There has been significant commentary in recent weeks about the difference between our industry pursuing a ‘climate neutral’ goal compared to a ‘carbon neutral’ goal.
The reality for Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) is that both goals work together, with climate neutral being a significant milestone on the road to being carbon neutral.
I will explain more about the difference between these two targets, but the carbon neutral by 2030 (CN30) goal has always been ambitious. It is also hard, which we always knew it was going to be. It is a target that showcases the environmental stewardship of our industry, while also playing to our strengths around land management and our enthusiasm for innovation and technology.
The original vision for CN30, when set in 2017, was established with guidance from CSIRO that it was an ambitious yet achievable goal with the right innovation, technology, and policy settings. That remains the case today.
Hitting additional milestones along the way is an excellent achievement and demonstration of great progress, but CN30 is about pushing even further.
Climate neutral versus CN30
The difference between climate neutral and carbon neutral is related to the difference between two different methods for measuring the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate neutrality uses the GWP* method (pronounced GWP-star, with the GWP standing for global warming potential). GWP* assesses the short-lived nature of methane as a gas in the atmosphere as it cycles through our production system and the atmosphere.
It’s important to remember that whichever measurement method is chosen it has no impact on the physical volume of emissions released to the atmosphere.
As part of the global community, all countries and industries are being challenged to reduce net emissions. MLA is committed to identifying strategies that deliver win-win benefit for the environment and productivity for Australian red meat, at the same time as scientific understanding of greenhouse gas behaviour is evolving. MLA is well-aware of the limitations and advantages of different methods of emissions calculation. We are also highly conscious of promoting CN30 progress in a consistent manner that ensures maximum recognition of our industry’s contribution at a global scale.
This approach is aligned with the internationally-recognised and utilised GWP100 metric, which is considered most valid across regions and by scientific institutions and governments. Our use of this method contributes to the international positive acclaim that has been provided to the Australian red meat and livestock industry through CN30.
At the same time, we are continuing to report on the industry’s progress via the GWP* method, as well as radiative forcing, direct methane, and GWP100. We want as much data as possible to inform our progress and trajectory.
This is aligned with the UNFCCC recommendation that you can use multiple metrics to inform people about different impacts from different industries (but GWP100 will remain the way that reporting is done at a global/national/industry level).
The Australian Government has also signed up to the Global Methane pledge, which is a direct measure of methane emissions, so the leadership of CN30 has put us in a strong position to respond to this evolving policy space.
GWP* and GWP100
There has been much discussion on the metric chosen to calculate emissions. In some commentary, the GWP* measure has been preferred for the livestock industry, due to it having a more sensitive treatment of short-lived gases like methane.
GWP* clearly represents an advancement in our ability to assess the near-term warming effects of short-lived greenhouse gases over GWP100.
However, GWP* has its own limitations that hold back its application and have made it unsuitable for widespread application in science policy context.
GWP* values are highly skewed by the unique historical emissions of the country or industry being measured, emphasising any reduction or increase from the historic norm.
Applying GWP* would benefit countries with high historic emissions. Developing countries with historically lower emissions would be heavily penalised by a GWP* measure if their emissions increased in the course of their economic growth. For this reason, an Australian emissions reduction target based on GWP* is unlikely to hold weight for any international comparison.
Looking locally, a GWP* measure would also be extremely unfavourable should Australian herd and flock numbers increase.
The positive contribution of our sector
Importantly, we don’t see this as a debate about climate neutral versus carbon neutral or GWP* versus GWP100 – in fact, climate neutrality is an important component of carbon neutrality.
It is important that the unique differences with livestock methane are widely acknowledged and that our industry receives due credit for our contribution to climate neutrality. At the same time, we also have the potential to make a greater contribution.
We welcome the industry discussion. The debate shows us that our industry is already passionate about improving our contribution to the climate – and about communicating the great things that we are doing already.
We are also having this discussion because CN30 has elevated climate sustainability on the agenda of our industry, placing us years ahead of almost all other industries.
Everything within CN30 is first and foremost focussed on productivity and profitability through a broad mix of solutions. MLA knows we don’t have all the answers – no one does – but we have also said we are committed to improving producer profitability while also lifting our environmental sustainability.
Every day we gather more information that informs our journey and next steps.
A big part of this is because of the light on the hill provided by CN30. By having this ambitious target, we have an aspiration to move toward. It is also a goal that offers strong engagement opportunities with our customers around the world and the broader community.
We have taken the approach of striving for a goal that is more difficult to achieve. This is something we can be proud of as an industry.
Leadership from our industry has the potential to create positive flow-on effects around the world in other agricultural systems and other industries.
No one is saying that our industry should shoulder an unfair or undue cost – but at the same time, if we can do a little more than we ‘have to’ in the climate space, while also improving productivity, then that is something we can hold our heads high about.
- Opinion: CN30 was a poor decision and should be replaced with Climate Neutral
- Oxford University physicist: Why climate metrics are getting it wrong on methane emissions
- Carbon neutral vs climate neutral – what’s the right gear for red meat?
- Climate neutrality “realistically achieveable” for Aus red meat sector by 2026
- The biting truth: red meat’s sustainability success story