Cattle Australia, representing grass-fed cattle producers, is urging the red meat sector to abandon its net zero target in favour of a "climate neutral" goal, advocating for more modest reductions in methane emissions.

Despite on-paper progress toward net zero, the $75 billion red meat industry, led by Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), has faced criticism from climate scientists who argue that the net zero target is unachievable, with MLA stating that it is ‘not necessarily something that needs to be met’.

In 2017, the MLA set a net zero emissions target for 2030, aiming to maintain social license and drive investments in emissions reduction technologies. However, an MLA-commissioned report revealed that by 2021, the sector reduced its net emissions by 78% compared to 2005 levels, largely due to forest regrowth offsetting methane emissions.

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Cattle Australia’s deputy chair, Adam Coffey, highlighted the need for recognition that methane emissions from livestock differ from fossil CO2 emissions. He called for a review of greenhouse gas targets to determine the best way forward, challenging the current process.

However, climate scientists have found fault with this shift. Prof. Mark Howden from the Australian National University stated that the climate neutral model lacks credibility and does not address the goal of limiting global warming.

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Other experts argue that claims of climate neutrality can be misleading, with Prof. Richard Eckard from the University of Melbourne warning that such targets could hinder investment in methane reduction technologies and fail to meet global supply chain emissions goals.

Despite the push for climate neutrality, the red meat sector continues to market its net zero target, recently presented at COP28 in Dubai. The industry is also considering separate targets for different greenhouse gases, a concept supported by climate scientists like Prof. Myles Allen from the University of Oxford.

Cattle Australia plans to further discuss this issue at Beef Week in Rockhampton, highlighting the ongoing debate over the most effective and realistic strategies for reducing the industry’s climate impact.