Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Victoria - cautious, conservative and cooked

It is the best overview of the soil carbon issue we have seen. Congratulations to the Environment and Natural Resources Committee of the Victorian Parliament for The Report of the Inquiry into Soil Carbon Sequestration in Victoria. Unfortunately many of the facts it quotes are not facts and it reaches the wrong conclusion: “Due to the significant scientific and economic uncertainties associated with soil carbon sequestration, the Committee concluded that a cautious and conservative approach should be taken in establishing incentive mechanisms to encourage soil carbon sequestration in Victoria.” The world does not have the luxury of time to be cautious and conservative, as Annette Cowie told the Committee: “I think the issue of climate change is so urgent that it would be a mistake to say we have to put this off to wait for better science. I do not think we need perfect science and perfect understanding to be able to start providing incentives for landholders to build soil carbon. I think we know enough about some soil types and some land use practices that we could identify a conservative default and suggest that, ‘You will have at least that much carbon sequestered if you undertake these practices’. That is the sort of thing we need to work from at the moment and then have the science, the increasing research, undertaken in parallel so that we can firm up the models and perhaps recognise more sequestration in the future when we know more about it. Professor Annette Cowie* is Director, National Centre for Rural Greenhouse Gas Research, University of New England is a rare scientist: she knows the limitations of science and the needs of the moment. Other scientists feel the urgency as well. The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists told the Committee: “The reality is that it will be next to impossible for Australia to achieve the scale of [emissions] 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.” Even the CSIRO understands the urgency. Dr Michael Battaglia, Theme Leader, Sustainable Agriculture Flagship, CSIRO advised that “…what [soil carbon sequestration] actually gives us is time to make those adjustments.”

*Dr Cowie will be speaking at the Carbon Farming Conference & Expo, 27-28 October, 2010 in Dubbo NSW

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