Saturday, April 25, 2009

Moves afoot overseas support Soil Carbon trading

Our international contacts tell us the gathering tidal wave of support for soils to be treated fairly is on track to swamp the Australian position and could leave Australia running to catch up. The FAO is staging a rolling series of meetings,honing the wording of a strategic motion to be put in Copenhagen. President Obama is holding a series of meetings with various government - the USA taking an independent route to Copenhagen on its own terms. It is bringing China with it - as predicted - as its gambling chip. And it has a strong position on Agriculture (due to the strength of its farm lobby) which it refuses to compromise. It has gathered a coalition of nations and organisations (Australia is not one of them) which are demanding that Agriculture be considered as a separate, self contained issue which should remove inequities and absurdities such as 'net-net accounting' provisions under Article 3.4, accounting for non-anthropogenic emissions from drought or bush fire, additionality, permanence, and measurement.
The question is: how bad does Climate Change have to get before decision-makers are so desperate that they will call on the farmers of the world to commence carbon farming in earnest? Shift their mindset from "The Mitigation Solution Must Fit The Accounting System" to "The Accounting System Must Serve The Mitigation Solution".

The Mitigation Solution is this: soil can sequester enough GHG to give the world time for alternative energy to gain critical mass. Fifty years is the horizon for soil to work its interim strategy.

The Carbon Coalition's Position on Kyoto is this: it is not designed to achieve its objective. It's creators did not consider the unique features of Agriculture. Their judgement was clouded by an unrealistic concept of the potential of soils and a "Green Bias" against farming as a cause to environmental destruction. No farmers were part of the construction team.

Net-net accounting: Kyoto says that if you include soils you must be accountable for emissions from non-human sources. This is an absurdity. The game is all about "Anthropogenic" sources.

Additionality: How do you ensure that the farmers continue with Carbon Farming to slow Climate Change if you don't incentivise them?

Permanence: Carbon cycles. It cannot be locked up for 100 years. But it can be contained within the dynamic of its cycles. So long as there is more held tomorrow than was held yesterday, of whatever fraction, sequestration has happened. The permanence of trees is a myth. The permanence of biochar is guaranteed. You have got to admit, it has a fan club of scientists.)

Soil Carbon on Landline Sunday

Landline this week features a follow-up story on the Christine Jones item earlier in the year. It shows Dr Brian Murphy and the Central West CMA's John Lawrie taking soil samples, Louisa Kiely applying inoculant to pastures, Thea Ridley putting the soil samples under a microscope, and the moment of truth... will there be any microbial life to display for the camera. Col Seis also has a starring roll explaining pasture cropping. Several people were interviewed at the Carbon Farming Conference in Orange late last year.
This is a great opportunity to get the word out at a time when the Government is under maximum pressure and in need of friends. The soil carbon solution needs decision makers to have the courage to tackle the issue head on rather than relying on 'sound science' as a proxy for making decisions. (If you make 'sound science' the proxy for judgement, how do you judge the soundness of the science relied upon?)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Soil Carbon Seminar Series Starts in Wambangalang

Wambangalang Environmental Education Centre,
Obley Road, Dubbo, NSW - 29th April, 2009 - 9.00am-5.00pm

The Future under Climate Change seems to be all BAD NEWS: higher costs, lower returns, higher temperatures, lower rainfall… But there is a lot of GOOD NEWS. And that is what you will hear at this Seminar on Soil Biology, Carbon Farming and Your Future.

NEW WAYS: There is a range of soil management practices that help with new conditions: • prevent erosion, • keep the topsoil cool and moist to attract microbes, • hold more water around the roots for longer • unlock natural nutrients in the soil, and • build carbon levels in the soil to enrich it…

NEW MARKETS: There will also be new markets and new commodities. • “Food Miles” will open local markets. • Trading schemes for soil carbon are emerging. • Learn how to measure your soil carbon and then do a “Whole Farm Carbon Budget” – an essential tool for the future.

NEW KNOWLEDGE: Hear how our soils in the Central West perform for carbon sequestration and get specialist advice on soil management. You will also hear about your farm’s Soil Biological Community and how it can be the source of all your success.

YOUR SPEAKERS: Dr Brian Murphy, Senior Soil Scientist, Department of Environment and Climate Change; John Lawrie, Soils Coordinator, Central West Catchment Management Authority; Michael & Louisa Kiely, Carbon Farmers of Australia; and After Dinner Speaker Dr Dean Revell, CSIRO, on sustainable grazing and native shrubs.

RSVP: 24/4/09 to John Lawrie - Call 6840 7804 or 0428 998 959

Monday, April 20, 2009

Dear Tony, How long...?

Dear Minister Burke,

On 10 March, 2009 we submitted a request to you for information as to the scientists working on the projects covered by the $26 million which you announced. We need to see the methodologies and to understand the scope of the work being done. We call this Collaborative Science in Agriculture.

As I have several thousand people waiting to hear the outcome of our request - from signatories to the petition an their clients and members - could we please have a time frame for your response.

Warm regards,

Michael Kiely

Their Silence Condemns

The Silence about the injustice of the treatment Agriculture is getting from the CPRS Legislation, speaks volumes. Complaining it is 'too hard' to understand the issues surrounding Agriculture and the Scheme, many who do very well out of the industry, are willing to see farm families deprived of the capacity to offset their methane and nitrous oxide emissions by using the value of the soil carbon they sequester.

This will speed the depopulation of the Murray-Darling Basin and other regions and lead to the displacement of the family farm. It will be an evil outcome, born of injustice.

Evil can succeed only when the good refuse to stand against it. (Edmund Burke) The only voice to call for justice is that of Ross Garnaut who accuses the majority of decision-makers of laziness and refusal to engage mentally with the issues. Falling back on the 'too hard' line suits the Government. The wilful refusal to engage with the issue of soil carbon trading has been plain for all to see. Speakers from all kinds of backgrounds have been willing to assume the role of expert on trading mechanisms in raising questions about the realities of the market. None seek answers, only pose questions which are supposed to stand as arguments. It seems that everyone has an opinion, but no one professes knowledge of the issue. Not one has mentioned the fundamental commodity trading tools which protect buyers and sellers.
They tried to scare farmers off by telling them they would be acting as unprotected individuals in the market and that they would have to pay back any money they get if there is a fire, etc. The facts are easily obtainable by consulting the practices of the markets that are operating already: Canada and the USA. Growers are pooled and losses by misadventure are managed by a "Buffer Pool" representing 30% of the tonnes submitted for sale. Other techniques for 'making good' losses include starting over the sequestration process until the make good level has been reached. Further practicalities ignored by the fear-mongers include the fact that soil carbon is rarely destroyed by any than the fiercest fires, and that forests are far more vulnerable.
At the same time, no one has questioned the Government's assertion that it is "too hard" to measure emissions from the ruminant animals owned by Australia's 140,000 farm enterprises. Australia has 800,000 businesses and the Tax Office has no trouble calculating their individual liabilities vis a vis the tax system. All animals are registered for sale or on annual returns. The data exists. All that is required is a model for estimating emissions by certain categories of beast under certain climate conditions. In the words of one of the most senior of Penny Wong's mandarins, "Everything is estimated under Kyoto." Nothing - except soil carbon - is directly measured.
A second 'anti-soil C trading' argument is to be found when the speaker dwells on the fractions of soil carbon, especially the labile and volatile fractions. Of the two trading schemes closest to launch, neither is concerned by the volatility of these fractions, one measuring only the humic fractions and the other Total Carbon*.
A carefully orchestrated series of 'communications themes' that have been amplified through certain journals and in many seminars have included such classics as "Too old and degraded to sequester" (a nonsense), "Costs too much to grow humus" (soil biology doesn't exist), "Don't think about credits, think soil health" (an insult), and the latest: "Don't believe the myths" (ie.
forget soil carbon. There is no Hope. Give up.)
Given the damage that could be done to farm family incomes, rural communities, and regional economies by the operation of an "unbalanced GHG balance sheet" as a result of the combined efforts of these individuals and institutions, the Carbon Coalition is believes there should be a judicial inquiry into the activities of certain parties.

*Buyers are not interested in particular molecules of C. They are concerned about the quantum. Therefore the volatility of the fractions is irrelevant. What matters is that Total C moves from A to A+X over period Y. They pay for X. The X value is to be held... not the particular molecules that made up X on day 1 of the relevant time period.

"Go Veg" cult leader claims to speak to Martians

If you check out the people behind the television campaign “Be Veg! Go Green! Save Our Planet!” you will find that hey are from a well-funded Taiwanese sect run by “Supreme Master Ching Hai” who says she speaks to Martians. From one of her many blogs: “Through both her inner knowledge and telepathic communication with the Mars people, Supreme Master Ching Hai has on several occasions spoken of Mars’ past – how the planet is still recovering since global warming like that now being faced on Earth led to a mass extinction 40 million years ago.”

This information should be used to discredit the Meat = Methane argument.

How to defeat the "Meat + Methane" & the Attack of the Vegans

Zegna suspending his contest for the best Australian fleece because of PETA-inspired bad publicity over mulesing should ring alarm bells for meat producers. The ham-fisted way the wool industry handled the response to a consumer activist group should be the gold standard for what not to do when attacked. The MLA, it appears, did not learn that lesson.

The advertising campaign featuring the cryptic reference to Earth Hour (visual: a clock, hands made from cattle and sheep), the message: it’s always Earth Hour in the meat producing industries) was a brave attempt to take on what could be the greatest threat to the industry’s future. But it shows that the MLA’s strategists do not understand what they are up against. It will be PETA repeated.

There are four fatal mistakes a producer group can make when facing such a challenge from consumer activists:

FATAL MISTAKE NO.1. Not knowing it is an issue until the consumer groups are well-organised and well-resourced. The vegetarian, vegan, and animal rights groups were publishing advertisements in US magazines 2 years ago. Anyone with Google could have picked them up when they appeared. It’s hard to manage a public issue when you are blind-sided and starting on the back foot. AWI were on the back foot with PETA from the start. The MLA is as well.
FATAL MISTAKE NO.2. Underestimating the strength of the opposition’s public support. Dismissing them as fringe lunatics. The organizations behind the ‘Meat = Methane’ campaign include the United Nation’s FAO and WWF and the Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change who set the rules for Climate Change targets. They are not considered lunatics by world opinion leaders.

FATAL MISTAKE NO.3. Underestimating the strength of the opposition’s argument. The superficial logic of the ‘Meat = Methane’ argument is easier to believe than the ‘Farmers = Environmentalists’, which is what the MLA countered with, an entirely unbelievable proposition, even if it was the truth. The first rule of communications is: Perception is reality. If the average person believes something, it is real. Does the average city-dweller think farmers are environmentalists or do they think they are environmental vandals? OK. The second rule of communications is that people don't change their minds simply by being told that the opposite to what they believe is true.

FATAL MISTAKE NO.4. Choosing to fight on their battleground: For instance, answering their arguments directly, as though a propaganda war is about who has the best facts, gives the activists too much crediblity. The MLA should know better after the AWI debacle, which was a classic case of bad generalship.

A good general chooses the battlefield. Instead of fighting a losing battle on Meat and Methane, the MLA has one ally more powerful than the activists: the meat eater. There are millions of meat lovers and only a handful of vegans and even fewer 'meat = methane' activists. The MLA could enlist McDonald’s, etc. to urge their customers to join the “Save the Burger” Campaign by signing a petition to go to the Prime Minister. Stage a rally in the city square. Television advertising on this theme could actually increase sales to reward the fast food chains. Bumper stickers could read: “I Love Meat and I Vote”.

Imagine staging a national "No Meat Day" by getting all the meat outlets to 'strike' for a day tobring the danger of the "Meat = Methane" threat to their attention. Only the MLA could pull it off.

At the same time a good general knows when to counter attack and where: at the point where the enemy is weakest. Vegetarians have the highest rates of eating disorders in western societies**. Eating disorders are largely due to psychological problems such as low self esteem and lack of emotional stability. Vegans are even more prone. Questions in Parliament could crystalise the issue crudely: Does the global community want the world’s future decided by potential nut cases? Will we become a nation of bulmia sufferers under the Rule of the Vegetable?

The MLA can then use medical authorities to support the nutritional value of a meat-inclusive diet, as a follow-up strategy that demonstrates how "fringe" the activists are. Finally, scientists working on the methane issue go public with their findings (which are that • herd sizes may fall as more efficient, less-emitting genetic strains are developed; • inoculants can reduce rumen activity; • pasture management can eliminate much of the methane emitted by animals by providing them with fresh fodder as often as possible, etc.) This action reassures the public that the methane issue is being handled without the need for radical changes to their diet.

*Michael Kiely spent 25 years in marketing before becoming a woolgrower and founding the Carbon Coalition Against Global Warming to campaign for soil carbon credits in 2005.

** See Finnegan, B., "Vegetarianism & Disrdered Eating", National Easting Disorder Information Centre,Toronto, Canada, There is a body of research, including the following: Neumark-Sztainer D., et al. 1997. Adolescent vegetarians: A behavioral profile of a school-based population in Minnesota. Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine,
151(8): 833-838. Klop, Sheree, et al. 2003. Self-reported vegetarianism may be a marker for college
women at risk for disordered eating. Archives of Journal of American Dietetic
Association, 103:745-747.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ex-Greenpeace leader advises "aggressive advocacy" on soil

Paul Gilding, ex- Executive Director of Greenpeace International, founder of Eco Corporation and advisor to major corporations on sustainability, identifies soil as a major solution for Climate Change.
In an article in The Land by Matthew Cawood, Gilding says it is far too late for simply emitting less CO2. "We are going to have to absorb CO2 out of the atmosphere. The mechanical ways of doing that are incredibly expensive. Industrial emissions are only a small part of the entire carbon cycle, so we will need major tweaks to industry to make a difference. You can make minor tweaks to agriculture to increase carbon sequestration in the soil and have a very large impact." He advises farmers to adopt 'aggressive advocacy and action on climate change."

What myths need busting?

Be assured there is no serious threat in the "Carbon Mythbusters" except to the "Mythbusters" themselves. The title "Mythbusters" is the most aggressive part of the campaign which consists of a travelling seminar series, at which PhD candidates deliver a presentation said to have been "developed by leading soil scientists to help farmers manage their response to the soil carbon debate."
The Myth "Makers" (presumably anyone who speaks about the benefits of soil carbon) are accused of spreading untruths about soil carbon, a serious charge and unsporting, given we have no right of reply. Our information is "either confusing or at worst, incorrect," said Mr David Waters, of the NSW DPI. "We want to give farmers a clear view of where we are heading with soil carbon and what it may mean for their farming enterprises." In WA, the Grower Group Alliance (GGA) claims we spread "misinformation"
What exactly are these 'myths'?
The Grower Group (a GRDC affiliate) nominated "four common myths surrounding soil carbon... They included the effect of increasing soil organic matter on water holding capacity, how to measure soil organic matter, different types of soil organic matter and what they mean and the effect of cultivation and no-till on soil organic matter." The penny drops when we read the next line: "There is a large amount of information being presented to farmers about the potential benefits of soil carbon and how it can ‘solve' many of their production issues. Soil carbon is also being touted as a solution to ameliorate the impacts of climate change in the future. There is a need to provide good quality information to farmers to quantify how much soil carbon is required to make a difference, in what form and if our soils can sequester an appropriate amount."
Mr Clive Kirkby, "a PhD candidate and soil carbon expert from Charles Sturt University, the E.H. Graham Centre and CSIRO Plant Industry, Canberra, with almost 40 years experience working on soil health" delvered the WA series of seminars.
There wasn't much 'exploding' as Clive delivered a perfectly balanced presentation. Judging only by his slides, he started strongly with the following fact that sets him apart from other scientists: "Remember that economics will (and probably should) drive these issues –not discussed here".
He did manufacture a 'myth' of his own during his presentation. Such as: "Sequestration generally refers to getting C into
the passive pool” (the slow-to-turn over pool). The big myth he exploded was that No Till doesn't sequester much carbon. (The myth being that there is anyone left who believes that it does. This is old news to us. The "Mythologists" in this case are the US and Canadian markets which pay farmers to change to No Till. In Australia, we believe No Till alone is a means to reduce emissions and retain moisture and protect microbial habitat. Our Carbon Cockies have made great gains with No Till when combined with other techniques. What the scientists should say is not that No Till doesn't sequester much carbon, but that it doesn't sequester much when they try to do it. That is because sequestering carbon is a skill that farmers generally have and most scientists generally don't.)
ALthough he didn't make the same mistake again, Clive made a great deal of noise about the ratio of nutrients that make up humus - it has fixed amounts of N, P and S. In an article last year in the GRDC magazine, he and found others claimed that - what with fertiliser prices so high, farmers could not afford to buy enough to sequester carbon in the form of humus. (Where does the extra N, etc. come from?)
Judging only by the slides used, David Waters gave a straight-arrow presentation that 'proved' that soil C sequestration is a faint hope in under 100 years. He also found some major disability or failure with every soil treatment and soil management technique, except one: biochar. Not one. He declares that it sequesters carbon when it is unclear that it does. Equally, the slides list transport costs as an economic disadvantage for compost but not for biochar. It failed to also mention biochars' economic model which appears to be heavily reliant on a high price for carbon or govenment subsidy. The bias towards biochar was noticeable, reading the slides. Which leads one to ponder: could the "MythBusters" tour be a part of the worldwide campaign of propaganda promoting biochar, which has led so many scientists to step into a promotional role. (Lehmann is blatant.) For instance, the Biochar Research Network, is a group of scientists who include as one of their research objectives the 'promotion' of Biochar as a product. GRDC is funding research into biochar's weak spot: broadacre. Biochar - are there a few myths attached to it that might need busting? (See

Congratulations to the MythBusters. The more farmers know about carbon the more likely they are to become Carbon farmers when we can offer them a reward for it.

Attention: Carbon Fractions are not a trading issue

Science and Commerce are different fields with different needs. A scientist might find it hard to understand that a buyer is not interested in which particular carbon molecule is immoblised. They are interested in the raw number of molecules. We all know that Carbon cycles. We have caused that cycle to get out of whack and so we need to park as much of it as we can in a “holding bay”.”

Some of it will escape – we all know that. But it will be replaced and then added to. If the farm is tuned to sequestration, it will be cycling continuously. And within this cycling dynamic, the “Carbon Holding Value” – the actual carbon score – should be rising. The buyer of offsets is buying the difference between two points in time.

As the NSW DPI’s David Waters says in his most excellent “Carbon Myth Busters: Soil Carbon Seminar”, a Carbon Farmer should “aim to continually manage the flow of soil organic matter, not just hoard it.”

PS. Reciting the fractions and pointing out that the labile, volatile fractions are the largest is not making a point about trading. It simply reveals that you believe in the old Particular Molecule Theory of Soil Carbon Dynamics as opposed to the Molecule Value Theory.

US Study confirms fast Carbon gains with perennials + Mycorrhiza

The irrepressible Tim Wiley sends this news item with his greetings from WA:

"A very interesting paper from the USA on a pot experiment showing that a perennial grass (C3) plus mycorrhiza increased soil carbon from 0.9% to 1.6% in 12 months!!!!! The perennial grass had no affect on soil carbon without the mycorrhiza. There is not enough information to calculate accurately the sequestration rate on a per hectare basis (i.e. the paper gave pot volume not pot depth, no bulk density figures), but my crude sums suggest a rate of about 40 t C/ha/year or about 150 t CO2e/ha/year!!! Of course a pot trial with benonite is a very artificial situations (and my assumptions are crude), but this paper suggest we are
on the right track."

Friday, April 10, 2009

America says a big YES to Agriculture "IN" Kyoto

The American contribution to the Agriculture workshop in Bonn on 4 April, staged by the UNFCCC was short but sweet to the ears: "Noting that agriculture and forestry could offset 10-25% of his country’s current emissions, the US stressed the importance of including agriculture in the climate regime," ran one report. Consider it done.

Agriculture finally recognised by UNFCCC

With Minister Wong shutting the door on Agriculture, new developments at the UNFCCC (the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which runs the Kyoto process) could see Australia swimming against the tide.
A technical document prepared for the Bonn meeting in April presents these facts (which are now recognised by the UNFCCC):
1. The global technical mitigation potential* of agriculture, excluding fossil fuel offsets from biomass, by 2030 is estimated to be 5.5–6 Gt CO2 eq per year. About 89 per cent of this potential can be achieved by soil carbon (C) sequestration through cropland management, grazing land management, restoration of organic soils and degraded lands, bioenergy and water management. Mitigation of CH4 can provide an additional 9 per cent through improvements in rice management, and in livestock and manure management. The remaining 2 per cent can be achieved from mitigation of N2O emissions from
soils mainly through crop management.
2. The economic potential** in 2030 is estimated to be: 1.5–1.6 Gt CO2 eq per year (C price: USD 20t CO2 eq); 2.5–2.7 Gt CO2 eq per year (C price USD 50 per t CO2 eq); and 4–4.3 Gt CO2 eq per year (C price: USD 100 t CO2 eq). About 30 per cent of this potential can be achieved in developed countries and 70 per cent in developing countries.

* Technical potential is the amount by which it is possible to reduce GHG emissions or improve energy efficiency by
implementing a technology or practice that has been demonstrated already. No explicit reference to costs is made but adopting ‘practical constraints’ may take into account implicit economic considerations (IPCC AR4).
** Economic potential is in most studies used as the amount of GHG mitigation that is cost-effective for a given carbon price, based on social cost pricing and discount rates, including energy savings, but without most externalities. Theoretically, it is defined as the potential for cost-effective GHG mitigation when non-market social costs and benefits are included with market costs and benefits in assessing the options for particular levels of carbon prices (as affected by mitigation policies) and when using social discount rates instead of private ones. This includes externalities (i.e. non-market costs and benefits such as environmental co-benefits) (IPCC AR4).

SOURCE: "Challenges and opportunities for mitigation in the agricultural sector". Technical paper, UNITED NATIONS, FCCC/TP/2008/8 21 November 2008

Where was Australia?

Agriculture made it onto the Agenda of the latest round of Climate Negotiations in Bonn, but Australia was not among the growing coalition of countries showing support. The Climate Change Convention held the first workshop on agriculture ever on 4 April, focused on the opportunities and challenges for mitigation in the agricultural sector. Several countries including the U.S., Mexico, Uruguay, the Philippines, New Zealand, the EU, Canada, Japan, Bangladesh, Samoa, Senegal and Chile all expressed a wish that the role and contribution of agriculture be formalized in the negotiations. All participants felt that the potential for agriculture to mitigate climate change has been overlooked in the negotiations. Many called for increased research into methodologies and field testing to measure its potential.
The International Federation of Agricultural Producers (IFAP) said that this workshop helped identify the countries that are willing to put agriculture in the spotlight of negotiations. Australia is apparently not one of those.
VIce President Raul Montemayor said “the current carbon counting construct looks at only half of the story. It looks at GHG emissions from agriculture without acknowledging its sequestration capacity.” He added that “the biggest mitigation potential of agriculture should be expected in terms of improvements in efficiency rather than absolute reductions in GHG emissions.”
He also called for a vigorous but efficient verification technology to ensure compliance of approved practices. “Establishing incentives and rewards for farmers to utilize approved GHG mitigation practices through established carbon credit systems is key to encouraging more sustainable farming practices.”
The USA's position is critical to success. William Hohenstein, Director of the Climate Change Office at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) said: “I have spent a lot of time talking to farmers about climate change. Agriculture is on the receiving end of climate change; we are likely to be one of the sectors most impacted by climate change.”
From now until IFAP’s Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark on May 27, IFAP’s expert group on climate change will focus its efforts on working out the nuts and bolts of the issues related to agriculture, which is the most significant task ahead.

Link to the webcast and presentations:

Sunday, April 05, 2009

FAO pushes soil C at Bonn before Copenhagen

The push is on to get Agriculture a fair deal under Kyoto, to replace the "dud" deal our Government is anxious to impose on us through the CPRS, an unjust and destructive deal that all the Australian commentators and experts have endorsed by their silence. (See separate post.)

The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a Washington-based think-tank, have called for greater emphasis on agriculture at the talks in Bonn, Germany. The talks are preliminary to negotiating a deal on cutting greenhouse gas emissions at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change meeting to be held in Copenhagen, Denmark, in December.

"Agricultural land is able to store and sequester carbon. Farmers that live off the land, particularly in poor countries, should therefore be involved in carbon sequestration to mitigate the impact of climate change," said Alexander Mueller, FAO Assistant Director-General told delegates in Bonn.

In recent years it has been recognised that Agriculture has been treated poorly by the Euro-centric, renewables-focussed Kyoto Protocols which include absurd provisions such as the requirement that countries wanting to count their soil carbon sequestration must also account for non-anthropogenic sources of CO2 emissions such as bushfire and drought. This contradicts the purpose of the Protocols. No voices were raised against this blatant blockage, until Australia put in a mildly-worded request to the IPCC last year.

But the United Nations' Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has launched an assault on the barriers to Agriculture's involvement, concerned for the world's Food Security under Climate Change and the capacity of small peasant farmers to adapt.

Climate change will affect food production in developing countries. The FAO has projected a drop in cereal production for 2009 partly on account of adverse weather.

Agriculture has been off the agenda because governments have neglected it, says Rene Gommes, coordinator of the climate change and bio-energy division at FAO. Governments shied away from situations "where you need rubber boots and a shovel. We [FAO] are not a party [to the talks], but the governments are, and they do not raise it." As well, it is much easier to monitor 1,500 US coal-fired power plants than several million smallholder farmers. Agriculture is also seen as difficult sector for climate change mitigation because of its sheer size, a FAO briefing paper commented. The attention of governments would be drawn more readily if it were easy to source funds for agriculture-based mitigation projects. But any mitigation project needs to meet stringent monitoring, evaluation, reporting, verification, and certification requirements under the protocol. But how do you monitor and evaluate a subsistence farmer's small patch of land?

But the operations of the IPCC also work against Agriculture: "Current global funding arrangements, like the CDM, are inadequate and not providing sufficient incentives for farmers to get involved in climate change mitigation and adaptation," said Alexander Mueller, FAO Assistant Director-General. "For example, soil carbon sequestration [retaining carbon in soil], through which nearly 90 percent of agriculture's climate change mitigation potential could be realized, is outside the scope of the [CDM]," he added.

More grass species, more carbon captured

Do you want the good news or the good news?

OK, researchers have discovered two things of vital importance to soil C sequestration:

1. rising temperatures from Global Warming will increase biodiversity in grasslands; and

2. increasing diversity in grasslands means more carbon is sequestered in the soil.

FINDING 1: le Roux and McGeoch (2008) have discovered "the expansion of species distributions along their cooler boundaries in response to rising temperatures," which "appears to be a consistent biological consequence of recent climate warming," and which we have further indicated leads to increases in local biodiversity throughout the world.*

FINDING 2: Another group of scientists in Jena, Germany, concluded "carbon storage significantly increased with sown species richness in all depth segments and even carbon losses were significantly smaller with higher species richness." Consequently, they concluded that "plant species richness ... accelerate[d] the build-up of new carbon pools within four years," and that "higher plant diversity mitigated soil carbon losses in deeper horizons."**

They had sowed 20m by 20m plots of soil with seeds of either 1, 2, 4, 8, 16 or 60 species of either 1, 2, 3 or 4 plant functional groups (grasses, small herbs, tall herbs, and legumes). During the first two years of the study, soil carbon storage was limited to the top five cm of soil, while below ten cm depth, carbon was actually lost. After four years, however, carbon stocks had increased significantly within the top twenty cm of the soil.

The journal's editor comments: "this phenomenon represents a previously unrecognized negative feedback phenomenon, since studies such as that of le Roux and McGeoch have demonstrated that global warming typically leads to higher local and regional biodiversity wherever the process has been studied throughout the world."

*Le Roux, P.C. and McGeoch, M.A. 2008. Rapid range expansion and community reorganization in response to warming. Global Change Biology 14: 2950-2962.
**Steinbeiss, S., Bessler, H., Engels, C., Temperton, V.M., Buchmann, N., Roscher, C., Kreutziger, Y., Baade, J., Habekost, M. and Gleixner, G. 2008. Plant diversity positively affects short-term soil carbon storage in experimental grasslands. Global Change Biology 14: 2937-2949