Carbon abatement is a key part of the climate solution that’s happening right now in Australia. GreenCollar CEO, James Schultz, explains why it’s an overwhelmingly good story for climate change and the future of the agricultural industry.
As the climate emergency intensifies, the varying levels of work being done – or not done – to address it is continually pushed to the top of the political, corporate and news agenda. But it’s a mixed blessing for those of us who work daily on the ground to deliver the many benefits of carbon projects.
It is impossible to overstate the importance of keeping climate change and climate risk front and centre of business and public policy discussion, but the intense focus can sometimes scramble the message. As noise from all sides increases, you could forgive Australians for not realising that there is already a great deal of solid and consistent work happening to reduce emissions. And that work is especially driven by the agriculture sector.
Make no mistake, current climate solutions are sometimes imperfect. It’s an evolving space – one that will only keep changing as we grapple with advances in scientific and technological knowledge. But the reality on the ground is vastly different to the hyperbole of the headline arguments. And it is an overwhelmingly good story for climate change and the future of the agricultural industry.
Since the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Act was established in 2011, over a thousand projects across the country have been reducing emissions, sequestering carbon, and building alternative income streams for the agricultural community. It’s good for the environment and the farms’ bottom line. And with corporate and public sector demand for Australian carbon credits on the rise, the benefits of carbon farming only look set to increase.
Over the last decade, land management projects have delivered millions of tonnes of abatement, with conservative estimates placing the reinvestment into agriculture from carbon farming at around half a billion dollars. That’s money flowing back into farms around the country, allowing investment into infrastructure and technology, and sustaining businesses and jobs through periods of drought and other challenges.
Despite this success story, a few misconceptions about carbon farming persist.
One is that, when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, the agriculture sector doesn’t matter as much as energy or heavy industry and transport. This is wrong. Agriculture is a contributor to global emissions – estimated to account for up to 20% – but the cost of change to reduce these emissions is expensive and must be funded from somewhere. At the same time, let’s not forget that agriculture occupies a unique position in emissions reduction solutions, because the sector can both reduce its own emissions and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at the same time. By contrast, most other industries can only work to minimise their footprint.
How is this the case? Farmland covers around half of Australia’s landmass. Much of that land and soil can be used to absorb carbon dioxide while still being farmed. The overwhelming majority of carbon projects take place on active farms, and if good carbon farming methods are employed, they can improve the sustainability of the agriculture sector while enabling reinvestment into primary production and regional communities. It’s not about displacing farming.
Good carbon farming processes work alongside primary production – not in place of it. And they enhance on-farm productivity as well. It should never be about locking up the land or neglecting farm management.
Modern carbon farming methods and good land-management practices are well aligned. Carbon farming activities – like changing the way livestock is managed, installing new fences, managing feral pests, increasing ground cover, improving soil – all have positive flow-on effects for farm productivity. In fact, the money made from generating credits is just one of the advantages of carbon farming.
Farmland hosts a wealth of natural capital not currently recognised on the farm balance sheet. Beyond carbon this includes water quality and biodiversity. Most farmers recognise that the future of their agricultural enterprise relies on the environment – they want to be good stewards of the land – it’s crucial to the future of their livelihoods. By properly valuing environmental outcomes and rewarding good land stewardship, we enable farmers to adapt their approach and balance productivity with a healthier environment.
Harnessing the power of the agricultural community is a huge opportunity for Australia. Currently, Australian carbon credits are in high demand because there is a robust system in place that is regulated and independently verified. And there are plenty of environmental market options for landholders to explore. Farmers can run carbon projects alone, or they can work with credible partners that are signatories to the Carbon Industry Code of Conduct to help navigate complexities around land assessments, land management processes, and project monitoring and reporting.
For many farmers, the decision to start exploring these options is an easy one. It’s also rewarding – and necessary. But the same can’t be said for every aspect of the economy. Many of Australia’s key industries face a bumpy road on the path to net zero. There will be radical changes to their operations, and the path forward for some of them isn’t currently clear.
Farmers are in an enviable position. If they choose to invest in carbon farming as part of their agricultural operations, they will help in bringing our country’s net zero and nature positive goals closer within reach.
The bottom line is what makes it a win-win – for the farm, for the country, and for the environment.
James Schultz is Chief Executive Officer of GreenCollar.