Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Some Sanity in Canberra - only in the Times

Brian Toohey, in The Canberra Times 3/11/2008:.

"Just as surprisingly, the government is ignoring attractive options to encourage rural Australians to play a major role in reducing emissions. Due to worries about asking farmers to buy pollution permits to cover emissions from livestock and land cultivation, the rural sector will not be included in the initial stage of the pollution reduction scheme. But this overlooks the positive side which would let farmers make money from selling offset credits for storing carbon in soil and vegetation. Ultimately, these opportunities could result in large cuts to Australian emissions in a relatively painless manner.

"In the final report of his Climate Change Review, released in the September, Professor Ross Garnaut saw tremendous potential for absorbing carbon in soils and plants. The report said, "The comprehensive restoration of degraded low value grazing country in arid Australia ... would remove up to the equivalent of 250 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year." That’s about half the nation’s present emissions. Garnaut is not suggesting that land restoration on this scale will fully eventuate, but achieving half the potential gain would make a significant contribution to the reducing emissions.

"In discussing a related approach, Garnaut says carbon farming — involving the planting of suitable trees or other vegetation — could absorb over 140 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. He says that a recent study shows farmers could earn up to $100 per hectare more a year than from current land use by to selling carbon offsets, even if a pollution permit price were only $20 a tonne. One advantage of carbon farming is that there are no costs for harvesting and transporting timber. Nor does it matter if the land is in a remote area, or producing only marginal returns from its current usage.

"Moving down this path would also help tackle problems of soil salinity and erosion, as well giving farmers a chance to improve their income while abandoning agricultural practices that damage the land. It would also make it easier to meet stricter emission targets. To achieve these benefits, however, the government needs to start now — not in a decade’s time —on rolling out demonstration programs to introduce farmers and land care groups to the opportunities. "

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