Two reports released today by a think tank have found regional Australia wants more certainty as the country heads towards net zero emissions by 2050.

One of the reports released by the Regional Australia Institute focuses on regional cities, while the other looks at the industries outside capital cities that it says will be most affected by decarbonisation, including transport, mining, agriculture, civil engineering and heavy industry.

The regional cities report found Australia “would benefit from a carbon pricing system and emissions trading system”, and that no surveyed regional leaders thought their area was well-prepared for decarbonisation.

The institute’s chief economist, Kim Houghton, said whether or not a carbon tax was introduced, regional Australia wanted to plan for the future.

“They want regulatory certainty about where the market is going to go, what’s going to happen to the price of fossil fuels, what’s going to happen to the price of electricity, what’s going to happen to our energy-intensive industry that might be in our region,” Dr Houghton said.

“The worst thing I think we can do is what we have done, which is to flick the switch on and off again.”

The agricultural sector faces an uphill battle towards decarbonisation.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

The institute’s Decarbonising Pivotal Industries In Regional Australia report found the process towards decarbonisation in the regions remained “immature”.

“The existing, largely unplanned, market-led approach to achieving net zero is unlikely to be effective in these difficult to decarbonise sectors, certainly over the short to medium term,” its authors said.

“Without substantial incentives and regional, place and sector-based coordination, decarbonisation will likely be challenging for many parts of regional Australia.”

Meeting community expectations

With its reliance on diesel, and the fact that livestock produce a large amount of methane as they digest their food, agriculture is one industry facing many challenges in its journey towards carbon neutrality.

But Todd Woodard’s sheep and cattle farm at Wrattonbully, in South Australia’s south-east, is already there.

Todd Woodard’s farm at Wrattonbully is already carbon neutral.(ABC South East SA: Eugene Boisvert)

Rather than focusing on electricity and fuel use — which make up between 3 and 4 per cent of the farm’s emissions — he has focused on sequestering carbon through practices that improve the soil’s biology.

This also increases the productivity of the farm, although Mr Woodard is lucky to be in a region with soil, rainfall and grasses that make storing carbon in the soil easier than in other places.

“I think any industry — whether it’s livestock, agriculture or a manufacturing-based industry — we all need to be looking at our emissions and how we fit with that,” Mr Woodard said.

He said consumers and the general public increasingly expected the farming industry to do the right thing by the environment.

“There’s … a social licence there as well and I think that’s where the industry needs to look at external expectations on us, as an industry, around good practices in not only animal welfare, but looking after the environment and doing our thing,” he said.

Regional leaders feel unprepared

The Regional Australia Institute’s second report released today, Transition Pathways in Regional Australia, found none of the local leaders interviewed regarded their regional cities as well-prepared for decarbonisation.

“This transition is going to affect everybody, not just the places that used to have a power station,” Dr Houghton said.

“Let’s have a good understanding of finding the places that will be vulnerable to the phasing-out of fossil fuels and let’s try and find processes which can empower those communities to get ahead of the game and map out a pathway.”

Regional Australia Institute chief executive Liz Ritchie launched the reports today with SA Primary Industries Minister Clare Scriven.(ABC South East SA: Caroline Horn)

A spokeswoman for federal Energy Minister Chris Bowen said the government welcomed “constructive input on the transformation to net zero across the economy as it develops six sectoral plans and a national net zero plan”.

“The Albanese government’s Powering Australia Plan has always been strongly focused on ensuring Australia’s regions prosper and benefit in a global clean energy economy,” she said.

“We have implemented the $1.9 billion Powering the Regions Fund and are legislating the Net Zero Economy Agency, which is about ensuring the workers, industries and communities that have powered Australia for generations can seize the opportunities of Australia’s net zero transformation.” 

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