Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Avoiding emissions or avoiding the issue

To make it easier for farmers to find their way through the thicket of tests that stand between their desire to take part in the Carbon Farming Initiative and actually doing it, the Government has established 2 lists: a Positive List of activities that are automatically approved and for which there are methodologies ready for use; and a Negative List of activities that are automatically excluded. There is a major distortion in the ease of making its way onto the Positive List for an activity that involves emissions avoidance vs the difficulty facing a sequestration activity. It is a distortion based on a misunderstanding of the nature of abatement.

Whereas an offset created by renewable energy such as biomass as fuel stock or the energy created in the biochar process can be equated easily to tonnes of CO2 emissions avoided by substitution of a tonne of coal burned, there is no guarantee that the tonne of coal not burned today will not be mined and burned tomorrow. As such, given the world’s appetite for coal, the Permanence of such an offset is far less secure than soil carbon’s stable fractions. Yet the 100 Year Rule is not applied in one case and is applied in the other.

Similarly, an offset created by any one of a number of practices that cause ruminants to emit less methane will find it easier to achieve Positive status than the process of sequestration which – as part of the farm carbon cycle that produced the methane and is reprocessing it back into vegetation, food and soil – is not recognized for the role it plays. Methane emissions are treated as a simple zero-sum calculation whereas its production and sequestration is far more complex while soil sequestration is damned with unmanageable complexity when it is in fact a simple, predictable process.

Access to the Positive List is easy for avoided emissions because policymakers have accepted an unjustifiably simplified notion of how these abatements operate.

Opportunities in the Carbon Farming Initiative will be revealed at the Carbon Farming Conference & Expo, 28-29 September, 2011

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