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Labor’s zero emissions target ‘will help farms diversify and thrive’

Image: William Suhr [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Investing in research that improves agricultural practices could cut emissions and reverse damage, says professor

Federal opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s call for Australia to adopt a climate policy target of zero emissions by 2050 will create “huge opportunities” for the country’s farmers and agricultural research, a leading academic has said.

Niall Blair, professor of food sustainability at Charles Sturt University in regional New South Wales, says the zero emissions target would allow agriculture to “diversify and thrive”.

In an online editorial published by the university, Blair rejects claims by the coalition government that the Labor policy would impose additional costs on agriculture.

“I’ve watched with interest as some suggest this policy will wipe out Australian agriculture…nothing could be further from the truth,” he writes.

“Although agricultural production contributes around 15 per cent of [Australia’s] emissions, it also provides the greatest opportunity to reverse the current trajectory and get a two-for-one benefit in the process.”

Albanese announced the zero emissions target on 21 February, sparking criticism from prime minister Scott Morrison over the potential costs.

However, Blair says that investing in research that will build climate change resilience and help farmers change agricultural practices will cut emissions and “actually reverse some of the damage”.

“The fossil fuel and energy sectors can’t offer the same solution. They can only stop or reduce their emissions without a ready-to-be-deployed reversal mechanism, unlike our primary industries,” he writes.

“This will be a challenge and a major disruption to our food and fibre sectors, but no-one can seriously tell me that it can’t be done, because it is already happening.”

Blair says most of Australia’s food production industries have already set emission reduction targets across their supply chains, including “right down to the farm level”.

These businesses are also looking at research to tackle issues such as food waste, which contributes to Australia’s greenhouse emissions.

“One-third of all food produced in Australia ends up being wasted, rotting in landfills and emitting greenhouse gases. Remarkably, if global food waste was a country, it would be the third-largest emitter after the United States and China,” he says.

“If we repurposed this waste or even gave it back to farmers as compost, we would go a long way to reducing our emissions without hurting any sector in the process.”