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Albanese government has guaranteed farmers won’t be hurt if Australia signs methane pledge, NFF says | Farming

The Albanese government has provided assurances that farmers will not be hurt if Australia signs on to Joe Biden’s global pledge to cut global methane emissions by 30% by 2030, the National Farmers Federation (NFF) says.

Guardian Australia revealed in June that Labor was considering signing the pledge, and the agriculture minister, Murray Watt, on Thursday said he was “comfortable if we sign up to it”, although he said the government had not yet signed off on the commitment.

Signatories to the pledge agree to undertake voluntary actions in their countries to reduce emissions of methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas. Reducing methane emissions by 30% from 2020 levels is a global goal, not a national target.

But renewed speculation about Labor’s policy intentions in the run-up to UN-led climate talks in Egypt later this year triggered a resumption of factually incorrect and hyperbolic claims from the Coalition.

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, characterised Australia adopting an aspirational global goal as a “tax on cows”. The Nationals leader, David Littleproud, declared the Australian barbecue would be under threat.

Australia considered signing the methane pledge in the run-up to last year’s climate summit in Glasgow, because the Morrison government was lobbied by the Biden administration to make the commitment. But Australia refused at that time because the National party refused to countenance any methane cuts.

At the time, the NFF backed Morrison’s refusal to sign up to the Biden initiative, but Farmers for Climate Action urged Australia to commit to cutting methane.

The NFF said on Thursday it had been engaged in discussions with the Albanese government about the impact of signing the pledge.

“We’ve sought several assurances to guarantee that any decision to sign the pledge would not negatively impact farmers,” the NFF’s chief executive Tony Mahar said in a statement.

“These include: no new taxes or regulation on livestock methane; recognition of agriculture’s existing plans and progress; and ongoing support to develop technology-led solutions.

“We’ve been given these assurances and it’s important they be upheld if and when a formal commitment is made, otherwise trust with the farming sector and rural and regional Australia will be broken.”

Watt told the ABC that reducing methane emissions was supported by “most farm groups” despite senior Nationals, including the former leader Barnaby Joyce, issuing unfounded warnings about methane pledges necessitating “shooting every cow in the country”.

Asparagopsis seaweed used in cattle feed can reduce methane.
Asparagopsis seaweed used in cattle feed can reduce methane. Photograph: smovic/Getty Images/iStockphoto

Watt said about 120 other countries had signed up to the initiative, “including some of the biggest beef producing countries in the world, like the US and Argentina, and the sky hasn’t fallen in those countries”.

“One of the things that industry has been saying to me is that they’re actually quite comfortable with these things, especially if government is prepared to provide support, such as support for the expanded use of asparagopsis – the seaweed that can help bring down methane,” Watt said.

The NFF said the government had committed resources from its national reconstruction fund to assist with the transition. Mahar said this would help commercialise “homegrown scientific breakthroughs such as feed additives which can reduce ruminant methane emissions by up to 50%”.

Watt said Australia was not considering replicating a methane reduction scheme in New Zealand that had been dubbed a “burp” tax. The Ardern government was proposing to tax emissions from livestock through a farm levy commencing in 2025.

Australia signing on to the methane pledge would impact two industries – agriculture and gas production.

The chief executive of the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, Samantha McCulloch, said on Thursday the industry continued to monitor, report and reduce its fugitive emissions profile, “participating in a range of global initiatives”.

While emissions from gas production have been rising in Australia, McCulloch said methane emissions from oil and gas production in Australia were low compared with industries overseas.

“We have been working constructively with the federal government as part of the consultation process,” McCulloch said.

“Some APPEA members have committed directly to the pledge or have emissions reduction targets consistent with, or going beyond, the pledge.”


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