Methane approach could 'isolate' Australia

The federal government fears methane targets may require
The federal government fears methane targets may require "culling herd sizes" of livestock.

Australia's stance on methane emissions is likely to see it isolated from other nations at the upcoming Glasgow climate summit, experts warn.

The federal government fears that cutting methane emissions 30 per cent by 2030 - in line with a new global target - would threaten the nation's gas and coal sectors, and require "culling herd sizes" of methane-belching livestock.

Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor said technologies that had the potential to reduce methane emissions from agriculture "are still in the very early stages of development".

"We are investing in things like soil carbon and livestock feed technologies, and if farmers want to adopt them, we will support that," he said in a statement to AAP on Thursday.

More than 30 countries led by the European Union and US have signed the Global Methane Pledge to slash emissions of the greenhouse gas, which is some 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

University of Sydney decarbonisation expert Jun Huang said Australia's refusal to meet the 2030 target was "simply a bad decision".

"It leaves Australia isolated - more and more countries are going to join, and if we don't it sends a negative signal to our partners we are working with on hydrogen and renewables," he said.

Countries to sign the pledge so far include the UK, Canada, and Saudi Arabia.

"The EU-US initiative has been positively received around the world, and we look forward to working with Australia to further reduce methane emissions," an EU spokesperson told AAP.

Tony Wood, lead author of a Grattan Institute report on reducing agriculture emissions, warned that a failure to quickly reduce methane emissions could leave Australian farmers vulnerable to border tariffs and changing consumer trends about meat consumption.

"I'm not suggesting to close the meat industry, but we can't ignore emissions from cattle," Mr Wood said.

The federal "net zero by 2050" plan to address methane emissions via low-emissions livestock feed to reduce cattle belching was challenging, as most Australian livestock grazed on open fields, he said.

About four per cent of Australia's cattle at any given moment are in feedlots where their diet can be easily controlled, according to the Australian Lot Feeders' Association.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce said methane emission reduction targets were excluded from net zero by 2050 plans in order for the Nationals to back the federal government policy.

"The Nats were absolutely implicit that no deal would go forward that we would support unless it was absolutely categorically ruled out, and we got that," he said.

Finance Minister Simon Birmingham said the government would look to reduce methane emissions by 80 per cent with new technologies at a future point in time.

Australian Greens leader Adam Bandt accused the government of using farmers as an excuse to protect the fossil fuel sector.

"This pledge isn't about cow farts or having a steak sandwich," he said.

"Scott Morrison could sign this pledge without touching one single cow ... (his) refusal isn't about protecting farmers, it's about protecting fracking."

Broken Hill sheep farmer and Climate Wise Agriculture founder Anika Molesworth said the government would not reduce methane emissions because it had committed to a gas-fired recovery.

"The blaming and fearmongering of farmers in order to prop up the fossil fuel industry makes me shake with anger," she tweeted.

Labor's climate change spokesperson Chris Bowen said although his party would not call for the federal government to sign the methane pledge, he'd like to see them "work with farmers and work with agriculture to reduce methane emissions".

The prime minister departs Australia on Thursday for G20 in Rome before heading to the Glasgow summit which starts on Sunday.

Australian Associated Press