Tuesday, March 16, 2010

ACCC proves ‘false and misleading’ easy

The Carbon Coalition says the recent action against Ken Bellamy and Prime Carbon by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) was as much about sending the Soil Carbon Offsets Industry a message as it was about Mr Bellamy’s actions. Consumer affairs watchdog Chairman Graeme Samuels is eager to get involved in this field: “The ACCC is closely monitoring this industry… We’ve put on notice anyone else who is in this business.”
The industry welcomes the ACCC’s attention at this early stage of its formation, says Michael Kiely, Convenor of the Carbon Coalition. “In every new industry there is no path to follow,” he says. “It’s easy to make mistakes when everything is so new. Few understand soil carbon issues and even bodies such as the ACCC and the ABC can make mistakes with the wording of public statements about it.”
ABC Rural Radio reported on NSW Country Hour on Friday 12th, 2010 that the Federal Court found Mr Bellamy had made false statements about ‘the environmental benefits of its products’ when in fact the Court made no mention of them. “The ABC Country Hour had no intention to make a misleading statement, but the complexity of the soil carbon issue tripped them up,” says Michael Kiely.
The ACCC itself made a wrong statement in the headline of its press release announcing its victory over Prime Carbon. It wrote: “Company admits misleading consumers about marketing carbon credits”. There were no consumers involved in the Prime Carbon transactions. The buyers are major corporate emitters. The farmers growing the soil carbon to create the offsets are suppliers, or sellers.
The ACCC also demonstrated how easily a misleading impression can be made by what it fails to say: The main crime alleged against Prime Carbon was that it claimed ‘that it was registered as a broker and an aggregator with the National Stock Exchange’. This statement on its own is very serious. But when you include the rest of the story - that Prime Carbon ‘was and is registered as a broker and aggregator with the National Environment Register (a subsidiary of the National Stock Exchange (NSX Limited)’ - the seriousness of the offense is plain to see.
Some have accused the ACCC of trivialising the soil carbon industry by pursuing one of its members for confusing the names of third parties in brochures several years ago. They question the timing of the action, with the Government's voluntary carbon market standard about to be announced. The Coalition, however, welcomes the Commission’s timely reminder to all members of the industry. A charge of ‘greenwashing’ can be easy to make and hard to defend, especially when outsiders cannot understand the industry. “We have to educate the public and their officials about what we stand for. We are not primarily a consumer market operation,” says Michael Kiely. Soil carbon is an agricultural commodity.
Mr Samuel said he would be on the look out for “unsubstantiated claims.” The Soil Carbon Offsets Industry is a hornet’s nest of ‘unsubstantiated claims’. "The lack of Australian research and the conflicting versions being presented to farmers make for a healthy debate,” says Mr Kiely. “We believe – where Climate Change is at issue – the world should use the Precautionary Principle: “where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty should not be used as a reason for postponing such measures”.’ (A GUIDE TO THE CLIMATE CHANGE CONVENTION AND ITS KYOTO PROTOCOL, UNFCCC, Bonn, 2002)
The Carbon Coalition supports Ken Bellamy as a member and as a technical leader. “He is motivated by a sense of urgency about Climate Change. His brinksmanship and risk-taking led him to rush ahead of the rest – and as a result he is closest to providing the market with a workable trading model,” says Michael Kiely. “For this reason the Carbon Coalition endorses Ken Bellamy’s unorthodox methods. The ends can justify the means, when the end represents the only hope we have to slow Climate Change long enough to make the transition to alternative energy.”

The Urgency of Prime Carbon’s Work

Scientists have now agreed that it is too late to avert the damaging impact of Climate Change. The globe is on track to an average increase in temperature of more than 2°C.(1) The Carbon in the Atmosphere is the load arising from 100 years of emissions. There is only one way to reduce this load: by drawing down the CO2 via the process of photosynthesis, the only process known to sequester atmospheric CO2. Agricultural soils and vegetation can draw down the equivalent of 50ppm of atmospheric CO2 for 50 years.(2)
Farmers manage 5 billion hectares of agricultural land around the world. The success of this project depends upon their willingness to change from Greenhouse Gas emitting land management practices to techniques that expand the capacity of photosynthesis to draw down the excess emissions. The market for soil carbon offsets – the field in which Prime Carbon operates – is the source of the funds to reward farmers for making this change. The Australian Government has started the search for a workable trading model. The process of the draw down cannot start without it.
Many companies and innovators have attempted to formulate a model. Ken Bellamy’s Prime Carbon is the closest to achieving that goal that we know of. There is no other apparent at this stage. “But if there were, the Coalition would be supporting them as well,” says Mr Kiely. The Mission of the Carbon Coalition is: “To see soil carbon offsets traded and farmers paid fairly for what they grow.”
The rapid increase of extreme climate events increases the urgency of the mission. The Australian Government has set a date of 1 July 2010 for the market in soil carbon offsets to commence.(3) It cannot start until we have a workable model.
“Ken Bellamy has been a leader in that search, at great personal expense. He is not a scientist. He is an inventor. A practical innovator,” says Michael Kiely. “That doesn't put anyone above the law.”


1. “The science now tells us that it will be next to impossible for nations to achieve the scale of reductions required in sufficient time to avoid dangerous climate change unless we also remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in vegetation and soils…The power of terrestrial carbon to contribute to the climate change solution is profound.”- “Optimising Carbon in the Australian Landscape” - Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, October 2009

2. ‘The technical potential of carbon sequestration in world soils may be 2 billion to 3 billion mt per year for the next 50 years. Thus, the potential of carbon sequestration in soils and vegetation together is equivalent to a draw-down of about 50 parts per million of atmospheric CO2 by 2100.’ - Rattan Lal (lal.1@osu.edu) is Director of the Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center and Professor of Soil Science in the School of Environment and Natural Resources.

3.http://www.climatechange.gov.au/government/initiatives/carbon-offset.aspx “The National Carbon Offset Standard provides Australian businesses, particularly farmers, with the opportunity to develop offset credits for voluntary carbon markets. These opportunities include offsets from increased soil carbon and from other land-based emissions sources.”

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