Avoiding climate change, halting and reversing biodiversity loss and balancing our food production goals are three interlinked and critical goals for Australia. 

But is it possible to reach all of these goals at the same time? 

And how can the nation achieve this?

Global goals for climate and nature

The 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil saw three Rio Conventions set up: one on biodiversity, one on desertification and one on climate change).

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is the largest and most significant international agreement on nature. 

Much like the climate treaty, its aims are discussed every two years at a Conference of Parties (COP). 

At the end of last year at CBD COP15, governments signed a once-in-a-decade deal, called the Kunming-Montréal Global Biodiversity Framework, to halt the loss of nature. 

A range of targets were agreed to, including a global commitment to conserve 30 per cent of land and ocean by the end of the decade.

At present, the Global Biodiversity Framework and the Paris Agreement are pursued and defined separately. 

However, climate and nature commitments are beginning to converge. 

Achieving the Paris Agreement goals requires conserving or rehabilitating natural ecosystems or enhancing natural processes in modified ecosystems. 

COP27 was the first climate COP that acknowledged ‘nature-based solutions’ in a cover decision, highlighting that nature and climate are interconnected. 

The latest stocktake review assessing the implementation of the Paris Agreement includes a call to recognise the Global Biodiversity Framework commitments. 

At a global level, there is now an understanding that there is no way to achieve the Paris Agreement without protecting, restoring, sustaining and managing nature.

Meeting Australia’s climate and nature goals whilst sustaining agriculture 

Australia is aiming to achieve three related yet distinct outcomes by 2030: 

  • reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 43 per cent below 2005 levels
  • fulfilling its pledge to meet the Global Biodiversity Framework targets. 
  • significantly increasing agricultural production. 

Achieving all three will be a balancing act.

Land is both a source of greenhouse gas emissions and a sink capable of removing carbon from the atmosphere. 

Our modelling suggests that high volumes of carbon sequestration are needed for Australia to reach net zero within the bounds of the Paris Agreement temperature goals. 

This has implications for the agricultural and land use sector and for the speed and depth of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions needed across all sectors. 

A tree in a field.
Australia aims to protect at least 30 per cent of its land. Meanwhile the agricultural sector aims to increase production. (Supplied)

One of Australia’s nature-related goals is to protect at least 30 per cent of its land.

Estimates show Australia would need to protect and conserve an additional 60 million hectares – roughly 9 times the size of Tasmania – to meet that goal.

To reach 30 per cent protected lands, Australia may have to rely on the creation of  new reserves by non-government organisations and Indigenous people, rather than more national parks

This goal would also require action on private land. Currently, private land is home to almost half of threatened species in Australia. 

And 55 per cent of land is used for agriculture.

Agriculture is a key export industry, producing over $60 billion of food annually and employing over 300,000 people. 

The National Farmers’ Federation has laid down a vision for the agricultural industry to exceed $100 billion in farm gate output by 2030. 

Climate and nature goals will need to be met at the same time as the agricultural sector seeks to expand.

The land sector and its contribution

Australia’s land sector needs to play a pivotal role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, restore ecosystems and biodiversity and meet agricultural demand, while supporting regional communities. 

Land use involves multiple interacting sectors including agriculture, forestry, conservation, human settlements and energy provision, among others. 

Land is also finite. 

Adopting a systems approach is crucial for Australia to achieve its mitigation and adaptation objectives. 

The country needs to consider not just how it manages lands, but what is produced and where – and ways to incentivise change. 

New land use configurations are required that support economy-wide net zero targets while also meeting other environmental and social goals. 

COP28 is underway in Dubai. ((SC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED: International Labour Organization)

Minister for Climate Change Chris Bowen has announced that decarbonisation plans will be developed for sectors, including agriculture and land. 

These plans will be based on sectoral pathways currently being developed by the Climate Change Authority. 

It is essential that these pathways, and the plans they inform, support and accelerate emissions reduction in agriculture and increase carbon storage in the land through careful design to optimise benefits while minimising trade-offs. 

Coordinated action to align land use with national nature and climate goals can help balance the pressures and demands on land to deliver multiple benefits. 

Climate COP28 is well underway in Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. And next year Australia will host the first Global Nature Positive Summit ahead of the next UN Biodiversity Conference

These summits provide an opportunity for the Australian Government to demonstrate leadership on a global stage and take bold steps to meet the ambition laid out in the Paris Agreement and to protect, sustain and restore nature in a synergistic manner. 

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