04 November 2022
As featured in the Tasmanian Country Newspaper on Friday 4th November
Last week Australia signed the Global Methane Pledge. The Pledge is a voluntary commitment with 122 signatories, including the United States, United Kingdom and the European Union working collectively to reduce global methane emissions across all sectors by at least 30% below 2020 levels by 2030.
"By joining the Pledge, Australia will join the rest of the world's major agricultural commodity exporters including the United States, Brazil, and Indonesia in identifying opportunities to reduce emissions in this hard-to-abate sector," Minister Chris Bowen said in a statement.
The Australian government signing the methane reduction pledge (launched last year at the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow) represents Australia joining a shared, voluntary commitment to reduce global methane emissions to help deliver a sustainable future for the world.
Tasmanian farmers have long understood the need for sustainable production, already demonstrated by substantial investment in emission reduction undertaken leading up to 2020. This is consistent with national efforts resulting in emission reductions by the agricultural sector of 59% from 2005 levels, predating the 2020 reference point for the Global Methane Pledge. While these efforts are to be commended, let’s remember the responsibility for reducing emissions is not ours alone. Let’s look at methane a little more closely.
More about methane
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas (GHG), with greater impact on global warming than carbon dioxide, but faster to break down. Methane only lasts around 10 years in the atmosphere, while carbon dioxide last more than twice as long. It is estimated to be responsible for almost a third of global warming since pre-industrial times.
Australia is one of the world’s leading methane emitters. During 2019, Australia's coal mines emitted 898,000 tonnes of methane. Some argue this figure dramatically underestimated.
The Climate Council suggests that in Australia, ‘agriculture’ contributes around 13% of our GHG emissions each year. By weight, about half of the agricultural sector’s emissions (42%) are methane. Most of this is the methane produced by cows and other ruminant livestock.
Importantly, methane can be broadly split into two groups: biogenic and fossil sources.
“Biogenic methane is any methane created by living and recently dead organisms. Examples include methane produced by cows, biodegrading landfill, or microbes in stagnant ponds. This source of methane is a major contributor to the agricultural sector’s climate impact.
Fossil methane is made from carbon stored underground for millions of years, far from the surface and the global atmosphere. Virtually all gas burned for energy today is fossil methane, and the production of all fossil fuels involves releasing significant amounts of methane into the atmosphere. Releasing this methane involves re-introducing carbon to the active biosphere, which had long ago been removed from the system.” Climatecouncil.com.au
It is an important reminder that methane from cows and sheep is a part of a naturally occurring cycle, while mining interferes with nature’s processes, extracting carbon that has been locked underground and releases it into the atmosphere. Like a genie that won’t go back into its bottle.
Minister Watt and the Federal Government have ruled out introducing a methane tax, punitive measures or regulations impacting agriculture. This commitment is critical to allaying the fears of our members regarding the potential for actions similar to those recently legislated in New Zealand, which is severely impacting their agricultural sector. The TFGA fully supports a carbon neutral 2030. Agriculture has already made headway in reducing our emissions and has significant resources invested to bring emissions down further. However, I do believe it must be made clear, the release of methane from fossil fuels dwarfs the impact of methane from agriculture, waste, or other biogenic sources. In short, while it is important agriculture continues to reduce its impacts, there are bigger fish to fry.