Australia’s climate is changing and farmers are at the frontlines, which is why we need net zero by 2050, writes Isaac Jeffrey, Chief Executive Officer, National Irrigators’ Council.  

Our climate is changing. The dry areas of our country are getting drier and we are already experiencing less rain and inflows into our river systems. We are seeing more extreme and frequent weather events brought on by our changing climate. These trends are set to continue, coupled with rising global temperatures on track to potentially exceed two degrees. 

To put it into perspective, the last ice age was just five degrees lower than our historical averages and had catastrophic consequences. A two-to-three degree rise will have major impacts on irrigated agriculture, food chains, trade, the environment and local communities as water security deteriorates. In the most extreme case, it will risk global health, food and national security.  

All water users will be impacted. It will mean less water for food and fibre production, for First Nations, for local communities and for the environment. There needs to be measured and balanced responses to these challenges, and we must confront them together and share the opportunities, risks and burdens.  

Australia’s farmers continue to be at the forefront of leading adaptation and responses to drought and climate change, but they cannot be left to pay the entire cost alone, especially when much of the change is being brought about by other higher emitting industries.  

Government policies to address climate change must recognise agriculture’s potential as a mass carbon-sink. Irrigated agriculture can become a large part of the solution.  The nation and the world can only reach net zero if the capacity of agriculture to sequester carbon in the soil is intelligently harnessed. 

To be part of the solution, agriculture must be able to operate in a stable and practical policy environment. It needs the right policies in place, so it can continue to feed and clothe Australia, while earning export income and sequestering carbon.

Australia must also acknowledge other countries are changing and we risk being left behind. No longer are people willing to standby and hope the science is wrong. Nations are taking action and launching programs to help their people make the transition and to encourage others into action.  

The European Union has already signalled intentions to limit trade with nations not doing their bit. Australian farmers and our economy will suffer, and we may miss out on valuable export opportunities, should other nations adopt similar policies. We also risk an imbalanced playing field and uncompetitive global market if other countries are investing in new technologies to support their industries, while Australia is not.  

I’m a realist. I understand the argument that our contribution to global emissions is small compared to other countries. However, if we can do our bit, we can more easily and credibly ask others to do theirs. 

Governments and industry need to work together to find the solutions and ease the burdens. We need sensible education programs, funding for research and development, and investment which sustains and create jobs, and assists the transition.  

All Australian businesses, including our farmers, need confidence to invest and make decisions, which can only be delivered by sound climate, energy and environmental policies. The time for partisanship and politicking is over, it’s now time for Australia to act. It might not be easy, but it is the right thing to do, and it will be vital to ensure Australia can continue to feed and clothe our people and the world.