More than 30 state and federal government officials, investors, and leaders representing businesses and workers met for the fifth 2035 Climate Initiative roundtable on 27 March. This time, the discussion focused on the implications for the Australian land sector in meeting climate and nature goals. 

The first half of the discussion shed light on the barriers and opportunities we face in aligning land use with Australia’s net zero goals. The second half explored the steps we can take today to reach our future vision of sustainable land use in 2035. 

Reaching net zero climate goals is challenging without significant changes in how we consider and manage land use in Australia, and there are a complex set of elements at play as we forge a path to understanding how we achieve meaningful traction on the road to 2035. 

Below are some of the key points that emerged from the discussion:

  • Complex interactions and trade-offs: The land and agriculture sectors are complex, involving multiple interacting sectors. There is increasing competition for land to produce food, renewable energy, and sequester carbon, which requires careful balancing of priorities.
  • Agri-food systems: A shift in perspective is necessary—from focusing solely on agricultural systems to considering agri-food systems and holistic sustainable landscape management.
  • Sectoral pathways and emissions: The Climate Change Authority is exploring technology and emissions reduction pathways, with a focus on the significant emissions from livestock and fertiliser use. A key challenge is to deploy existing and emerging technologies effectively.
  • Challenges and opportunities: Farmers are committed to pursuing net zero but face challenges such as data collection, understanding emissions, and dealing with market mechanisms like carbon credits.
  • Policy and market incentives: There is a lack of market incentives for farmers to reduce emissions. The need for climate literacy and capacity building is critical, as is the development of a standardised emissions measurement system.
  • Nature-positive pathways and finance: A nature-positive economy could significantly benefit Australia’s national income. Investment in integrated data systems is essential for informed decision-making. Financial valuations need to better recognise and reflect the value of natural capital.
  • Climate change impact: The agriculture and land sector is highly vulnerable to climate change, more so than many other economic areas. Farmers are eager to achieve net zero but face significant hurdles.
  • “Insetting” emissions: While there is a high demand for offsets from the land sector, there’s a notable trend within the agricultural community towards “insetting” emissions directly within their operations instead of selling offsets into carbon markets.
  • Market incentives: Currently, there are minimal market incentives for farmers to adopt sustainable practices, with few exceptions outside of selling offsets to other sectors.
  • Natural capital value: We need to better recognise and reflect the value of natural capital in financial valuations. Investment in natural capital is not widely understood, and most investment in Australia comes from international sources.
  • Concentration of emissions: Livestock accounts for two-thirds of emissions, with a significant portion related to exports.

Collaborating together, we can make genuine strides towards a more sustainable future for Australia’s land use.