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What do the results from COP26 mean for farmers?

Last year, COP26 proceedings began with motivational promises to meet the threat of climate change head-on, with world leaders agreeing to cooperate and compromise in ways that would truly care for our environment. But despite the early optimism, sceptics feared the Glasgow summit would end with much talk and little action. As it happened, a few were right to worry.

By mid-November, the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C was starting to look a little blurry. People started apportioning blame – countries like India, for example, were tagged as responsible for removing language about fossil fuels being phased “out” (they opted instead for the phrase “phasing down”).

Australia shouldered its fair share of responsibility, too. According to the annual Climate Change Performance Index, we ranked last for climate policy, and sunk five places lower on the overall ranking compared to 2020.

While these criticisms aren’t necessarily wrong, they don’t tell the full story. The truth is, if businesses start taking matters into their own hands, we do have the opportunity to change our trajectory. And Australia’s agricultural sector could continue to lead that charge. Here’s how:

Reforestation: the key to 2030

To meet our net-zero goals and keep warming below 1.5°C, Australia needs to achieve a 45% reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2030. Significant changes in all industries will be required to meet that target – but there’s plenty Australia’s farmers, graziers and land managers are doing to get us there.

It’s estimated that nature-based solutions could contribute over one-third of the global climate mitigation required within ten years, putting agriculture in the driving seat of the solution. And the carbon market remains one of the most efficient and practical ways to get agricultural businesses on board.

Directing private funding towards essential ecosystem restoration through carbon farming projects and emerging methods that value water quality and other nature positive outcomes, assists the overall goal of reducing on-farm emissions. But these projects directly address more specific goals, too, such as the COP26 declaration on forests and land use, which was signed by over 100 world leaders (including Australia). Any effort to protect, regenerate or plant native trees will help move the needle, and the pledging of billions of dollars to support these aims is a welcome development.

Biodiversity matters

Of course, it’s not enough to simply ‘plant trees,’ as the early days of climate action would have it. We know now that mass planting of non-native vegetation is counterproductive, and can lead to the loss of native ecosystems and reduce biodiversity. This issue was addressed at COP26 with the introduction of the Global Biodiversity Standard, a measure that seeks to protect, restore and enhance biodiversity on a global scale and will be explored in more detail at COP15 later this year.

This is a welcome step towards the type of high-quality ecosystem restoration we’ve been working to benchmark for years. And there are already a number of pilot projects running that land managers will be able to undertake to help get us there more quickly. When conducted sensitively, these solutions can create new habitats for in-need species, while improving water retention and reducing salinity.

Government help is available

One key takeaway from COP26 is that assistance for farmers, graziers and other land managers does exist at the state level. There are various programs available to those looking to do their part, and each is a welcome contribution in the effort to reach our 2050 goal.

Queensland’s Land Restoration Fund supports carbon farming projects in the state to the tune of $500 million, while Victoria’s BushBank program supports land managers to restore and protect natural habitats. At the national level, the Clean Energy Regulator offers advance payments of up to $5,000 to help with the upfront costs of soil sampling associated with approved Soil Carbon projects.

While COP26 left most critics unsatisfied with world leaders’ efforts to avert climate change, Australian land managers have already shown their dedication to the cause. And with over 65 million ACCUs issued to farmers and landholders to date, the economic case for tackling climate action in the agricultural sector is clear.

To avert disaster, Australia’s agriculture industry needs only continue down the path it’s already embarked on. Where there’s a will (backed by carbon credits and sound science), there’s a way.

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