Saturday, December 11, 2010

CSIRO’s final assault on soil carbon credits?

From the people who brought you the anti-soil carbon trading “Mythbusters”, The Hidden Cost of Humus illusion, and The Bucket Theory, the CSIRO has signalled that it will try to strangle the infant soil carbon offset in its cradle, using ‘robust science’ as the cord. In a paid editorial feature in The Land (2/12/2010).
Far from an enabling attitude, the article puts the emphasis not on the opportunity for the farmer but on ‘ensuring the highest standards of environmental integrity for any carbon offset on offer.’ Hard to argue with that Motherhood statement, but it is code for setting the bar so high that soils won’t get over.
For example, “The science needs to address soil carbon variations across paddocks, soils, and regions, as well as with seasons and climate.” To develop a system that can accommodate such complexity will take more than 5 years and be cost prohibitive when it arrives.
Finally, some good old fashioned CSIRO scare tactics: “So, for soil carbon, we need the best available tested science to avoid the situation where our children have to pay off a debt in the future, because we overstated the carbon benefit today,” says Dr Michael Battaglia. This is to make sure that if the soil carbon offsets make it through the maze, no farmer will take them up for fear of the ogres created by CSIR scientists. The CSIRO allows its scientists to comment widely outside their field of expertise, straying freely into economics and market dynamics with no expertise to support their statements. No one is suggesting that any market mechanism penalise a farmer’s children.
Why is the CSIRO so fixated on stopping soil carbon? A couple of papers from 2009 could hold a clue. Could it be that CSIRO has an ideological attitude to environmental markets?
Dr Clive Splash, an environmental economist, wrote this about offsets markets: ”The potential for manipulation to achieve financial gain, while showing little regard for environmental or social consequences, is evident as markets have extended internationally and via trading offsets. At the individual level, there is the potential for emissions trading to have undesirable ethical and psychological impacts and to crowd out voluntary action.” Dr Roger Gifford, a rangeland scientist, wrote: “…market-based C-trading schemes involving pastures [will] expose [farmers] to the risks of complicated, ill-conceived, ill-understood, poorly regulated financial instruments and arrangements that are replete with opportunity for fraudulent scams and inappropriate diversion of community wealth to the personal fortunes of scheme managers and traders, while not delivering the scheme objectives, reminiscent of those involved in the Global Financial Crisis of 2007-2009.”

Clearly CSIRO could not be seen to promote ethically undesirable activities.

1. “Putting the science into carbon offsets”, CSIRO advertorial, The Land 2 December, 2010
2. Clive L. Splash, The Brave New World of Carbon Trading, Munich Personal RePEc Archive, December 2009
3. Roger M. Gifford, CSIRO Plant Industry, “Carbon sequestration in Australian Grasslands: Policy and Technical Issues”, Proceedings of FAO workshop on The role of grassland carbon sequestration in the mitigation of climate change, Rome, 15-17 April 2009

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