Climate Change - the Greatest Challenge Facing the Agriculture Sector

Today Abigail debated the significant impact of animal agriculture on our warming climate, urging the Government to listen to the science.

Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (15:38): On behalf of The Greens I speak in support of the motion, with an amendment, which I will come to. I thank the Hon. Mark Pearson for bringing this important issue before the House. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. It is around 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere when assessed over a 20-year period. It is a live fast, die young gas. Once it is released into the atmosphere, it traps the heat far more efficiently than carbon dioxide until, over the course of 10 years, it is broken down through a chemical process into carbon dioxide and water. Australia has ratified the Paris Agreement to hold global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's special report on global warming raised the alarm of the tipping points that will occur if we breach that target. We are barrelling towards overshooting that target, so the importance of driving down high-potency methane emissions is particularly critical.

Climate change is the greatest challenge facing the agriculture sector in New South Wales. An environmentally sustainable system of agriculture following regenerative agriculture practices is essential to food security, climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation. Farmers and graziers must be assisted to adopt ecologically sustainable agricultural practices and rapidly phase out worst practices. In some instances, that may include a progressive reduction in herd sizes. The co-benefit of adopting regenerative land management practices will be, where land use practices may have previously been responsible for soil degradation, these once degraded lands and habitats can be restored as carbon sinks. Most methane from agriculture—biogenic methane—comes from the breakdown of plants that, when they were growing, would pull carbon dioxide from the air. Farmers and the agriculture industry play a vital role in balancing the impact of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere and will require support along with clear guidelines.

In contrast, the burning and extraction of fossil fuels releases into the atmosphere additional greenhouse gases that had otherwise been separate to the carbon cycle of plant growth and consumption. Releasing this additional methane into the air causes an extra burden on the carbon budget in addition to the immediate effects of the high-potency methane emissions. In recent years agriculture and associated land clearing released around 115 million tonnes of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere per year. In comparison, burning fossil fuels for energy released around 400 million tonnes of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere each year.

Over the past six years, methane emissions from this sector have increased due to expansion of the natural gas industry and associated fugitive emissions—those that escape or are released during gas production and transport. Coal mining is also culpable for an unacceptable level of fugitive methane emissions, with active and inactive coal mines leaking tens of thousands of tonnes of methane into the atmosphere each year. The amendments we are making to this motion reflect this reality in a more nuanced way. They recognise the fact that a holistic approach to emissions reduction must be taken across industries. There is little point in reducing herd sizes if there is no regenerative practice in place to restore the quality of the land to draw down further carbon emissions.

I move: That the question be amended by omitting paragraphs (4) (b) and (c) and inserting instead:

(b) assist the agriculture industry to improve land use and food systems in New South Wales through reforms along the lines of regenerative agriculture and agroecology including where appropriate a progressive reduction in herd numbers;

(c) create strong and enforceable standards to regulate biogenic methane emissions in line with the reductions required to meet the goals of the Global Methane Pledge;

(d) commit to a moratorium on new coal, oil and gas projects in order to arrest and reverse the rise in methane emissions that are a result of the expansion of fossil fuel industries;

(e) create strong and enforceable standards to regulate fugitive emissions from active and inactive coal mines and gas wells in line with the reductions required to meet the goals of the Global Methane Pledge; and

(f) report to the House on what measures the Government will take across industries to reduce methane emissions by 2030.


Abigail's amendments were not successfully passed. 


Full transcript of the debate can be found here.

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