Politics

Lack of support for emissions reduction target will ‘punish farmers’, NFF tells Nationals | Climate crisis

The National Farmers’ Federation has made a final pitch to the National party to support a net zero emissions reduction target before Scott Morrison heads to Glasgow, telling MPs that failure to do so could “punish farmers” as the rest of the world decarbonises.

Morrison is due to depart for the United Nations-led climate conference late next week by the Nationals continue to work a package of measures to accompany any 2050 commitment – including funding for regional jobs and infrastructure projects.

The party’s leader, Barnaby Joyce, has signalled the Nationals’ priorities will be put to Morrison by the end of this week. A Nationals subgroup comprising ministers David Littleproud, Bridget McKenzie, Keith Pitt and Kevin Hogan is coordinating proposals from their colleagues, including ascertaining specific safeguards required for the Nationals to formally agree to adopt the net zero target.

Joyce on Tuesday acknowledged that Morrison had a clear mandate from the Liberals to commit Australia to a net zero target, and the target would be a cabinet decision, meaning dissenting ministers would need to consider their positions.

But the deputy prime minister told Sky News “the mandate from the Nationals party room is still being discussed”.

Joyce said his own view about adopting net zero was one of caution, but he said his views weren’t the primary consideration. He characterised his role in the net zero deliberation as collecting views from colleagues in the Nationals party room “and if required, negotiate”.

The Nationals are expected to meet again in Canberra on Sunday with a final proposal to go to cabinet and the joint party room early next week.

The NFF’s president Fiona Simson, who has met with Nationals MPs this week, said she had emphasised the “why” for signing up to net zero.

“The ‘what’ is clear – the target and a strong pathway to transition for our industry – but the ‘why’ is the interesting thing for agriculture,” Simson told Guardian Australia.

“We are incredibly globally exposed, we are really vulnerable to consumer expectations, and to other country’s policy changes in response to global attitudes and right now climate change is undoubtedly a global issue.

“We could easily be subject to changes in tariffs, to carbon border adjustment mechanisms, to all sorts of different initiatives that other countries may apply if Australia does not put in place a target. That will punish farmers, because our products and our commodities are totally governed by global trading rules.

“Far from creating uncertainty, a target actually creates certainty in an industry where much is uncertain.”

The NFF, which previously opposed emission reduction targets, now supports an economy-wide aspiration of net zero emissions by 2050, but wants support for farmers to navigate the transition.

While the NFF has also called for the government to “square the ledger” over land-clearing regulations that saw landowners contribute to Australia’s Kyoto targets, Simson said she did not expect that to form part of this week’s negotiations.

Instead, the NFF is calling for support for farmers to help meet the targets through a financial assistance package that was “at least as important” as the $400m raised annually from the agricultural research and development levy.

“Right now, farmers are absolutely involved in developing the science, the technology, the data around lowering emissions and soil sequestration and coupling that with continuing to produce the best food and fibre in the world,” she said.

“We want farmers, family farmers to be able to benefit and to continue the work that they are doing and be recognised for it.”

Simson said while some of these programs would take time to develop “we are talking about a 30-year pathway here.”

“Sometimes in agriculture we feel like the rug is pulled out under our feet when another country makes a decision without much notice. Here we have got the chance to design a 30-year pathway, where we can still be a strong industry, deliver on our roadmap and continue to be a growing industry, and that is why we think it is important.

“It is not going to be an easy task for our industry, and these decisions are complex because a lot of it is uncertain, but the one thing that is certain is that if we set targets we can work towards those targets.”

Liberals and Nationals met together in Canberra on Tuesday for the first time since the government’s net zero deliberation has gathered pace.

Senators Gerard Rennick and Matt Canavan continued to express opposition to the climate policy shift. According to colleagues, Canavan suggested a net zero commitment was ephemeral, like the Liberal party’s “jobs and growth” slogan in the 2016 election that the Coalition almost lost.

In the Liberal party room that preceded Tuesday’s joint party room meeting, Trent Zimmerman, Julian Leeser and Lucy Wicks spoke in support of net zero. The Queensland MP Garth Hamilton expressed some reservations.

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