Climate watchers around the world were waiting in trepidation for the latest scientific report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published on 9 August.

As anticipated, the report tells us the temperature will get hotter, the oceans will continue to rise as they fill with melting ice, and the floods, droughts and bushfires will get worse. It confirms, without any doubt, that human activities are responsible for producing greenhouse gas emissions that drive global warming.

Here in Australia, the political debate about climate change is focused on whether the federal government should commit to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. That target date is now considered far too distant. Australian scientists tell us we must reach zero emissions by 2035 to avoid irreversible climate chaos and societal collapse.

The level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere began to rise from the start of the industrial revolution.

Coal, found on or just below the surface, had been used for thousands of years to burn and create heat. But the industrial revolution demanded more and more coal to develop everything we value today, from machinery to electricity and modern homes. Coal mining worldwide has become a massive and wealthy industry.

The fossil fuel companies spent many millions of dollars on a comprehensive international campaign to change public opinion on the climate crisis by casting doubt on scientific research. They quietly funded a large array of climate denial groups. Just like the tobacco industry found ways to persuade us that cigarettes were good for us.

Is it conceivable that the coal industry has been responsible for the focus on agricultural emissions?

Agricultural production already captures and controls its own emissions. The carbon dioxide produced by agriculture is known as a ‘short-term carbon cycle’. Carbon dioxide from the animals or from tilling the ground to grow vegetables has always been re-captured naturally by grass, shrubs and trees; they need it for photosynthesis and growth.

There is another greenhouse gas, methane, that is more than 25 times as potent as carbon-dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Cattle, sheep and goats have four stomachs, most notably the large rumen that can remarkably digest grass, scrub, even trees. But they do belch a lot of methane. Australian scientists are up to that challenge, developing food supplements to reduce the methane production, and training calves’ stomachs to produce less methane. Science and innovation that can be fed to the world.

Waste landfill sites are another significant source of methane. Many landfill sites are now capturing that methane and using it to generate electricity. Better facilities and the separation of different materials will lead to more efficient energy production. Australians are generally very willing to recycle and will want to assist in any scheme that reduces waste and generates electricity.

So, with agriculture working to manage its emissions, a revolution in waste management, electric vehicles on the horizon and sources of renewable energy readily available across this continent, that just leaves the fossil fuel industry to get its act in order.

Australia is the fifth greatest producer of coal in the world.

About 70% of the coal mined is exported, mostly to eastern Asia, making Australia the largest exporter of coal in the world during 2020, based on economic value. An economic value that makes a lot of money for large multinational mining companies.

Despite the UN Secretary-General earlier this year urging all governments to ‘end the deadly addiction to coal’, the federal government has no plan to close mines or limit production. In fact, planning proposals for new coal mines continue unabated in this country.

The only effort shown by the government in controlling emissions from fossil fuels has been to spend billions of taxpayers’ dollars on developing a process known as carbon capture and storage (CCS). This involves capturing, transporting and storing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel power stations, energy intensive industries, and gas fields by injecting the captured greenhouse gases back into the ground.

Not surprisingly, CCS hasn’t been successful. It takes millions of years for the carbon of rotting trees to form coal underground. It is known as the ‘long-term carbon cycle’. You can’t make it happen more quickly. The only consequence of the CCS project has been to delay any real climate action.

The International Energy Association has said: ‘If governments are serious about the climate crisis, there can be no new investments in oil, gas and coal, from now – from this year’. But the federal government has developed a ‘Gas Fired Recovery Plan’. A plan to use natural gas to support the transition to renewable energy – even when the greenhouse gas methane leaks into the atmosphere at every stage of the gas industry.

The government is already handing out taxpayers’ money to help companies explore for natural gas in the vast Beetaloo basin south-east of Darwin.

It is beginning to feel as if the large fossil fuel companies are governing the future of this country, a future in which their gas emissions continue to fuel the climate emergency.

Eliminating fossil fuels brings many rewards.

Setting a target date for phasing out all fossil fuel production, would be a major contribution to keeping the rise in global temperature to below 1.5C. And there would be many rewards. A reduced risk of fatal bush fires. The air we breathe will be cleaner. The Great Barrier Reef more likely to survive. The wilderness areas of Tasmania no longer at risk of degradation.

And our grandchildren will be saved from cataclysmic world collapse.

Dr Janet Truslove has worked as a livestock veterinarian in Scotland and Queensland and now lives on a farm where regenerative agriculture is practised. She likes walking the hills and forests of Tasmania and putting pressure on governments to act on climate change.

IPCC: Climate Change Widespread, Rapid, and Intensifying.