Monday, July 07, 2008

Commission of Scientists to Solve Garnaut's problem with soil measurement

The Soil Carbon Alliance: Andre Leu, Organic Federation of Australia, Chris Rochford, CORE, Eric Love, CORE, Michael Kiely, Carbon Coalition, Louisa Kiely, Carbon Coalition

Three major agricultural and environmental bodies have joined forces to call for urgent action by the Commonwealth Government to remove the blockage to the world’s largest terrestrial carbon sink to play a decisive role in the battle to avoid the ‘major damage’ to Australia’s economy and environment predicted by Professor Ross Garnaut in his Draft Report.
“We are calling on the Government to commission Australia’s top soil carbon scientists to agree on a method for estimating amounts of carbon in soil so farmers can be encouraged to capture and store carbon at the maximum rate possible,” says Michael Kiely, Convenor of the Carbon Coalition, a member of the new Soil Carbon Alliance.
The Soil Carbon Alliance is appealing to Australia’s soil carbon experts to join a list to be submitted to the Minister for Agriculture, Tony Burke, to overcome the “practical difficulties” the Government is having with soil carbon. “Some scientists say soil carbon is hard to measure. But soil carbon specialists, who measure carbon routinely, do not have a difficulty measuring it,” says Michael Kiely.
To promote the capacity of soils to capture and store carbon, farmers’ climate change lobby group, the Carbon Coalition has joined forces with organics industry peak body, the Organic Federation of Australia (OFA), and environmental research and marketing experts, the Centre for Organic Resource & Enterprise (CORE), to form the Soil Carbon Alliance.
The soil is a powerful carbon sink that can turn the tables on climate change if given a chance, according to the Alliance. It stores more carbon than the atmosphere and all the trees and vegetation on the Earth combined. Australia has more than 450 million hectares of land managed by farmers. There are 5.5 billion hectares of farmland in the world. “If farmers were to sequester half a tonne of carbon per hectare, we could extract more than 12 billion tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere,” says Mr Kiely. The world emits 8 billion tonnes more than it should each year. “Already farmers in WA are sequestering between 1 and 3 tonnes per hectare per year, according to Government – sponsored trials.”
CEO of CORE, Eric Love says ‘the time for centralising, qualifying and quantifying our national knowledge base for carbon in soil is now, with federal political intelligence and will finally aligned to achieve profoundly important climate change mitigation outcomes, for both Australian farmers and for the world.’
Andre Leu, Chair of the OFA, an organisation which represents thousands of carbon-sinking farmers whose organic methods have been demonstrating carbon soil sequestration for decades, said, ‘it would be outrageously stingy and indeed negligent of the organic sector and the governments of all levels to withhold from Australian farmers the collective wisdom of over 50 years worth of proven carbon farming methods and systems, the adoption of which is not half as complicated as some farmers have been made to think and which does not have involve any level of certification whatsoever.’
CSIRO soil carbon specialist Dr Neil McKenzie recommended the appointment of expert panels in emergencies in 2002: “There is a strong case for maintaining several national panels to undertake expert assessments [when] decision-makers require advice on likely changes in soil and land resource condition and they cannot wait until there is statistical certainty in trends from long-term monitoring sites. Interim procedures are required so that assessments of change can be based on risk, probability and expert opinion.”
Soil carbon has been a neglected field for scientific work (compared to the $145m given to the coal industry to develop ‘clean coal’.
This under-investment has left Agriculture unprepared for joining the Emissions Trading Scheme.
“Recently the NSW Government cancelled an important soil carbon calculator project that would have brought trading closer. It cost only $30,000. The bureaucrats have no concept of what they are dealing with,” says Michael Kiely. “They need leadership.”


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