Monday, February 12, 2007

Soil Carbon Credits at $25, says NSW Commissioner NR

On 9/2/07 ABC TV's Stateline program broadcast a dramatic breakthrough for the cause of soil carbon credits for Australian farmers.

Statelikne anchorman Quentin Dempster announced the following: "Carbon trading can provide a new long term revenue stream for rural landholders and represents a paradigm shift for agriculture and land management here and globally. Instead of fighting the environment movement, the farmers and landowners could earn $25 per tonne for carbon dioxide stored in soil, plants and trees, native vegetation and sustainable cropping techniques, and that is a conservative estimate, according to former CSIRO chief scientist, Dr John Williams, who is now the Commissioner for Natural Resources in New South Wales. John Williams is the Commissioner for Natural Resources in New South Wales."

Dr WIlliams said this: "Agriculture is able, through photosynthesis, the taking of carbon out of the air and fixing it in a plant, and the plant root depositing it in the soil, along with the soil organisms over time - can build up quite large stores of carbon. In fact, 75 per cent of the carbon stored on land is stored in soil. Now, farmers can manage the storage of carbon not only in the soil but also in the vegetation, in the managing native vegetation or other forms of vegetation - can store carbon, which is an important part of managing our way forward in climate change. So farmers have a great opportunity.

"The way they can get an income from this is because, if we go, as believe we will, to a carbon trading or carbon tax system, it means that someone who is emitting carbon into the atmosphere can actually buy from the farmer carbon that is stored, to make up for the carbon they have emitted.

"It is [a new paradigm], when we look at farmers who are trading in decreasing terms of trade, that is, they’re paying more for the inputs for their product and getting less for their product. Yet, society is expecting from them to maintain, beyond their duty of care, the vegetation and the soils and the land that we all benefit from functioning properly as an ecosystem. So we have moved to a stage of saying, “Well, those ecosystem services, all the things that farmers do that we, you and I, benefit from, are currently taken but not paid for.”

Jock Laurie, President of the NSW Farmers' Association, came out publicly in support of the Coalition's position:
"The opportunity for us to sequest carbon, to put it into soil, to store it for the future is exactly what we're talking about. We have got the ability to do it... We want [state and national governments] to be very aware that we are and will be a major component in any trading system when it comes to carbon trading, and it is vitally important that we are involved in the whole process and they acknowledge what we are doing and obviously get paid for what we are doing.

"Certainly around the world there are cabin trading systems being looked and put in place at the moment. Agriculture and the massive land mass that Australia has - in New South Wales, which is about 80 per cent of the state - we look after, agriculture look after, so the opportunities there are absolutely fantastic and ourselves as an industry would be silly just to sit back now and not take advantage of that."

Then there followed this interchange:

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: All the farmers watching this will want to know how much.

JOHN WILLIAMS: Well, how much is the issue and it is just emerging, but at the moment the current price for a tonne of carbon is about $25, and the EEC system – we’ll have to trade carbon internationally, not just nationally. A tonne of carbon can be fixed over a 10 15 year period quite readily in current ago agricultural methodology in Australia.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: That is potentially $25 per tonne of stored carbon, the equivalent of one or two hectares of vegetated land per 10 year period. So we are talking about a consistent revenue stream.

JOHN WILLIAMS: A consistent revenue stream for managing soil and the soil carbon and the vegetation carbon, so that we can actually address the climate change problem.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: Up about $25 per tonne over a 10 year period?

JOHN WILLIAMS: That's right. That's a minimalist figure, but, until we know more, that's at least not raising hopes beyond what is realistic.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: So it is a conservative estimate but it should be fixed in everybody's mind that that is what the future holds?

JOHN WILLIAMS: That’s what the future holds and, I think, as we go on in future, we’ll find an ability to – as farmers are very innovative, we will find ways in Australian circumstances of increasing the amount of carbon they can store in soil and managing it that way. At the same time I think the price for carbon will increase over time.

JOCK LAURIE: Certainly in this position I have become very aware of it over the last 12 to 18 months, but, prior to that, working on the land and being involved on the land about 30 years myself, I think we all spend so much time working with soils, making sure that we keep good soil strength, good soil textures there available and good grass cover. And what we didn’t realise in lots of ways, I think, was that we are actually doing what people are talking about, we’re actually storing carbon, but we have the ability to actually do better than that by changing some of the work practices, some of the farming practices that people are using, to be able to store more carbon.

That’s the issue we’re at now. We are asking people to do something in the community. Let's develop this system, and, once we develop the system, then we can really start getting some money back into the areas it needs to be.

QUENTIN DEMPSTER: Even though the United States has not signed the Kyoto Protocol, Dr Williams says some North American farmers are already trading their ecosystem, or carbon storage services, on a Chicago exchange. Here, Landcare and Greening Australia are rapidly moving to organise a trading exchange for carbon farming in Australia.

JOHN WILLIAMS: We need to be alert to it, that the Americans are on the front foot, and we need to be in the game.

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