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Carbon neutral by 2030: your questions answered

04 November 2021

With emissions targets dominating news headlines and COP26 underway in Glasgow, MLA has compiled these FAQs around the red meat industry’s ambition to be carbon neutral by 2030 (CN30).

In this recording from a recent MLA update (Impact through sustainability innovations), MLA’s Doug McNicholl takes us through the CN30 roadmap, industry’s progress to date and the actions we can take today to achieve our carbon neutral by 2030 target.

When did the red meat industry set its carbon neutrality target?

Striving for carbon neutrality is nothing new for our industry – we’ve been on the journey towards net zero emissions since 2017. With ongoing investment in this area, the industry is confident it can achieve its ambition by 2030.

Is this target even possible?

CSIRO modelling has demonstrated CN30 is achievable and is compatible with industry’s target of doubling the value of red meat sales by 2030, with much of the science and practice change under investigation or already available for adoption.

MLA launched the CN30 Roadmap in 2020. It provides industry with enterprise‑level pathways and practices that reduce GHG emissions, improve carbon storage and sequestration and provide tools to calculate enterprise-level GHG emissions.

What progress has the industry made to date?

The red meat and livestock industry has already more than halved net greenhouse gas emissions since 2005, which is more than any other sector in Australia. Resources | Red Meat Green Facts 

Figure 1: Summary of net GHG emissions from the Australian red meat industry

How is CN30 being measured?

CN30 means the Australian red meat and livestock industry will make no net release of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions into the atmosphere by 2030, as measured by the Australian Government’s National Greenhouse Gas Inventory (NGHGI).

The NGHGI reports Australia’s emissions annually, from 1990 to present, in keeping with Australia’s international GHG emissions reduction commitments, with 2005 set as the baseline year. The NGHGI reports GHG emissions as total carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) and the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) for each sector.

Our industry’s major GHG emissions are enteric methane (CH4), a by‑product of ruminant livestock digestion, carbon dioxide (CO2) from soil and vegetation change, and nitrous oxide (N2O) from soils.

Methane (CH4) is the primary source of GHG emissions from livestock. The gas is a high contributor to global warming but also has the shortest lifespan of all emissions.

The Global Warming Potential (GWP) is the most used and internationally accepted metric to report GHG emissions and is a measure of how much energy a greenhouse gas traps in the atmosphere in a given time period. The GWP of other gases, including methane, is converted to equivalent amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2e) for accounting and reporting purposes.

There are alternative metrics that are being explored for accounting and reporting of short-lived GHGs, such as methane. One is GWP*, which factors in the atmospheric lifespan of GHGs. MLA is currently exploring using both GWP100 (GWP over a 100-year period) and GWP* in future reporting on emissions from the red meat industry.

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Sources: *National Greenhouse Gas Inventory Quarterly Update, 2020.
**Carbon Dioxide Emissions Intensity for New Australian Light Vehicles, 2018.

How do emissions from cattle compare to other sectors?

The electricity, energy and transport sectors are significantly larger emitters of GHG than the red meat industry.

The largest emitters are electricity generation (33%), stationary energy (20%) and transport (18%), while the red meat industry makes up approximately 11.8%*.

You’re emitting almost twice as much carbon by driving a car than you are eating beef 3–4 times per week.

The average car travels 13,500km in a normal year and emits 2,443.5kg CO2**, whereas if you eat beef as per the Australian Dietary Guidelines, the emissions would be 1,131.8kg CO2-e per year.

Sources: *National Greenhouse Gas Inventory Quarterly Update, 2020.
**Carbon Dioxide Emissions Intensity for New Australian Light Vehicles, 2018.

But what about all the methane produced by cattle – isn’t that contributing to global warming?

Cattle can actually be part of the climate solution – see video below to find out more.

It’s true that cattle emit methane, a strong greenhouse gas (GHG), but methane is very different to CO2, which is the most abundant greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

Methane emissions from cattle break down in the atmosphere, whereas carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels continues to build up over centuries.

Methane emitted by cattle is recycled within 12 years, whereas carbon dioxide emissions from energy and transport sectors burning fossil fuels remain for thousands of years.*

Source: University of California, Davis, Methane, cows and climate change, 2020.

Video source: Australian Good Meat