Carbon Farming Gets a Belated Boost From PM
A new carbon farming initiative is on the cards. Is this the best alternative to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme that Prime Minister Julia Gillard (pictured here in a goose caricature by artist Anthony Pascoe) can come up with? Along with a community assembly to decide on climate change policy, it’s the Labor Party’s last offer before it goes to the polls this coming Saturday. Environment Business Australia CEO Fiona Wain says it’s “a significant step towards recognising the immense value of the natural processes of carbon management”.
Lucy Knight in Stock & Land (15 August 2010):
A NEW carbon farming initiative has been unveiled by the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, during her first rural visit of the Federal election campaign near Ballina on Saturday.
Sporting a brand new pair of RM Williams boots, the Prime Minister promised that a re-elected Labor Government would legislate rules that recognise various types of carbon credits that could be generated, and in turn sold, by farmers on the domestic and international markets.
This is despite the fact that flawed international accounting rules still exist for agriculture, after a failure to reach agreement on better recognition of agriculture at last year’s United Nations climate change summit in Copenhagen.
That means the scope for these incentives announced by the Prime Minister will largely be limited to the voluntary domestic market, however there would be some international market opportunities in the area of forestry.
Ms Gillard, flanked by Minister for Agriculture, Tony Burke, and Minster for Climate Change, Penny Wong, announced that farmers that help reduce and store pollution would receive credits that can be sold in Australia and overseas.
Ms Gillard said the incentive would provide new opportunities for Australian farmers, adding the Government would help facilitate the sale of the carbon credits.
“Farmers and landholders will benefit from a new income stream, and the environment will benefit from reduced pollution,” Ms Gillard said.
“There will be no restriction on the number of credits that can be generated, with initial conservative estimates suggesting it could be worth about $500 million (to farmers) over 10 years.”
Under the incentive, reforestation would be considered an eligible early means of generating credits, and there is scope for other projects which reduce emissions from livestock, fertiliser use and manure management, savannah burning, legacy waste in landfill and deforestation.
The initiative will be funded from re-allocated money in the Government’s renewable energy future fund.
The National Farmers’ Federation said in a statement that the announcement “recognises that carbon abatement through the agricultural sector is an opportunity that should not be ignored”.
But NFF pointed out that the international community is at varying stages in their efforts to reward the carbon abatement that agricultural and land use management delivers through the proactive efforts of landholders across the globe.
“The international marketplace for carbon credits has been stunted in the wake of the lack of progress at Copenhagen, but the market may certainly develop in the future and so today’s announcement is prudent in gearing farmers up to engage as and when markets develop,” NFF said.
“The rules underpinning these markets can often be confusing and difficult to interpret at a practical level.
“This initiative will hopefully deliver some clarity for Australian farmers about what practices delivered on farm will be compliant with the international carbon markets.”
NFF said in order to maximise the opportunities for Australian farmers through carbon farming, two key ingredients are still required – the Government must continue to actively pursue changes to the flawed international carbon accounting rules to ensure that they appropriately acknowledge the positive carbon mitigation practices undertaken by farmers.
NFF said extra funding would be needed to optimise the mitigation opportunities through land use and livestock management.
“The ALP has positively acknowledged their support for more R&D funding in this area today but we are still looking for robust funding commitments,” NFF said.
The Coalition and the Greens both criticised Labor’s plan, with Opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt arguing the deal short changes farmers.
“Labor’s claim that the Coalition scheme would not allow Australian farmers to access carbon markets is a fabrication,” Mr Hunt said.
“Our scheme offers the added benefit of access to funds through our $10.5 billion over 9 years Emissions Reduction Fund.
“Julia Gillard’s scheme short-changes farmers by offering them only a fraction of what the Coalition plan could deliver from the ERF.”
Greens deputy leader Christine Milne said Labor’s scheme would cause “more problems than it solves because it doesn’t understand either the climate challenge or land management”.
“The government is dancing around the climate crisis, coming up with more ill-thought-out nonsolutions because it refuses to do the right thing – protect our forest carbon stores and introduce an effective, well-designed price on pollution,” Senator Milne said.
“Those in the offset market we have spoken to this morning are crying out for more detail. It sounds like, at best, this announcement is not new, it is simply trying to address the vacuum left when the Greenhouse Friendly scheme ended in July leaving businesses in the voluntary carbon offset markets in limbo.
“We are also concerned that it could create more problems for farmers and other land managers if it focuses solely on carbon without at the same protecting farming land, water and biodiversity from perverse outcomes.
“Farmers across Australia will also be confused, and troubled that this could cause the same problems for them as managed investment schemes. Schemes designed by the city for the city without thinking about the impact on people on the land have a bad history.
“Perhaps worst of all, this is yet another new badly-designed climate promise funded by taking money away from renewable energy.”
Environment Business Australia (EBA) welcomes Labor’s Carbon Farming Initiative
“The outline that has been presented in the policy statement by Prime Minister Gillard is a significant step towards recognising the immense value of the natural processes of carbon management. We are also pleased that the technologies and approaches will be subject to scientific peer review” said Fiona Wain, CEO of EBA.
EBA formed a Bio-CCS Group in 2009 to support companies developing biosequestration projects to reduce CO2 emissions and CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere.
As well as providing a fast-acting carbon sink, soils with higher carbon levels are more productive and more drought and erosion resistant. This is why the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) is undertaking extensive work on soil carbon as a way to combat desertification and to increase food production.
Man-made, or anthropogenic, CO2 is the main greenhouse gas and its accumulation in the atmosphere is the key trigger to climate change. Reducing the pollution associated with excess emissions has multiple benefits to the environment, the economy and society.
Taking CO2 from the atmosphere and using it to rebuild soil carbon levels through photosynthesis can help soil fertility and food production. In addition farmers can earn additional revenue by trading the carbon offsets they create.
Capturing CO2 from coal-fired power plants and other major emitters and using it as a feedstock to grow algae that is then turned into biodiesel, animal meal and soil fertiliser is another carbon sink process that can help farmers.
The major benefits of the broad Bio-CCS approach is that farmers can select the approach that bests works for their land:
• Plantstone crops – crops that permanently trap carbon in silica granules. No need to change the crop just select the hybrid that produces food and provides a carbon sink at the same time
• Natural fertiliser that rebuilds soil structure while carrying beneficial biota (tailored to specific soil types). Natural fertilisers continue to build soil health and productivity
• Improved rangeland management giving land the opportunity to regrow native grasses and vegetation and put down deeper carbon-storing roots systems
• Tree-planting alongside cropland/rangeland agriculture
For too long farmers have been vilified for greenhouse gas emissions. A portfolio of policies to support soil carbon as part of a national action plan to tackle climate change will benefit farmers and farming communities.
There are many ways to measure soil carbon. At present there is no formally recognised international protocol. It is anticipated that the FAO’s work will result in soil carbon measurement having a protocol recognised under the UNFCCC, the UN’s climate change body.