work, here is how we are going to prepare for that, here is how we are going to transition. Jobs, economies, regions, whatever it is.” 
“There is none of that detail in the current plan.” 
“There is three different references to magical technology. I know a little bit about technology. I have used some of those computers to do a little bit of accounting, a few other things. There is no detail that I can believe in, that makes any sense in this plan.” 
“If someone can explain to me the differnce between future technologies and global technology trends, which are 15 % and 20% of the reductions. I don’t know what they are.”
“But the other thing that Barnaby has pointed out, rightly so, and it is also in the pamphlet that was released, is that the time that technologies get to scale is really important.” 
“20 to 30 years to get to chips to scale is a beautiful chart that is totally, factually, true. But the problem is, if we are starting to think that we will build some magical chip in Australia now, and its going to make a difference by 2030 or 2040.” 
“I just don’t believe you.” 
“What we need to be doing is to be using the technologies we have today and rolling them out at much greater scale.”
“There is no detail, there is no plan, no dates, no Science and economics that I can believe in, in the currently released document.” 
“There is no doubt technology is going to help us. This entire thing is a technology transformation. But if we want to lean in to the opportunities that Australia could benefit from, we need to just have a plan.” concluded Mike Cannon-Brookes. 
Take away messages on methane
The third takeaway is that Barnaby Joyce seems to ignore the Government’s own promotional website identifying the solution to reduce herd methane emissions by up to 80% using feed additives. 

So what are initial elements for transformation of Agriculture emissions?

The Grattan Institute in September released a report in late September 2021, Towards net zero: Practical policies to reduce agricultural emissions – which highlighted policies to reduce emissions in agriculture.

The problem  is agriculture and land use contributes to 15 per cent of Australia’s emissions (in 2019), but also provides opportunities for carbon sequestration in vegetation and soils. 

“The agriculture sector was responsible for 15 per cent of Australia’s emissions in 2019, emitting 76.5 million tonnes. This is down from 86.2 million tonnes in 2005, mainly due to lower livestock numbers: cattle and sheep are responsible 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.” says the Grattan Institute report Towards net zero: Practical policies to reduce agricultural emissions.

‘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,’ says the series lead author, Grattan Institute’s Energy and Climate Change Program Director Tony Wood.

‘Our series identifies sector-specific policies Australia should implement to set us on the path to net zero.’

The report recommends the Federal Government should boost support for research and development of methods that might enable livestock producers to thrive in a net-zero future.

The Grattan Institute makes the following recommendations regarding reducing emissions in the agriculture and land use sector.

Recommendations

1. Do not exempt agriculture or land from any national net-zero target 

  • Including agriculture and land in a net-zero target is necessary for the economy to actually reach net zero, and will reduce the risk to Australian exporters of future carbon tariffs from other nations.

2. Do more to encourage deployment of lower-emissions technology and practices today

  • The Federal Government should improve the Emissions Reduction Fund by: expanding methods related to agricultural practices; allowing single projects to be registered under multiple methods; providing a fixed-price purchasing desk for proponents of small projects; developing a carbon credit exchange which differentiates between types of credits; and strengthening demand signals for credits. Credits must have integrity; the next report in this series will provide further recommendations on this issue.
  • The Federal Government should invest in a multi-decade outreach program to deliver advice to farmers on how to practically reduce farm emissions and secure resilient income streams.
  • The Federal Government should consider alternative financing mechanisms to support deployment of lower-emissions practices, such as income-contingent loans, to share the risk with farmers.

3. Spend this decade wisely to allow for more effective technology and policy in future

  • The Federal Government should include technologies to reduce animal emissions as a priority in its Low Emissions Technology Statements.
  • The Federal Government should expand the remit and increase funding of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to allow it to support early-stage development of low-emissions agricultural technologies that are not energy-related.
  • As technologies to reduce agricultural emissions are developed, all governments should consider what additional policies (subsidies, penalties, or mandates) are needed to ensure deployment of these technologies and to reduce their cost.
  • The Federal Government should improve data collection of onfarm emissions-related practices, to ensure farmers receive proper credit for their actions.
  • Governments should not limit landholders’ opportunities to perform credible carbon dioxide-removing activities.
  • Governments should ask Food Standards Australia New Zealand to remove regulatory barriers to alternative protein products entering the market and competing on their merits.

4. Do not weaken existing land clearing laws

  • State and territory governments should not weaken existing land clearing laws, and should aim to keep existing stocks of naturebased carbon at or above current levels.
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