Managing climate change risk

Definition: Greenhouse gases are emitted along the beef value chain, including methane produced through cattle's natural digestion. This priority looks at carbon dioxide equivalent emitted when raising and processing beef, as well as carbon capture and sequestration.

Indicators


The context

Australia has committed to the global Paris Agreement to pursue efforts to keep global warming below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels along with 175 other member states.

More frequent extreme weather events and increasing climate variability have a serious effect on production and livelihoods. Managing and adapting to these new conditions across all sectors is vital to long-term industry prosperity.

Like all industries, there is a responsibility to focus on how to minimise sector emissions. The Australian beef and sheep industries contribute around 10% of Australia’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and about two-thirds of these emissions come from cattle.

Methane stemming from cattle’s natural digestion process is the beef industry’s main emission. Ruminant animals, like cattle, have a unique digestion system that enables them to convert the grasses and shrubs they consume in mostly non-arable areas into valuable protein and vitamins for human consumption, plus
various non-edible products. In Australia, this means we are able to graze cattle on rangelands and savannahs where other food production systems like cropping are not viable. The cattle grazing industry facilitates employment and economic stability in Australia’s vast rural areas.

In addition to methane emitted by cattle, beef production also emits GHGs through:

  • Meat processing
  • Loss of soil carbon in overgrazed pastures
  • Savannah burning conducted to manage woody weeds and promote pasture quality
  • Clearing of primary forests
  • Nitrous oxide from manure in feedlots
  • Application of nitrogen fertilisers to pastures and to grow grain
  • Upstream inputs such as chemicals and diesel

The beef industry plays a significant part in offsetting national emissions by sequestering carbon in soils and vegetation.

Agriculture has contributed more to reducing GHG emissions than any other sector in the Australian economy since 1990.


Industry position

In 2017 the Australian red meat industry set an ambitious target to be carbon neutral by 2030.

The target to be carbon neutral by 2030 (CN30) is a clear message to our global consumers that the Australian red meat industry is serious about addressing GHG emissions.

There is a huge opportunity for the Australian industry to make a real difference in mitigating climate change through increasing carbon storage in the natural landscapes where we operate and reducing emissions, while at the same time improving productivity and deriving new revenue streams through carbon farming.

CN30 will make a demonstrable contribution to reducing emissions from the Australian agriculture sector. It will showcase the red meat industry as a global leader in carbon farming innovation, economic development and environmental stewardship. CN30 will give Australian red meat a marketing edge on the global stage.

The industry supports a transition to a carbon neutral industry and is focused on ensuring the policy support and incentives are in place to enable adoption of existing technologies and further research to deliver on this ambitious target.


What is the data telling us?

A new indicator has been added to the 2019 Annual Update to publicly track the industry’s CN30 (Carbon Neutral by 2030) initiative. Since the baseline year of 2005, the industry has reduced absolute emissions by 55.7% (for the most recent reporting period of 2016) largely through a focus on improving productivity and vegetation management practices. This figure was calculated by CSIRO from datasets contained in the
Australian National Inventory Report in the agriculture and land use change categories, relating to beef production. The most recent available data from 2016 is prior to the industry setting the CN30 target in 2017 but demonstrates significant GHG emissions reduction is possible. With industry, policy and research focus Australia can be the first country in the world to have a carbon neutral beef production system.

In order to also track emissions intensity, the Framework reports using Life Cycle Assessments (LCA), which are regarded as the most useful environmental measures for products. LCAs are a costly and time-consuming activity and MLA undertakes an update to the LCA every five years. The most recent five-year
period is from 2010-2015 and was completed in 2019. LCAs capture all emissions sources related to beef production, beyond the scope of the current National Inventory reporting.

The 2019 LCA completed by Wiedemann et al showed an 8.3% decline in GHG emissions intensity in the past five years (excluding emissions related to land use and land use change) and a 20% reduction over the past 35 years. The data reported in the Framework shows that it now takes 12.6kg of carbon dioxide equivalents to produce a kilogram of beef pre-processing.

Improvements in efficiency are from a relentless focus on productivity by the industry. For example, in the past five years, carcase weights have increased 10% driving an increase in beef production per cow joined. Growth rates in young cattle were estimated to have increased 19% in the past five years principally in response to higher proportions of cattle fed in feedlots, and a 5% increase in days on feed since 2010, together with improved performance of the grazing herd.

These figures are based on globally agreed intensity and lifespan measures from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which currently calculate methane at 34 times carbon dioxide. There is a current debate about beef industry’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, compared to other emitting industries, including fossil fuels. For the purpose of this report, current agreed accounting is used.


A snapshot of activity

The CN30 initiative is a significant collaborative effort across industry and the research community. MLA leads work on research, adoption and commercialisation. The efforts of the red meat industry will contribute significantly to state and federal government carbon emission reduction targets.

The 2030 target was set following industry-funded research undertaken by CSIRO in 2017 which confirmed that carbon neutrality was possible in the Australian production system. In addition, the project identified the most promising pathways to achieving carbon neutrality by 2030.

In response to these research findings, MLA has closely investigated these pathways considering likelihood of industry adoption, commercialisation opportunities of technology and gaps in research that require further investment.

The pathways identified were informed by two previous collaborative research programs:

  • Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research Program (RELRP) that ran between 2009–12 and developed knowledge and technologies on methane emissions to enable producers to reduce livestock emissions while maintaining or improving livestock productivity.
  • National Livestock Methane Program (NLMP), that was undertaken in 2012–16 and built on the outcomes from the previous RELRP program. Outcomes from this program are featured in the publication More meat, milk and wool: less methane.

A CN30 plan has been developed to take the next critical step to ensure the successful implementation of the technology identified within these earlier programs.

CN30 is not only an emissions-based target. The aim is to unlock $300m a year for the Australian red meat industry by optimising the carbon cycle to improve drought resilience, farm-gate profitability, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The CN30 initiative builds on decades of legume, animal and economic research that has underpinned Australia’s red meat production systems. An integrated plan has been developed to implement carbon farming technologies to increase resource use efficiency for profitable livestock production and reduce environmental impacts.


Extension & adoption

Some practices are well known and can be implemented now. Improving animal genetics, feedbase management and herd management can reduce GHG emissions per unit of meat production. Carbon can also be sequestered into soils using pastures and legumes. Driving adoption of these well-known practices is a critical body of work and the emphasis is on supported learning approaches and demonstration sites. There is a strong commercial driver for uptake as these practices lead to the immediate business benefits of improved productivity and open new revenue streams to producers through the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) and voluntary carbon markets. Work is underway on how to capture changes made by landholders land feedlots through an evolution of the National GHG Inventory to improve accuracy as well as the representation of the red meat industry, and enable progress reporting under the CN30 initiative.

GHG emissions avoidance

Methane production in the rumen can be inhibited by bioactive additives. This is the most promising pathway to significantly reduce or eliminate methane emissions. MLA is focused on working with existing research partners such as CSIRO and James Cook University, as well as establishing new partnerships to further develop bioactive additives, such as Red Asparagopsis seaweed which has been shown to virtually eliminate methane emissions from livestock. However, key barriers to overcome include developing a consistent and affordable supply and a delivery mechanism for intensive and extensive animal feeding systems. CSIRO is leading commercialisation efforts for Red Asparagopsis seaweed.

Storing carbon

Sequestering or storing carbon in vegetation is well understood. In Australia, landholders can be remunerated through the ERF that now has numerous ways for the beef industry to access the Fund. The beef industry is the largest beneficiary of the Fund to date with over $1.66b returned to landholders for storing or avoiding carbon through their operations. Australia now has a soil carbon method that meets the requirements of the Paris Agreement. The first credits were issued and sold in March 2019. While the ERF methods present an opportunity for landholders, the measurement and administration requirements
present a significant barrier to entry. An increase in the carbon price may motivate producers to overcome these barriers. There are many other opportunities for landholders to benefit from storing carbon such as selling carbon credits through voluntary schemes. Companies, like airlines or miners, buy these credits to offset emissions.

Developing markets

New markets need to be developed to incentivise beef businesses to take further action on carbon. These incentives need to support carbon reduction as well as natural resource improvement. Government or voluntary schemes could put a value on the ecosystem services that farmers provide to stimulate even more action. There is also an opportunity to sell carbon neutral beef at a premium, however the technology to trace and verify this across the supply chain needs to be developed.

Integrated management systems

Research outputs will be integrated with farming systems models and decision support tools to evaluate new management interventions (novel shrubs, legumes, pastures, supplements, mixed farming, cropping, woody vegetation, forestry) and technologies to optimise productivity and profitability whilst minimising GHG emissions. Advanced digital technology will be used to link remote sensing to simulation models to measure and monitor how pasture, soil carbon and water use efficiency respond to changed management. New generation remote sensing products will increase the understanding and recognition of management-induced improvements in land condition. Key enabling technology such as blockchain will be explored as a means to underpin carbon projects on farm, and overcome the cost of carbon credit measurement and validation which is a financial barrier to participation in the carbon markets under some methods at this point in time.

Offsets

Offsets will be investigated in the short term but ultimately the industry aims to balance carbon in the landscapes in which it operates. In 2018, some operators have begun to claim carbon neutrality and, in the short term, have used offsets to achieve this.

Policy

Industry policy groups have been focused on ensuring state and federal policy settings and funding can enable the industry to deliver on our ambitious 2030 target. RMAC has partnered with Greening Australia, the Australian Forest Products Association and Farmers for Climate Action to form an advocacy alliance
– Climate Proofing Australia. This new alliance advocates for clear and stable policy underpinned by objective science-based evidence that aligns with the CN30 pathways and enables large-scale investment in sustainable development.

Definition: Greenhouse gases are emitted along the beef value chain, including methane produced through cattle's natural digestion. This priority looks at carbon dioxide equivalent emitted when raising and processing beef, as well as carbon capture and sequestration.

Indicators


The context

Australia has committed to the global Paris Agreement to pursue efforts to keep global warming below 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels along with 175 other member states.

More frequent extreme weather events and increasing climate variability have a serious effect on production and livelihoods. Managing and adapting to these new conditions across all sectors is vital to long-term industry prosperity.

Like all industries, there is a responsibility to focus on how to minimise sector emissions. The Australian beef and sheep industries contribute around 10% of Australia’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and about two-thirds of these emissions come from cattle.

Methane stemming from cattle’s natural digestion process is the beef industry’s main emission. Ruminant animals, like cattle, have a unique digestion system that enables them to convert the grasses and shrubs they consume in mostly non-arable areas into valuable protein and vitamins for human consumption, plus
various non-edible products. In Australia, this means we are able to graze cattle on rangelands and savannahs where other food production systems like cropping are not viable. The cattle grazing industry facilitates employment and economic stability in Australia’s vast rural areas.

In addition to methane emitted by cattle, beef production also emits GHGs through:

  • Meat processing
  • Loss of soil carbon in overgrazed pastures
  • Savannah burning conducted to manage woody weeds and promote pasture quality
  • Clearing of primary forests
  • Nitrous oxide from manure in feedlots
  • Application of nitrogen fertilisers to pastures and to grow grain
  • Upstream inputs such as chemicals and diesel

The beef industry plays a significant part in offsetting national emissions by sequestering carbon in soils and vegetation.

Agriculture has contributed more to reducing GHG emissions than any other sector in the Australian economy since 1990.


Industry position

In 2017 the Australian red meat industry set an ambitious target to be carbon neutral by 2030.

The target to be carbon neutral by 2030 (CN30) is a clear message to our global consumers that the Australian red meat industry is serious about addressing GHG emissions.

There is a huge opportunity for the Australian industry to make a real difference in mitigating climate change through increasing carbon storage in the natural landscapes where we operate and reducing emissions, while at the same time improving productivity and deriving new revenue streams through carbon farming.

CN30 will make a demonstrable contribution to reducing emissions from the Australian agriculture sector. It will showcase the red meat industry as a global leader in carbon farming innovation, economic development and environmental stewardship. CN30 will give Australian red meat a marketing edge on the global stage.

The industry supports a transition to a carbon neutral industry and is focused on ensuring the policy support and incentives are in place to enable adoption of existing technologies and further research to deliver on this ambitious target.


What is the data telling us?

A new indicator has been added to the 2019 Annual Update to publicly track the industry’s CN30 (Carbon Neutral by 2030) initiative. Since the baseline year of 2005, the industry has reduced absolute emissions by 55.7% (for the most recent reporting period of 2016) largely through a focus on improving productivity and vegetation management practices. This figure was calculated by CSIRO from datasets contained in the
Australian National Inventory Report in the agriculture and land use change categories, relating to beef production. The most recent available data from 2016 is prior to the industry setting the CN30 target in 2017 but demonstrates significant GHG emissions reduction is possible. With industry, policy and research focus Australia can be the first country in the world to have a carbon neutral beef production system.

In order to also track emissions intensity, the Framework reports using Life Cycle Assessments (LCA), which are regarded as the most useful environmental measures for products. LCAs are a costly and time-consuming activity and MLA undertakes an update to the LCA every five years. The most recent five-year
period is from 2010-2015 and was completed in 2019. LCAs capture all emissions sources related to beef production, beyond the scope of the current National Inventory reporting.

The 2019 LCA completed by Wiedemann et al showed an 8.3% decline in GHG emissions intensity in the past five years (excluding emissions related to land use and land use change) and a 20% reduction over the past 35 years. The data reported in the Framework shows that it now takes 12.6kg of carbon dioxide equivalents to produce a kilogram of beef pre-processing.

Improvements in efficiency are from a relentless focus on productivity by the industry. For example, in the past five years, carcase weights have increased 10% driving an increase in beef production per cow joined. Growth rates in young cattle were estimated to have increased 19% in the past five years principally in response to higher proportions of cattle fed in feedlots, and a 5% increase in days on feed since 2010, together with improved performance of the grazing herd.

These figures are based on globally agreed intensity and lifespan measures from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) which currently calculate methane at 34 times carbon dioxide. There is a current debate about beef industry’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions, compared to other emitting industries, including fossil fuels. For the purpose of this report, current agreed accounting is used.


A snapshot of activity

The CN30 initiative is a significant collaborative effort across industry and the research community. MLA leads work on research, adoption and commercialisation. The efforts of the red meat industry will contribute significantly to state and federal government carbon emission reduction targets.

The 2030 target was set following industry-funded research undertaken by CSIRO in 2017 which confirmed that carbon neutrality was possible in the Australian production system. In addition, the project identified the most promising pathways to achieving carbon neutrality by 2030.

In response to these research findings, MLA has closely investigated these pathways considering likelihood of industry adoption, commercialisation opportunities of technology and gaps in research that require further investment.

The pathways identified were informed by two previous collaborative research programs:

  • Reducing Emissions from Livestock Research Program (RELRP) that ran between 2009–12 and developed knowledge and technologies on methane emissions to enable producers to reduce livestock emissions while maintaining or improving livestock productivity.
  • National Livestock Methane Program (NLMP), that was undertaken in 2012–16 and built on the outcomes from the previous RELRP program. Outcomes from this program are featured in the publication More meat, milk and wool: less methane.

A CN30 plan has been developed to take the next critical step to ensure the successful implementation of the technology identified within these earlier programs.

CN30 is not only an emissions-based target. The aim is to unlock $300m a year for the Australian red meat industry by optimising the carbon cycle to improve drought resilience, farm-gate profitability, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The CN30 initiative builds on decades of legume, animal and economic research that has underpinned Australia’s red meat production systems. An integrated plan has been developed to implement carbon farming technologies to increase resource use efficiency for profitable livestock production and reduce environmental impacts.


Extension & adoption

Some practices are well known and can be implemented now. Improving animal genetics, feedbase management and herd management can reduce GHG emissions per unit of meat production. Carbon can also be sequestered into soils using pastures and legumes. Driving adoption of these well-known practices is a critical body of work and the emphasis is on supported learning approaches and demonstration sites. There is a strong commercial driver for uptake as these practices lead to the immediate business benefits of improved productivity and open new revenue streams to producers through the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) and voluntary carbon markets. Work is underway on how to capture changes made by landholders land feedlots through an evolution of the National GHG Inventory to improve accuracy as well as the representation of the red meat industry, and enable progress reporting under the CN30 initiative.

GHG emissions avoidance

Methane production in the rumen can be inhibited by bioactive additives. This is the most promising pathway to significantly reduce or eliminate methane emissions. MLA is focused on working with existing research partners such as CSIRO and James Cook University, as well as establishing new partnerships to further develop bioactive additives, such as Red Asparagopsis seaweed which has been shown to virtually eliminate methane emissions from livestock. However, key barriers to overcome include developing a consistent and affordable supply and a delivery mechanism for intensive and extensive animal feeding systems. CSIRO is leading commercialisation efforts for Red Asparagopsis seaweed.

Storing carbon

Sequestering or storing carbon in vegetation is well understood. In Australia, landholders can be remunerated through the ERF that now has numerous ways for the beef industry to access the Fund. The beef industry is the largest beneficiary of the Fund to date with over $1.66b returned to landholders for storing or avoiding carbon through their operations. Australia now has a soil carbon method that meets the requirements of the Paris Agreement. The first credits were issued and sold in March 2019. While the ERF methods present an opportunity for landholders, the measurement and administration requirements
present a significant barrier to entry. An increase in the carbon price may motivate producers to overcome these barriers. There are many other opportunities for landholders to benefit from storing carbon such as selling carbon credits through voluntary schemes. Companies, like airlines or miners, buy these credits to offset emissions.

Developing markets

New markets need to be developed to incentivise beef businesses to take further action on carbon. These incentives need to support carbon reduction as well as natural resource improvement. Government or voluntary schemes could put a value on the ecosystem services that farmers provide to stimulate even more action. There is also an opportunity to sell carbon neutral beef at a premium, however the technology to trace and verify this across the supply chain needs to be developed.

Integrated management systems

Research outputs will be integrated with farming systems models and decision support tools to evaluate new management interventions (novel shrubs, legumes, pastures, supplements, mixed farming, cropping, woody vegetation, forestry) and technologies to optimise productivity and profitability whilst minimising GHG emissions. Advanced digital technology will be used to link remote sensing to simulation models to measure and monitor how pasture, soil carbon and water use efficiency respond to changed management. New generation remote sensing products will increase the understanding and recognition of management-induced improvements in land condition. Key enabling technology such as blockchain will be explored as a means to underpin carbon projects on farm, and overcome the cost of carbon credit measurement and validation which is a financial barrier to participation in the carbon markets under some methods at this point in time.

Offsets

Offsets will be investigated in the short term but ultimately the industry aims to balance carbon in the landscapes in which it operates. In 2018, some operators have begun to claim carbon neutrality and, in the short term, have used offsets to achieve this.

Policy

Industry policy groups have been focused on ensuring state and federal policy settings and funding can enable the industry to deliver on our ambitious 2030 target. RMAC has partnered with Greening Australia, the Australian Forest Products Association and Farmers for Climate Action to form an advocacy alliance
– Climate Proofing Australia. This new alliance advocates for clear and stable policy underpinned by objective science-based evidence that aligns with the CN30 pathways and enables large-scale investment in sustainable development.