“We don’t have a sense of urgency to achieve these emission reduction targets,” ABC News reports he told the Australian Farm Institute Roundtable in the national capital, Canberra.
“There’s an entrenched anti-climate sentiment in the government at the moment, and indeed government ministers are not turning up at events if they have the word ‘climate’ in the title.
“The comments made by the Prime Minister (Scott Morrison) at the United Nations, that we are going to meet our emissions targets, was a gross misrepresentation and was staggering for someone in his position.”
Dr Hewson, who is now the chair of the Business Council for Sustainable Development, said he would like to see regenerative agriculture form part of the solution.
“Regenerative agriculture can offset a very significant portion of our future emissions, and I’m staggered that is not being recognised by the National Party,” he said.
Regenerative agriculture aims to capture carbon in soil and above ground biomass, reversing current global trends of atmospheric accumulation.
“It would have a lot of benefits for regional Australia; a farmer could earn carbon credits or a stream of income for sequestering carbon on their farm.”
ABC News reports the conference was also told large multinational food companies were moving to adopt new targets to reduce emissions in line with the UN sponsored Paris Agreement on climate change.
The Sustainable Food Policy Alliance, which represents companies such as Nestle, Unilever, Mars and Danone, had backed calls for companies to use their political influence to push governments to implement a science-based policy agenda.
ABC News reports some academics believe this marks a shift in the global effort to combat climate change, when companies are moving faster than governments to reduce emissions.
rofessor Richard Eckard, an expert in agricultural sciences at the University of Melbourne, said government policy might be less influential than market forces.
“In the past six months, I’ve been back and relooked at all these companies’ sustainability statements and noticed that they’ve all switched to absolute emission reduction targets in line with the Paris Agreement,” he said.
“Some of them have interim steps to get there, but all of them are aiming for carbon-neutral food production by 2050.”
To achieve this goal, some companies agreed to use 100 per cent renewable energy, while others committed to reducing their emissions.
Industries that cannot reduce their emissions will have to explore using carbon offsets to meet these targets, which is creating a lot of demand.
“I think it’s quite notable that of the 100 largest economies in the world, 69 are companies, not countries,” he said.
“And we’ve been looking to government for leadership, in actual fact, maybe it’s these companies that are sending us the signals that need to be responded to.”
Dr Hewson also supported plans for a HECS-style scheme that would see farmers receive a baseline carbon reading to help remove barriers for those looking to explore carbon farming initiatives as the market developed.
Meat and Livestock Australia is moving towards a goal that would see the industry become carbon neutral by 2030.
However, experts believe it will fall short due to a lack of research and funding.
“Achieving that target will be a very tall order,” Professor Eckard said.
“As an industry, they don’t have the funding to allocate to create a low-methane cow, that’s a long way off.”
Professor Eckard said the industry had only 10 to 20 per cent of the funding needed to develop low-emissions solutions for livestock.
It will require partnerships with multinational companies to fund that gap in research and require academics to collaborate across countries with long-term projects.
“One problem is the short-termism that we have towards research with one-, two- and three-year contracts, these are 10 to 20-year problems,” he said.
“And we’re not alone, we’re not the only country with this problem, Brazil and New Zealand have a bigger problem than us.
“There is no one organisation that can fund this solution, we need a coordinated long-term effort.”