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EMMA HURST: Time to take a lead on the climate emergency

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Methane from agribusiness contributes to global greenhouse emissions (Image by Billy Hathorn / Wikimedia Commons)

NSW State Member Emma Hurst has penned the following plea to her peers for greater leadership on the climate emergency.

DEAR FELLOW POLITICIANS,

The climate crisis that is causing our forests to burn, animals to suffer and perish, and leaving communities unable to breathe, is our fault.

Australia is on fire. Across the country, the people who elected us are fighting to stay alive. This is their only home. This is our only home. We are in the midst of a catastrophe, a catastrophe that will only get worse unless we recognise that the animal agribusiness industry is one of the greatest causes of climate change.

It is something Australia can no longer afford to ignore.

Earlier this year, Nobel Prize-winning physicist Steven Chu revealed that the emissions from animal agriculture are a far bigger problem than emissions from energy. Combining emissions produced by the meat and dairy industries, fertiliser use for growing massive feed crops, and land-use changes including deforestation and soil disruption, Mr Chu found that the cattle and dairy industry produced more emissions than all the countries in the European Union combined.

And this is not the first time that the animal agribusiness industry has come under scrutiny from experts. As early as 2009, WorldWatch Institute’s peer-reviewed report argued that 51 per cent of annual global emissions were tied to animal agribusiness.

This shocking statistic was further backed up by John Hopkins University, which stated

'If global trends in meat and dairy intake continue, global mean temperature rise will more than likely exceed 2o C, even with dramatic emissions reductions across non-agricultural sectors.'

Governments and politicians across Australia should take heed of this alarming research. Deforestation for animal agribusiness is rampant across every state, with our continent having been extensively modified to make way for animal farming. Following European colonisation, 56 per cent of Australian land has been transformed for animal grazing use —land that was previously bushland and forests home to myriad native animals.

We must take immediate action to address the emissions caused by the animal agribusiness industry. And it lies with us here in government – and us alone – to take action to reduce our reliance on animal agribusiness and support Australian farmers to shift to sustainable, plant-based, climate-conscious farming practices.

With Australian consumers already spending approximately $150 million on plant-based meats in the last year – and at least half of those products being imported – the economic argument for a just transition for our local farmers already exists. What it needs now is government action and support.

Across the world, governments are stepping up to the plate, recognising the impact of animal agriculture on climate and supporting the plant-based meat industry. In 2017, the Dutch Agriculture Minister launched a $2 million "New Food Challenge" to support companies in increasing the number of healthy, plant-based food products available to consumers. In 2018 the Canadian Government invested $153 million U.S. dollars into the Protein Industries Supercluster to help develop plant-based alternatives to meet the growing consumer demand across their country. Both the German and Singaporean governments have recognised the impacts of animal agriculture on climate and recently contributed substantial funds to researching plant-based meat alternatives.

Now it is Australia’s turn and, what’s more, we already know transitioning to plant-based agriculture can work for us.

A recent report by Food Frontier shows that with government support, Australia’s plant-based meat industry could grow to become a multibillion-dollar industry by 2030, creating over 15,400 jobs and all while significantly reducing our climate impacts. Not only would we be able to create a domestic market worth over $4.5 billion but we would be actively addressing our climate emissions in the process.

Here in New South Wales, there is no denying that the climate crisis is quite literally at our doorstep. The research is telling us that the animal agribusiness industry is a significant contributor, and by transitioning to plant-based agriculture there is no question that we will significantly reduce our climate impacts.

To my fellow politicians, never forget that we were chosen to lead, and the best way for us to lead on climate action is to support a transition to sustainable, climate-friendly, plant-based agriculture.

Emma Hurst is a Member of the NSW Legislative Council representing the Animal Justice Party.

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