When I moved here as a migrant in 1997, it didn't take long for me to realise that Australia is truly a phenomenally lucky country. From its diverse natural beauty to the high level of social trust, Australia has quickly conquered my heart and soul. Aussies have no pomp and ceremony, are pragmatic, generally focused on fulfilling their responsibilities rather than asserting their rights. Aussies love the underdog, are outward-looking and religion is a non-issue. As a conservative, I applaud our government for striking the right balance between generous social security and a free market economy, where most socio-economic issues are addressed democratically and with a high degree of success. There is an inherent feeling that no one is left behind.
Confusingly, when it comes to climate change, Australia hasn't quite mastered it as well as it should. Without getting into the particulars of the political history behind it, suffices to say we are in 2021, witnessing an inevitable clean technological revolution brought about by the pressing need to tackle global warming, and there is no turning back.
To avoid the worst impacts of climate change and ecosystem degradation, securing a productive, profitable, and sustainable future for Australia, we need to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by the middle of this century. There is no doubt that Australia is more than capable of this task when it comes to the energy sector, and our farmers are equally capable of achieving these objectives. The challenge is how to support regional Australia in this journey.
In terms of regional jobs, the coal regions will require industry development plans and more investment to diversify their economies to other industries, and the renewables and manufacturing sectors like green steel and green aluminium will play a big part in this transition.
According to a report by ACL Allen commissioned by think-tank Beyond Zero Emissions, green-powered industrial hubs in Gladstone and the Hunter Valley could add $13 billion to the nation's economy and create 45,000 jobs, in line with Grattan Institute energy director Tony Wood's view that we must begin to prepare for a manufacturing world dominated by green technology.
This transformation is already happening. For example, the industrial park in Gladstone is creating 11,000 jobs and the renewable hydrogen facility in Aldoga, west of Gladstone, will create a further 5000 jobs and could generate $4.2 billion in hydrogen exports as well as $10 billion for the Queensland economy. The Star of the South offshore wind in Gippsland which has a partnership with coal station Yallourn Energy will employ 1000 construction workers. And there are plenty of other projects in the pipeline.
With regards to farming, EY's recent report says agriculture could reach net zero by 2040 through diversifying into drought resilient carbon and biodiversity crops, electrifying transport, reforesting 0.9 per cent of farmland (mostly on unproductive land), whilst increasing productivity - without shrinking the beef herd or sheep flock.
Under Minister David Littleproud's leadership, several positive measures have already been put into place to reward farmers for climate change mitigation. The Emissions Reduction Fund allows landowners and farmers who adopt approved land management methods to earn carbon credits which can be sold to the government or on the secondary private market. The Farm Biodiversity Certification Scheme is being developed to enable consumers to identify Australian produce that is from farms that sustain biodiversity. The scheme supports access to new markets and creating price premiums for producers.
Nature-friendly and low-carbon farming practices which lock carbon in soils, reduce nutrient run-off from farmland into watercourses, and make space for wildlife, also create private benefits too. For example, companies may want, or be required, to purchase the carbon removals or the improvements in biodiversity that these changes deliver, and water companies may want to pay farmers for cleaner rivers to reduce their treatment costs.
Creating trusted credits for biodiversity, carbon and nutrient pollution enables farmers to sell the additional environmental benefits they are delivering on their land to private buyers in the marketplace - increasing the profitability and resilience of their businesses while helping to tackle climate change and biodiversity loss.
This provides a strong business case for farmers to manage natural resources positively, especially when you add the cost savings from using fewer artificial inputs, like fertilisers, and the premium that higher quality, added value food can fetch in domestic and international markets at a time when food provenance has become an increasingly salient issue for consumers.
So, the direction of travel is clear: renewables, green manufacturing and agriculture are in the driving seat. Policymakers should support the regions in this transition and not fear a target: by developing the right market signals, such as setting clear targets and creating credits for environmental improvements which are robust and investable, we can reduce barriers to investment and unlock new income opportunities for the regions and for the farmers as we transition to a greener, more resilient future.
- Cristina Talacko is chairwoman of the Coalition for Conservation.