Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Scare campaign against trading scheme

There is a scare campaign underway to spook farmers about emissions trading and what it will do to them.

There has been an almost unanimously negative response to the prospect of an Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) from officials and industry leaders.
Nothing but bad news and predictions of doom. The Landcare Groups Conference at Yass on 9 April 2008 saw farmers almost rise up in revolt when the message sank in that the official position was they would pay for methane and nitrous oxide and be denied access to soil carbon credits. The Australian Farm Institute audience in Maroochydore (21/22nd April, 2008) had so few farmers and so many ‘middlemen’ and 'officials' that it swallowed the bad news whole. The worst case scenario was presented as the most likely outcome.

This is intellectually dishonest and damaging to the morale of the farm community at a time when they need hope. And there is hope, but the message is beng drowned out by the wailing of the ignorant.

Firstly, the science on soil carbon is not yet officially “in”. While common wisdom has it that our soils can sequester tiny amounts of carbon at best, the Department of Climate Change has admitted that the relatively new land management techniques known as “carbon farming” that are designed to maximize carbon build-up have not been assessed for sequestration potential. Trials are underway and early results indicate levels of sequestration that will surprise many.

Secondly, most people at the AFI conference were not informed that under a cap and trade system the farmer would not be asked to buy carbon credits to cover their entire emissions each year. Only the gap between the cap set and the level to which the farmer can bring emissions down by all available means would need to be offset. No allowance in official projections is made for solutions already coming through, such as methane inoculants, natural fertilizers, etc.

Thirdly, no allowance in the bad news projections is made for on-farm innovation, ie. farmers' natural ability to invent solutions to reduce emissions. (There is a solar ute under construction in the Central West. ) All other sectors of the economy affected by emissions trading have developed ways to reduce emissions that don't involve buying carbon credits.

If farmers are left to carry the can on methane and nitrous oxide with no access to the soil carbon they can grow and trade to pay for their liabilities, it will be gross negligence on the part of the their industry representatives who refused to engage with the issue until it was too late. If the energy that has been put into denigrating the concept of soil carbon trading had instead been put into finding ways to make it happen, we'd be trading it today. The question remains: why are so many people in official roles so passionately against what is clearly in the interests of farmers, climate change management, restoration of farm landscapes, and the health of rural communities?

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