Friday, July 18, 2008

Green Paper science ‘unsound’, says Carbon Coalition

There should be an independent inquiry into all science used to make decisions that impact farmer’s futures.

“The Federal Government’s Green Paper used unsound science to rob farmers of the right to sell the carbon they can grow in their soil. All science published by the Australian Greenhouse Office should be independently audited before it is used to make decisions about farm emissions and liabilities.”

“The Coalition uncovered the gaps in the data sets in the research on which the National Carbon Accounting Scheme was built. The AGO immediately rushed out to backfill the gaps in the data sets. Those projects have not yet been reported, but decisions have been made, based on the old, unsound science.”

“If the old guard from the AGO are running things in the Department of Climate Change, we say look out. If the methane and nitrogen emissions science is as disconnected from modern farm realities as the soil carbon science has been, it will be dangerous for farming in the future.”

(The Report: ‘Sound Science Questioned’ is attached below)

An example of the ‘unsound’ science is the statement in the Green Paper that: “Australia does not have the same sequestration potential as other countries, and there is significant risk of loss of soil carbon in times of drought or changed management practices.”

“There are three major flaws in these statements: First, the Government can have no idea of what the ‘potential’ of our soils are because they haven’t studied soil management techniques less than 20 years old. They have no idea of the potential of soils managed under modern ‘carbon farming’ techniques.

“Second, they have no grounds on which to predict the likely emissions from soil in drought when they haven’t studied the low emissions farming techniques now coming available.

“And Third, a farmer who commits to capturing and holding carbon in the soil is bound by a contract to deliver.”

“As the recent Senate Committee on Climate Change and Agriculture found to its dismay, the Government’s senior policy advisers never set foot on a farm and so don’t know what’s going on out here.”

( PP.80-81

ver set foot on a farm and so don’t know what’s going on out here.”

( PP.80-81

Sound Science Questioned

No scientific studies have tested the potential of Australian soils to sequester carbon. The research program on which the National Carbon Accounting System (NCAS) was based suffered from methodological flaws which led to gaps in the data and unjustified conclusions. The authors of one major report have agreed that the paired sites chosen for analysis were unrepresentative of the land management techniques that are widespread today. Scientists have pointed out that the case studies reviewed in another major report are out of date.

Analysis of Technical Reports 34 and 43, the core data reports for the construction of the NCAS, reveals that the data sets are incomplete, focusing almost exclusively on conventional rather than regenerative land management techniques.

It studied only soils managed in ways that caused losses of carbon rather than soils managed in ways that capture and store carbon (ie. regenerative land management techniques such as biological farming, time controlled grazing management, pasture cropping, etc.)

Farming has changed in the 20 years since most of the studies reviewed for NCAS were done. The scientific methodology was flawed because it did not choose a representative range of samples.

For this reason, there are gaps in the data sets. Therefore the data cannot support the conclusions being drawn from it. The authors of these reports warned against relying on them for definitive conclusions.

The consultant hired to assess the data sources was also concerned: “While there are some very useful datasets available, there are also considerable deficiencies in the completeness of the data… In many established agricultural areas, there are practical difficulties in finding true pairs… The approach is limited by gross lack of data…”

The AGO admitted that the data was insufficient. “Development of the NCAS was undertaken with the clear understanding that data would be imperfect, but that the significance of data limitations could be assessed only in a functional integrated system.”

The AGO took a ‘fix it in the mix’ approach: “The tacit acceptance of variability in data provided for a proper focus on matters of accuracy and bias, rather than on potentially unachievable precision.” The Agency believed the sheer weight of data points would carry the day, provided there was no bias in the inputs: “Over a large sample … a national inventory derived from an aggregation of fine-scale events can provide a robust central estimate provided inputs are not biased.”

But the inputs were biased. The data sets were incomplete.

No AGO research has studied the “potential” of Australian soils to take up carbon. Most official studies recorded poor carbon performance because they studied only traditional techniques which are destructive of soil carbon. They did not find sequestration because they weren’t looking for it.

They were looking for declining carbon. They found it. There are several trials underway to fill the gaps. Further evidence that the gaps existed and the conclusions were unsustainable.


• Exhibit 1: The NSW DPI, DECC and CSIRO are currently evaluating an increase in soul carbon recorded on grazing and cropping land from 2% to 4% recorded on “Winona”, Gulgong, between 1995 and 2005.

• Exhibit 2: There was a 0.46% carbon difference between a paddock managed by conservation farming techniques (stubble retained/no-tillage) and a paddock heavily grazed and conventionally tilled over 10 years at Greenethorpe, NSW translated into a difference of 185 tonnes of carbon per hectare (or 675 tonnes of CO2e.)

• Exhibit 3: A CSIRO study (unpublished) in Albany WA found a significant difference in organic matter between two paddocks, one stubble-burned 3 years previous then no-tillage treatment for three years (3.35% OM), the other managed with no-tillage (5% OM).

• Exhibit 4: Dr K Yin Chan, Principal Research Scientist (Soils), NSW Department of Primary Industries, has a research project which has stretched over 20 years. In the soils studied, he found that there was on average 70 tonnes of soil carbon per hectare under undisturbed native vegetation. This fell dramatically to 40 T/ha under conventional tillage by the 1940s. It rose 5T/ha under Reduced Tillage, to 45T/ha. Dr Chan believes we can recover the (25T/ha) balance. He calls it the "Soil C Sequestration Potential".

• Exhibit 5: “Permanent unimproved pastures in moister areas of NSW, SA, WA and Qld, after sowing to introduced grasses and legumes and fertilised with superphosphate have been shown to exhibit linear increases in soil C at a rate of about 0.4 t C ha-1 yr-1 over several decades. (Russell and Williams 1982, Gifford et al 1992).

• Exhibit 6: Barrow (1969) reported a soil C gain of 440 kg/ha/yr in sandy soils under permanent pasture during a period of 30-40 years in Western Australia. The pasture outscored undisturbed native vegetation on soil C by 2.0% to 0.8%.

• Exhibit 7: Senior CSIRO soil scientist Jeff Baldock says there is today no technical barriers to a fully-functioning market in soil carbon, and that such a market could make it ‘more economic to farm for carbon than to farm for yield.’

• Exhibit 8: Two cases studies reported in The Australian Farm Journal (July 2008) found it is possible for both cropping and grazing enterprises to be net sequesters of carbon, in one case over a period of 17 years. Government advisers are involved in both projects.

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