Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Will the Government abandon Agriculture?

Here is a quick summary of what the Government intends to do to Agriculture with its Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme:

1. The Wong bases its system on covering the 1000 big emitters and the rest of the community contributes when they pay higher costs for products and services from these Big Emitters. A “Big Emitter” emits 25,000 tonnes CO2e per year.

COMMENT: Agriculture has few operations that emit this amount. It has between 100,000 and 130,000 operations. But because this Government wants to include Agriculture in the Scheme so it bends the rules and declares that Agriculture is a “Big Emitter” as a sector of the economy. This belief is based on the volumes of methane released by ruminant animals (cattle, sheep). The Government is confident that it can measure the methane emitted by the entire national herd or flock, but it cannot measure the methane emitted by ne herd or flock. This is the reason it gives for delaying the entry of Agriculture into the Scheme: “The agricultural sector is characterised by thousands of small emitters and the calculation of emissions is complex, so it would not be practical at this stage to cover those emissions directly.” And again: “Estimating agriculture emissions is complex. These emissions are highly variable in response to management practices and climatic conditions. How can the Government know the volume of methane emitted by all the herds and flocks together and not know what each group of animals released?

2. It will delay Agriculture’s entry into the Emissions Trading Scheme until 2015. It will decide on whether the sector is “In” or “Out” in 2013.

COMMENT: This impacts people in Agriculture in the following ways: Even though we’re not “In” for purposes of reducing our emissions (and presumably balancing them with our soil carbon), we are “In” because we are paying higher costs from those industries that are “In” and those involved in processing their produce (eg. dairy) will be responsible for the emissions from these operations. The deadly difference between those industries covered by the Scheme and Agriculture is this: they can simply pass the increase costs on. We can’t. (In Government circles there is a belief that we can simply “pass it on at the sale yards”.)

But an even more striking decision has been taken by the government. It has decided not to engage agricultural soils as a major sink in the "Decade For Serious Action", declared by Sir Nicholas Stern in 2006. By not bringing Agriculture into the scheme until 2015, the Rudd Govern.ment is electing to ignore the soil carbon solution altogether or to put off engaging it for seven more years.

3. If the Government can’t find a way to overcome the measurement and cost of compliance issues by 2013, it says it will find other ways for Agriculture to contribute. It will impose a tax or some regulation on farm activities. Despite the belief among national industry representatives that simply reciting a long list of difficulties and pleading for more time and more research, Agriculture will not escape attention.

COMMENT: If the Government decides in 2013 not to cover Agriculture emissions in the Scheme, it will consider alternative mitigation measures. “To ensure that the agriculture sector makes an equivalent contribution to other sectors, the Government is disposed to apply mitigation measures that result in costs similar to those under the Scheme. For example, if the carbon price was $25 per tonne of CO2-e, the Government would seek to mandate the use of mitigation technologies or practices in the agriculture sector with the intention of achieving a cost of around $25 per tonne CO2-e.”

4. Agriculture will not be involved in trading soil carbon, if the Government has its way. The White Paper sets it down clearly: Agriculture will not be able to produce and sell offsets when it is not covered and also when it is covered. No reason is given for this decision.

COMMENT: Even though it is not covered by the CPRS, and the White Paper says: “Offset credits could potentially be created by those sectors not covered by the Scheme”, it also says: “The Scheme will not include domestic offsets from agriculture emissions in the period prior to coverage of these emissions.”

5. If it is unable to include Agriculture to account for its emissions ‘on-farm’ because the cost of measurement is too high for individual farmers, the Government favours a system which sees them pay for their emissions by paying more for inputs like fertilizer (with the fertilizer retailer paying for the N2O that will be emitted when the fertilizer is applied) or getting less from buyers (the buyer paying for the amount of methae the animal produced during its lifetime). That is, the points of obligation are ‘off-farm’, at a point before or after the farm in the supply chain.

COMMENT: The amount of N2O the farmer actually released while applying the fertilizer would vary significantly depending on the application method, the time of year, and the weather conditions. Therefore the degree of uncertainty is extreme. The system is also unjust because the Farmer is the only one in the chain who cannot pass on increased costs.

6. The Government is reluctant to include Article 3.4 that allows countries to include the soil carbon they can sequester in their national accounts because the Kyoto rules say that a country has to be responsible for all emissions – man-made and natural causes – if it wants to count its sinks. This would make Australia would have to pay credits for emissions from drought and bushfire.

COMMENT: The Government agrees that the Kyoto rules do not reflect reality in Australia and took a paper to the Posnan Meeting of the Kyoto participants in late 2008. However it has not taken a hard line, as Australia did in the first round negotiations and as other nations have, threatening to withdraw if discriminatory and illogical rules designed to suit European countries are not changed. The Federal Government rushed in to ratify Kyoto, losing the opportunity to win concessions.

7. The Government relies upon its out-of-date data in the National Carbon Accounting Scheme to support its decision to leave soil carbon our by choosing to exclude Article 3.4. The mythical difference between Australia’s soils and those of the Northern Hemisphere is used to support the erroneous statement that our soils have lower potential for sequestration.

COMMENT: “Scientific research conducted in Australia suggests that, while there are opportunities for increasing and retaining agricultural soil carbon, Australia does not have the same sequestration potential as other countries, and there is significant risk of loss of soil carbon in times of drought or changed management practice.” The weakness of this statement can be revealed by three facts: 1. The carbon rich soils of Europe and North America have less ‘potential’ to sequester than Australia's because they have more already. Ie. their bucket is almost full while ours is nearly empty. Dr YN Chan says Australia has lost 50% of its soil carbon, but we can put it all back. 2. The best soils in the Northern Hemisphere have their equivalent in Australia and vice versa. You will find arid soils in Spain and Montana. 3. The “Potential” of Australian soil has not been measured by scientists, only “actual performance”. And the performance of the soils under all known land management techniques has not been measured. So we are ignorant of the soil’s potential. Therefore the rationale for not opting for Article 3.4 is not robust.

8. Farm forestry is “In” and enjoys a tax break because the Government favours a shift in land use from agriculture to forestry because it is a shift towards less emissions-intensive activities that ‘would reflect an efficient allocation of resources taking into account the carbon price.’ The Government believes new forests would be established ‘on more marginal or less productive agricultural land’. Water interception will be avoided by new management practices that the Government will put in place.

COMMENT: This issue reveals the Government’s blind belief in the primacy of emissions reduction over agricultural activities and ignorance of the way rural societies amd economies fit together. The Department of Climate Change either ignores or cannot understand the impact on the market value of land when there is no carbon price for soil but a carbon price for trees. The distorted market will not allocate of resources efficiently. Further, forestry promoters do not settle for marginal land. Finally, the DCC’s policies are depopulating the bush and deepening the depression suffered by many in rural communities.

9. The Government in the White paper is determined to give no ground to Offsets, thereby threatening the “market” mechanism as it operates in other countries and putting the entire Voluntary Market at risk. It appears to have adopted a “Dark Green” position on Offsets. Dark Greens do not like them. The White Paper’s authors make every argument against them while conceding nothing in their favour. This is an ideological position. It adopts the language of the WWF* as well as its arguments: “Offset Schemes are administratively complex and require considerable judgement to determine baselines—‘what would have happened in the absence of the offset project’. Determining these baselines is inherently subjective, increasing the risk that the Scheme does not promote genuine abatement.”

COMMENT: The following list of reasons why offsets are not to be allowed reveals a Government desperately scraping thebottom of the barrel for arguments: Argument 1.: “Scheme offsets could be used interchangeably with pollution permits and would, therefore, need to meet internationally recognised standards. These require that offsets are only issued for abatement that is measurable, has actually occurred, is additional to business-as-usual and is permanent (that is, is not subsequently reversed). Offsets therefore involve relatively high compliance costs both to project proponents and to the Scheme regulator, for approving, monitoring and verifying each offset project to ensure that abatement meets the required standards.” (Comment: All schemes operate in this way.) 2.: “Domestic offsets could only come from emissions sources that are outside the Scheme. The very broad sectoral coverage proposed for the Scheme means that there is inherently less scope to pursue offset activities.” (Why not let the market decide these things?) 3.: “Further, the Government has indicated that, where practical, it will apply alternative mitigation measures to sources of emissions that can not be covered or are likely to remain outside the Scheme for an extended period of time.” (The cap and trade system does not mean all emissions are covered from day 1. Some emitters may ant to buy offsets to cover their balance and become ‘neutral’.) 4.: “Offsets could only be issued for abatement that is additional to such measures. The scope for domestic offsets from uncovered sources is, therefore, likely to be very limited.” (Additionality has many dimensions, and it has not stopped a vigorous market growing in many countries.) 5.: “Domestic offset projects would not add to total national abatement because offsets would be issued in addition to the Scheme cap and would therefore allow an increase in emissions within the Scheme.” (This is not true. Many companies buy offsets to volunariliy reduce their footprint.) “In other words, offset projects outside the Scheme would allow less abatement to be done within the Scheme and, other things being equal, would reduce the price of permits. However, the cost of reducing emissions would still be borne by firms whose emissions were covered by the Scheme.” (The cap does not eliminate all liability. And offsets are not used to escape responsibility anywhere except in the imagination of an extreme green ideologue. In fact, this statement comes from a WWF publication.)**

10. “There are likely to be important opportunities to increase the carbon stored in agricultural soils.” BUT the White Paper takes the most pessimistic view of the possibility that the world’s most highly respected soil carbon scientist is right: Soil carbon sequestration is the only hope we have to blunt the most extreme impact of Climate Change: “C Sequestration in soil and vegetation is a bridge to the future. It buys us time while alternatives to fossil fuel take effect.” - Dr Rattan Lal, Director, Carbon Management and Sequestration Center, Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, IPCC Lead Author

The White Paper makes no attempt to address one dominant reality: That soil carbon is the only realistic option the world has to manage the transition to the new cllmate regime. The climate chaos the world is experiencing is caused by CO2 already in the atmosphere, released over the last 100 years. The Legacy Load is big enough to drive the globe through the critical 2°C limit and into calamitous results. None of the following can extract The Legacy Load because they can only deal with avoiding future emissions, not absorbing past emissions: • Clean Coal technology • Solar energy • Wind energy • Thermal energy
• Tidal energy. Only photosynthesis can absorb CO2 from the atmosphere but only one of the following can extract the Legacy Load within the 10 year time frame that Nicholas Stern gave the world to do something serious about climate change (2 years ago): [ ] Biochar –technology and cost issues [ ] Forests – would take more than 10 years to plant [ ] Algae – technology problems not yet solved. [ √ ] Pasture grasses and crops – 5.5bilion hectares ready to start tomorrow.

Agricultural soils have critical mass and massive capacity already deployed. If each hectare was to capture only 0.5 tonne of carbon per hectare per year, we would extract more than the 8.7 gigatonnes the world emits each year. There would be extra capacity to absorb the Legacy Load. The Earth can absorb carbon for 25-30 years. But this gives the other solutions listed above time to reach critical mass. Farmers must be given a strong reason to change the way they manage their soils. So that they capture carbon. It requires a 180° change from conventional farming. Carbon Credits for soil would be sufficient incentive. Agricultural offsets. Which the Government refuses to allow.


* “A major limitation of offset systems based on project-based mitigation is that emission reductions have to be measured against a counterfactual reality. The emissions that would have occurred if the market for offsets did not exist need to be estimated in order to calculate the quantity of emissions reductions that the project achieved. This hypothetical reality cannot be proven; instead, it must be inferred and its definition is always to some extent subjective.” - Anja Kollmuss, Helge Zink, Clifford Polycarp, Making Sense of the Voluntary Carbon Market: A Comparison of Carbon Offset Standards, WWF, March 2008

**”If they can buy offsets and these come from projects that are fully additional, then the offsets replace reductions that the cap-and-trade participant would have had to otherwise achieve himself. In other words, under a cap-and-trade system, offsets do not lead to emissions reductions beyond the target set by the cap but only cause a geographical shift in where the emissions reduction occurs. Therefore, non-additional offsets sold into a cap-and-trade system will actually lead to an increase in emissions since the buyer will not have reduced his emissions and the seller will not have offset this increase in emissions.” - ibid

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Voluntary Carbon Market Association formed

The voluntary market wil be very important for soil carbon, especially in the early stages of the game. For this reason, we support the Voluntary Carbon Markets Association (VCMA) because the voluntary market isthreatened by the Government's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme.
The main aim of the VCMA is to restore the link between voluntary abatement action by Australians and real reduction in Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. The VCMA also aims to expand the role of voluntary abatement.
The VCMA was established in November 2008 aand represents a broad range of organisations and individuals, including:
• Providers of offsets from both within and outside sectors covered by the CPRS and GreenPower providers;
•Organisations (such as businesses, local governments, etc) that wish to be seen as ‘carbon neutral’, or wish to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions and contribute to Australia’s reduction in emissions by purchase of Greenpower or offsets;
•Businesses that provide goods and services that may contribute to voluntary abatement;
• Community organisations representing the rights of households and/or others to gain recognition for their voluntary abatement action," it says.
The President of the VCMA, Ric Brazzale has had a long involvement iet and is a supporter ofoluntary actions by companies and individuals to reduce emissions - including Green Power schemes and buying offsets for emissions on plane flights - now save 6 million tonnes of emissions a year, and involve one in six Australian families. "Inadequate targets will lead to inadequate emission reductions," Mr Brazzale said. "It is imperative to encourage voluntary action by individuals and business to achieve emissions reductions beyond relatively minor levels."
The association is urging the Government to allow carbon savings through "measurable and verified voluntary action" by households or business to extinguish emissions trading permits . Without this, it warned, emissions trading "will effectively decimate the voluntary market in Australia".
Mr Brazzale is on the same wavelength as the Coalition when it comes to urgency and the Legacy Load. He wrote the following in The Age in 2006:
"Time is a precious commodity we don't have much of in relation to global warming. Every tonne of carbon dioxide we release into the atmosphere is up there for the next 100 years. Every year we wait is a 100-year legacy that makes our job that much harder and requires much steeper cuts later. If Stern is right, making nuclear power the vanguard of an energy revolution pitches Australia head first into risky territory — economically and otherwise — simply because of the delay it demands."
He argues for immediate deployment of solar and other alternatives.
But he has made, in these few sentences, the case for soil carbon.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Soil Carbon: Will Turnbull's Research be too late?

The Carbon Coalition welcomes the Federal Opposition Leader's endorsement of soil carbon as a major solution for Climate Change. And the promise of more research.* Malcolm has a clear understanding of the issues surrounding soil carbon, according to his Shadow Minister for Climate Change Greg Hunt. "We're fully engaged," he said, several times. But we all know that soil carbon is a complex issue. It gets too hard if you're not committed. How committed could a Leader of an Opposition be? It is hard to detemine the detail of his plan from the briad brush strokes of his speech to the Young Liberals Conference. He said that his climate change strategy "is founded on optimism and confidence, ingenuity and enterprise." This is a stark contrast to the fear-driven strategy the Government has pursued, especially in its communications with farmers. Malcolm goes on: "It is a plan to invest in the health of our landscape, enhance the productivity of our agriculture, and increase our food and energy security." His "Green Carbon Initiative" is "a comprehensive biocarbon strategy of investing in the health of our landscape, restoring soil carbon by reversing over-grazing and excessive tillage, embedding CO2 in bio-char or charcoal, tree planting, and revegetation." He describes soil as one of "three gigantic opportunities for CO2 abatement that the Rudd Government has ignored." It is not exactly "Soil Carbon Manifesto", but it might become one. The Carbon Coalition is briefing the Opposition and will seek to reach a clear understanding of its intentions.

*We don't need more research. We need the right research and we need some process innovation. The type of research we do not need is that which describes how hard it is to measure soil carbon, and that focusses on the fractions of carbon in soil. They are irrelevant in a trading context. Total carbon is all that is required. Flux is irrelevant. What the market needs to know is the delta in total C between two points in time. They are purchasing the delta. The type of research we do need is that which measures the performance of real world "Carbon Farming" techniques in different climate zones so we can populate a suitable model with data. "Zero tillage with stubble retained" is not Carbon Farming and the Coalition does not hold it out as such. It is a means of neutralising the CO2 emissions from ploughing, with a small increase in Carbon over time. It is 'standing still', but at least it is not going backwards. (The Government is not counting CO2 losses from ploughing.) We also need innovation in the processes that make trade possible. The Measurement Issue is not something science can resolve. Tony Lovell has clearly demonstrated that we should be guided by the answer to the question "For what purpose?" when asking how accurate our measurement need to be. When the answer is "to give a buyer confidence", the degree of exactitude is different to that which is required for the purpose of scientific enquiry. Degrees of uncertainty are necessary for the 'risk/reward' device to operate as an essential mechanism forming a market. Malcolm Turnbull will understand this issue easily.

Friday, January 16, 2009

CSIRO shifting stand on soil carbon?

A small item but mighty powerful news: The CSIRO is softening its stand against soil carbon trading for Australian farmers. "Soil work a coup for carbon?" read the headline on a report on Dr Clive Kirkby's "trials into storing soil carbon in cropping land [which] may have an impact on the role of grain production in future emissions trading schemes (ETS)." "Dr Kirkby now believed nutrient levels were the key to soil carbon," reports The Land. "If the theory can be proven, it will have an important role in dealing grain production into the carbon trading landscape... Proving that carbon could be stored in stubble paddocks would add a strong argument to croppers becoming involved in ETS plans," says the report. There can be no doubt that the article appears to reverse all previous CSIRO attempts to derail the soil carbon movement.
Dr Kirkby deserves credit for changing his position, quite a shift since he co-authored the now famous GRDC Groundcover article which said that humus would be too costly to grow because of all the nitrogen fertiliser needed to make humus. Nitrogen only comes out of a bag, it was suggested, and worldwide prices for it were too high to make growing humus financially viable. In fact free living bacteria give nitrogen away free. They make it from the air. It's yours free! (Sounds like snake oil? Look it up.)

It's Official: Real world now 10-times faster than soil carbon models?

Models used to 'predict' the C-sequestration rates of Australian soils could be out by a fact of 6 or even 10, according to analysis of data released by the Victorian DI and GRDC recently. The data indicates that Australian soils can sequester carbon 6 to 10 times faster than the models allow.

The data was published by Dr Peter Fisher of the Victorian DPI. (Relevant sections of the press release below. Tony Lovell of Soil Carbon Australia provides the following analysis of the data:

TONY LOVELL'S ANALYSIS: "This news is still incredibly good and should really help to shift the discussion. Peter is saying the modelling suggests a 2t/ha increase in organic matter input for the same conditions, results in a change in soil carbon value of about 0.13pc after 20 years. However his research indicates that a 2t/ha increase in soil organic matter might result in approximately a 0.4pc change after only 10 years. Lets do some super basic maths on this - 0.4pc is 3 times as much as 0.13pc, and 10 years is twice as quick as 20 years - so this is still a factor of 6 times better. But what does Peter's model suggest at year 10 rather than year 20? Is the difference even greater - maybe somewhere closer to an order of magnitude (10 times)? If someone could prove to me that I could do something 6 to 10 times faster than everyone else was saying was possible, I would be a damn happy camper. And this on places where the farmers were not even focussed on building soil carbon."


A key finding from the paired paddocks trial was that for every extra tonne per hectare of above-ground and below-ground organic matter – maintained on average for 10 years, the soil carbon percentage was found to be more than 0.2% higher. 

“This increase is greater than most carbon modelling suggests,” Dr Fisher said. “Most carbon modelling indicates that increasing soil carbon is a very slow process, taking many decades to achieve significant changes. For example, modelling a 2 t/ha increase in organic matter input for the same conditions, results in a change in soil carbon value of about 0.13% after 20 years. 

“In contrast, the relationship developed between change in organic matter input and change in soil carbon at the 13 paired paddocks in the trial, suggested that a 2 t/ha increase in soil organic matter might result in approximately a 0.4% change in carbon level, after only 10 years.” 


1. Was that a 2% increase over 10 years (ie. 0.2%/yr for 10 years) or was it 0.2% over 10 years?

2. What were the land management techniques used to return the organic matter to the soil?Stubble? Stubble processed through animals? Stubble ploughed in? Compost? Each of these will have a different effect on carbon scores, depending on the availability of the organic matter to the microbes. And the state of health of the microbial community will affect the incorporation of the organic matter. Highly active soil will see stubble disappear in a few days. Inactive 'dead' soil will have stubble oxidise, with very little being incorporated. This would affect your carbon readings.

3. What other management techniques were in use on the paddocks? Cover crop? Fertiliser? Pesticides? Herbicides? Minimum Till? No Till?

4. What was the history of the paddocks? (Ie. a paddock which had been under perennial pasture until recently would be in the early stages of rapidly losing significant carbon while a long-cropped paddock would have plateaued at a low carbon point.

5. The models: how old is the data on which they were built?

6. Given what we know about microbial communities and their frontline role in manufacturing carbon, was there any analysis done of the paddocks to ascertain their background level of microbial activity before the trials commenced.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

CCX wrestles with additionality

This is Dale Enerson, director of the National Farmers Union carbon offset program. He controls the largest number of farmers and ranchers enrolled in the Chicago Climate Exchange's (CCX) agricultural abatements trading scheme. He works for the North Dakota Farmers Union which provides services to the NFU. The Carbon Coalition met with Dale to discuss the unrest with the CCX scheme in LaFayette, indiana in October and in Santa Fe, New Mexico in December, 2008. We also attended a meeting in Boezman, Montana. We also met Dave Miller of the Iowa Farm Bureau's AgraGate operation and Ted Dodge of the National Carbon Offset Coalition, from Montana. These represent the Big 3 aggregators supplying the CCX.
As a result of the concerns expressed at meetings like these, the Chicago Climate Exchange is overhauling it system of rewarding farmers and ranchers who store carbon. "After Jan. 30, ranchers won’t be able to market their past efforts to store carbon dioxide in the soil dating back to 2003. Going forward, the Chicago Climate Exchange will accept only efforts to limit greenhouse gases related to the current year and future years," reports AGWEEK.
Selling carbon credits for action in the past is not leading to "additional" reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
Dale Enerson, director of the National Farmers Union program, thinks this will take the heat off the scheme which has been heavily criticised by activists and customers. “From here forward, we think it will be more bulletproof in terms of criticism if you just offer current year and forward credits,” he said.
There have been changes for rangeland credits as well. They bring the rangeland program into line with the rules for carbon credits that farmers can sell for using no-till farming practices or growing grasses on cropland. Ranchers qualify for credits by using certain rotational grazing practices or by planting grasses and trees. Farmers are included for using no-till farming practices or by converting cropland into pasture or forest. Livestock producers can join in by installing systems to capture methane from manure.
Random checks are conducted to make sure farmers and ranchers are doing what they promised.
The big problem with the CCX model is the method for measurement of the soil carbon captured and held. CCX uses a 100% indicator or proxy system, governed by visual audits. Landholders get only a fraction of ton in credit for every acre enrolled in the program, and that rate per acre varies based on what measures are being taken and the land’s location. price the market has been giving farmers and consequently the number of farmers getting involved. While carbon credits sold on the CCX are fetching about $1.50 a metric ton now, last year, the Farmer’s Union averaged about $4.40 per ton with all the credits it sold. About 4,000 farmers and ranchers in about 40 states are enrolled in the Farmer’s Union program. That’s up from about 2,300 participants in 20 states roughly six months ago.
Currently, the Chicago Climate Exchange system is voluntary. It is expected that within the next five years, there will be some sort of federal requirement to reduce emissions or buy credits to offset emissions, which would increase the market for credits.
"The whole carbon market, it’s in its infancy,” Dale Enerson says.

PICTURED: The Carey's Cattle Ranch near Three Forks, Montana. We visited with Tom and Helen on their 10,000 acre ranch, thanks to our new friends Chuck Widemans (a geophysicist) and his wife Debbie Hanneman (also a geophysicist)

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Bad news for fans of CCX system

The state of play in the USA is hard to say... when it comes to soil C sequestration.
The conversations we had with the major American aggregators (Iowa Farm Bureau, North Dakota Farmers Union, National Carbon Offset Coalition) in November and December last year told us that the Chicago Climate Exchange model is losing support from both sides of the trade. Buyers say the offsets are not robust enough and sellers say the price is too low. CCX is working on revamping its system. There are some in the debate in Australia who think low enough is good enough, that farmers should not be given access to the full value of the carbon abatements they can create, and instead they should attempt to pay the cost of their emissions with the pittance a CCX-style system would pay or with the "Big Fat Nothing" that Jenny Wong's advisers say the farmers should get. Which is close to what they will get if hey are fobbed off with 'stewardship payments', the environmental movement's Trojan Horse.
Meanwhile, we hope the President-Elect knows about the fatal weakness of the low-value abatements as we hear this week that he moving on soil carbon sequestration under a review of credits for 'ecosystem services'.
A new U.S. Department of Agriculture office to assess the environmental benefits of agriculture and determine their value for carbon credit trading has been announced by Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer. The Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets and a board to assist in the development of "technical guidelines for values" that they hope will promote markets for ecosystem services."
The Rudd Government could take a lesson from Barak Obama. “Our nation’s farms, ranches, and forests provide goods and services that are vital to society—natural assets we call ‘ecosystem services’,” Mr Schafer said. “The Office of Ecosystem Services and Markets will enable America’s agriculture producers to better compete, trade their services around the world, and make significant contributions to help improve the environment.” . The first ecosystem services to be examined will be carbon sequestration. The make up of the board doesn't fill us with confidence that they have the market 'smarts' to do the job. The board, chaired by the USDA secretary, will include the secretaries of Interior, Energy, Commerce, Transportation, and Defense; the chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors; the director of the White House Office of Science and Technology; the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency; and the commander of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

STOP STOP PRESS!!!! 2% was wishful thinking

It is with apologies that we announce: WE THOUGHT IT WAS 0.2%/YR! but it appears we were wrong.
It appears that it was 0.2% over 10 years!

"This increase is greater than most carbon modelling suggests," said Dr Peter Fisher, head of the Victorian DPI's soil carbon unit, as he reported that a series of trials in VIC and NSW revealed that 0.2% increase in soil carbon in 10 years was possible.

The fact that the relationship between soil carbon and soil structure, porosity, water economy, and yield had to be established scientifically for Australian soils might surprise some, but it very timely.

We need to know a lot more about the study to understand the slight increase in soil C:

What were the land management techniques used to return the organic matter to the soil?Stubble? Stubble processed through animals? Stubble ploughed in? Compost? Each of these will have a different effect on carbon scores, depending on the availability of the organic matter to the microbes. And the state of health of the microbial community will affect the incorporation of the organic matter. Highly active soil will see stubble disappear in a few days. Inactive 'dead' soil will have stubble oxidise, with very little being incorporated. This would affect your carbon readings.
What other management techniques were in use on the paddocks? Cover crop? Fertiliser? Pesticides? Herbicides? Minimum Till? No Till?
What was the history of the paddocks? (Ie. a paddock which had been under perennial pasture until recently would be in the early stages of rapidly losing significant carbon while a long-cropped paddock would have plateaued at a low carbon point.
The models: how old is the data on which they were built?
Given what we know about microbial communities and their frontline role in manufacturing carbon, was there any analysis done of the paddocks to ascertain their background level of microbial activity before the trials commenced.

Dr Fisher thinks the 0.2% could stretch to 0.4% in 10 years. Even then, that could be worth $1000/ha.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009


The Kyoto Rules are not fair for the farm sector, says Tony Burke. He is putting pressure on the Minister for Climate Change Penny Wong to instruct some of the highly intelligent people who lead her team to apply their minds to solving Agriculture's lose-lose situation. Contrary to received wisdom, Moses didn't bring the Kyoto Rules down from the Mountain. The most important words in the National Carbon Offset Standard Discussion Paper say it all: "ALL STANDARDS AND LEGISLATION ARE SUBJECT TO REVISION." Tony Burke appeals to the Kyotocrats to change the rules to 'match new science' that indicates that 'well-managed pastures should be recognised for their carbon storage ability.'
The Carbon Coalition has the following advice for lawmakers:
1. Soil carbon deserves 'special status' because it has unique characteristics and a unique role to play in the Climate Change response.
2. Only soil carbon has the capability, critical mass, and deployment to absorb a high proportion of the existing emissions or 'the Legacy Load" which is driving the erratic climate behaviour. Soil - via billions of hectares of photosynthetic processors (plants) - can operate on a 25 year rule for holding that carbon it has captured, largely due to uncertainty.
3. Permanence: The 100 year rule (all sinks must guarantee to hold carbon for a century) is clearly a fiction as the world would not plan a massive break out of GHG in precisely 100 years time. The 25 year period enables science to develop containment and/or cycling techniques for managing soil carbon, via technologies such as biochar.
4. Additonality (the rule that says anyone who has made the change to land management already is ruled out, anyone who has yet to make the change but is surrounded by land managers who have is ruled out, anyone who doesn't desparately need the money from credits is ruled out, anyone who has their land management changes funded or part funded by government agencies is ruled out, etc.) The reason why we want everyone treated equally well is because we need them all to be sequestering as much carbon as possible for as long as possible. When you want people to act quickly to change the habits of a lifetime and stick with it until it becomes second nature, you don't want to surround them with bitter and twisted naysayers.

The Greens don't like carbon credits for farmers, on the grounds that farmers shouldn't be paid for what they should be doing anyway. This dangerous moral supremist attitude signals ignorance of the true situation in agriculture.

Thanks to Tony Burke, sanity has a voice in cabinet.

Carbon Coalition Couple in Christmas Coverage

Thanks to Rural Press and Science and Environment Writer Matthew Cawood for the following article, beautifully written. What a surprise! Matt is one of the few members of the media who does his homework and knows what's what and who's who in the zoo. And what a zoo. Rural Press and The Land in particular have served their readers well in the soil carbon issue, reporting both sides of the argument. It has also been very well balanced about the Climate Change issue, giving the sceptics good coverage. (BTW: The Carbon Coalition does not insist on belief in Climate Change. Just believe in the market - the biggest commodity market ever.)

Don't even think about it: $770 per hectare per year for soil carbon

A 2% increase in soil carbon over 10 years, as reported by Dr Peter Fisher after a series of paired-site trials in NSW and VIC, translates into$770/ha/year (at 30cms, BD 1.4 and $25/tC). Not a bad bonus on top of the production you get from carbon rich soils. Yet some people are cautioning landholders against thinking about the money. They say: focus on the co-benefits (soil health, soil structure, water holding capacity, tilth, available nutrients, active microbial community, etc.) Don't focus on the money. Don't demand access to soil carbon credits.

Clearly those who give this counsel must have secure incomes; they cannot be farmers. And we invite those who argue this line to consider the ethics of asking landholders to acquiese meekly to the following injustice:

1. The Goverment has declared that Agriculture of a major emitter (based on what evidence we can't be sure, because the Government also claims it is impossible to measure emissions at the enterprise level, which is why Agriculture won't be included in the emissions trading scheme).
2. As a major emitter, we have to pay our fair share, but the "point of obligation" is set outside the industry and we pay higher costs and commissions as a result.
3. We cannot pass on these rises at the saleyards, as one government speaker suggested.
4. We do, however, have the ability to grow soil carbon - that is, our enterprise operates as a 'sink' as well as being a 'source'.
5. However, the same difficulty that the government has encountered with enterprise emissions bedevils soil carbon: difficult to measure.
6. Meanwhile the foresters (who don't measure carbon, but 'estimate' it) turn farms into forests for a profit.

What's fair and decent and equitable and ethical about that?

We ask Government officials and industry body executives to put the same effort into solving the soil carbon dilemma as has been put into denying that soil carbon could be grown in Australia (proved wrong), can be grown but only slowly (proved wrong), is too expensive to grow because of the price of nitrogen fertiliser (proved wrong) and isn't worth the money (proved wrong).

We ask all the people with secure jobs with executive salaries, who don't rely on the weather for their livelihood, and who are in a position to influence the debate about soil carbon credits, to consider what they are doing to farm families and rural communities by denying them this opportunity. At least make the effort to find out the facts about soil carbon, instead of relying on out-of-date reports.

FICTION: The Soil Carbon lobby quotes outrageous amounts of mioneyfor soilcarbon credits.
FACT: many people don't understand how we come to those high figures. When calculating the returns on soil carbon, you must multiply the carbon percentage increase by 3.67 to bring it to Carbon Dioxide Equivalent? We grow Carbon, but we trade Carbon Dioxide Equivalent units.

FICTION: Farmers could be induced to make a big mistake with soil carbon.
FACT: We caution landholders against committing their available land 100% to carbonfarming. We advise them to start small - with 100-200ha and learn the ropes that way.

FICTION: If there was any truth in it, they'd have scientific profof. But the science says we are wrong.
FACT: The main reason science has not been able to verify our findings about soil carbon for the past 2 years is because little work was done in the field; soil science has been defunded in the past decade, university courses closed, academic positions lost - and in the words of Michael Robinson, head of Land & Water, 'the science is lagging the politics'. There were no carbon farmers in the 1970s and early 1980s when most of the research was done.

FICTION: They are making up 'witches brews' and burying cow horns with compost in them. Hardly scientific.
FACT: What were dismissed as witches brews are compost teas, biodynamic preparations and other soil inoculants. These are barely understood by science, yet farmers using them are measuring and registering huge increases in soil health indicators, including carbon. Further, the real gains are being made in biological science, largely neglected in recent years in an industry where physics and chemistry predominate. It is the microbial communities that make the carbon. The soil physics and chemistry contribute by either making life easy or hard for microbes. And land management can affect all of them. But biology is the pointy end of the process. And not much is known about it in most places.

Here is an example of how this knowledge gap affects scientific research: Every carbon farmer knows that the composition of your microbial community will determine the outcome of soil performance. If you are playing with an incomplete deck, you cannot win. But how many scientific studies of soil performance start with a soil biology analysis of the plot concerned? Any? And how often is this reported as part of the background to the study's findings?

SO the next time you are told something about the 'potential' of Australian soils to sequester carbon, ask them what was the microbial count? Amen.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009


The Carbon Coalition activities for 2009 have been recognised as being officially part of the United Nations' International Year of Planet Earth. The aim of the Year is to foster outreach and research activities with the single purpose of raising worldwide public and political awareness of the potential of Earth sciences for improving the quality of life and safeguarding the planet, making it a better, safer, healthier and wealthier place for our children and grandchildren.
Carbon Coalitions events and activities which will carry the IYPE logo include the 2009 Carbon Farming Expo & Conference, a global webcast multimedia virtual conference connecting soil carbon specialists across the world, the launch of a mega-website, and smaller events around the nation. Of course, the world famous Carbon Cockie Competition (which is going national) will also come under the IYPE.

The International Year of Planet Earth was initiated by the International Union of Geological Sciences and the United Nations
Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The Year also enjoys the full political support of 192 UN countries. By the end of 2008, National Committees have been established in 76 countries and regions in the world.
One of the 10 themes for the Year is "Soil: Earth' Living Skin". The Carbon Coalition has already featured members of one of the major partner organisations, the International Union of Soil Sciences. Keynote speakers at the 2008 Carbon Farming Expo & Conference included Professor Rattan Lal and Professor Alex McBratney, both of whom were awarded the highest honours by the IUSS.
Rattan Lal, director of Ohio State's Carbon Management and Sequestration Center and a professor with the School of Environment and Natural Resources, was the recipient of the 2006 Liebig Applied Soil Science Award. Named in memory of German scientist Justus von Liebig -- known as the “father of the fertilizer industry”.Alex McBratney was awarded the Webster Medal 2006 18th World Congress of Soil Science. Alex. is Professor of Soil Science and Pro-Dean in the Faculty of Agriculture, Food & Natural Resources at the University of Sydney. He was instrumental in the setting up of the Working Group (now commission ) on Pedometrics and the new Working Group on Digital Soil Mapping.
About this logo: In 2002 the German Ministry of Education and Research in 2002 instigated the very successful Jahr der Geowissenschaften. The logo used in the national event forms the basis of the International Year logo, by kind permission of the German Ministry. This consists of an inner circle (red) representing the solid Earth, then the biosphere in green and the hydrosphere in dark blue, above which is the pale blue atmosphere, all constituents of the Earth System.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


"This increase is greater than most carbon modelling suggests," said Dr Peter Fisher, head of the Victorian DPI's soil carbon unit, as he reported that a series of trials in VIC and NSW revealed that 2% increase in soil carbon in 10 years was possible. This figure was disputed by conventional scientists at the first Carbon Farming Conference a little over a year ago when Coalition Council Member Col Seis reported it. The GRDC funded the trials.
At the time the GRDC's relentless Allan Umbers was all over the media selling the message that our degraded soils could not sequester significant amounts of soil carbon.
We disageed with him on the meaning of the word 'significant'.
A 1% increase in soil carbon at 30cms and bulk density 1.4 represents 154 tonnes of CO2e sequestered per ha . Double it for 2%. Now multiply 308 tonnes CO2e by whatever the pric of carbon is: the Government is talking about $25 rising to $40/t.
My calculator tells me that this represents a total of $7,700 at $25 and $12,320 at $40. Per hectare.
Or between $770/ha and $1232/ha per year.

Now some might call that significant.

Dr Peter Fisher enters the Hall of Soil Carbon Heroes. Full report when data is available to us.
Meanwhile, start celebrating. The Walls are coming down.


Thank you for your patience while we waited to load the slides onto a slide sharing service. You can find all the slides (except Professor Lal's - they are coming.) posted at either or

The DVD of all presentations at the Conference is available for purchase - telephone 02 6374 0329

For those interested, Michael Kiely Marketing is our carbon marketing consultancy. Our credentials can be found at