Monday, July 26, 2010

Abbott's soil carbon strategy "robust"

The shadow spokesman for climate change, Greg Hunt, said the Opposition's policy on soil carbon was robust and many farmers were keen to take part. The opposition's climate change policy relies on paying farmers to enrich soils with 85 million tonnes of extra carbon a year, accounting for about 60 per cent of the minimum greenhouse cuts Australia has promised in the next decade, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.
''Three established industry groups have identified soil carbon savings almost twice those recognised by the Coalition,'' he said.
''If anything, our estimates are deeply conservative and it is undoubted that we should be pursuing a once in a century replenishment of our soils and our soil carbons.
''Our view of both the desirability and the achieveability has strengthened significantly through subsequent study over the last six months.''
Hunt cited letters endorsing the policy from three groups with an established interest in carbon farming supporting its stance, including from Dr John White, the executive director of Ignite Energy Resources, which is in a partnership with an organic fertiliser company.
''The CSIRO and the state agricultural bodies will tell you it is impossible but we have got farmers who are sequestering 10 or more tonnes of carbon per hectare right now,'' White said. ''We have half a million hectares already.''

Business groups attack soil carbon trade

The Australian Industry Group recently argued against soil carbon trading with the following statement: “If we rely on abatement that is not recognised as meeting Australia’s commitments, we must either undertake additional abatement at further expense, or risk undermining the international framework that justifies the cost of abatement.” The Group made two mistakes. Mistake 1: Confusing the Mandatory Market (under the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme) with the Voluntary Market (under the National Carbon Offset Standard). Soil Carbon Offsets will initially only be available on the Voluntary Market. As the word 'voluntary' implies, no one is forced to purchase these offsets. As well, there is no 'further abatement' or 'additional expense' because there is no mandatory market. The second mistake is to refer to 'undermining' the Kyoto principles which 'justify the cost of abatement'. Two things: 1. Kyoto was not set in stone when it was formulated. It was designed for the first trial periods and was always meant to be revised. It has been discovered that the emissions-centric nature of the model does not do justice to Agriculture and a powerful alliance of Governments and NGOs (USA, EU, World Bank, etc.) are seeking a new, separate set of provisions for the sector that recognise the fact that carbon is both emitted and captured in a biological environment 2. The current prices of offsets around the world make the statement a little humorous.

CSIRO claims based on bad science

Soil scientists commenting on the potential of Australian soils cannot be believed because the science has not been done, according to a farmers’ lobby group.
“Two senior CSIRO soil scientists set limits on the amount of carbon we farmers can capture and hold in soils, but their science is out of date,” says Michael Kiely, convenor of the Carbon Coalition.
No attempt has been made to test the 'potential' sequestration capability of Australian soils. And there is no work underway that will reveal it. There is no attempt to study the impact of biological farming on its own and, more to the point, there is no plan to study 'portfolio planning' or combinations of land management practices that complement and reinforce each other to maximise soil C sequestration.
“This is the reality on the farm. This is what Carbon Farmers do. (Eg. At "Uamby' we use grazing management, pasture cropping and probiotic innoculants, on the same piece of ground.) We have developed the Soil Carbon Optimising Tool to help farmers build a carbon farm plan to 'mix and match' their sequestration techniques. So while Science is measuring the potential of the past, we are seeking to live the potential of the present while helping to create the future.”

The facts are as follows:
Australia’s soils have not been studied comprehensively for their potential as a carbon sink.
Australian soils have only been fully studied for their capacity as a source of emissions.
There has been no major investment in research in this field until the Commonwealth Government arranged for a total of $26.5m to be allocated to studies overseen by the CSIRO. This research is yet to be completed. It is not designed to reveal the upside potential of different soils to sequester total carbon.
The data relied upon by CSIRO scientists to make statements about soil carbon potential must always be at least 5 years out of date due to the requirements of the scientific ‘peer review’ system. The actual research takes at least 3 years. Then it must be reviewed by a panel of scientists who can recommend changes to the report or even that work be redone. After clearance, the paper must appear in a scholarly journal of note before it is widely accepted.
Most of the research relied upon to ‘prove’ that Australian soils can sequester little or no carbon do not meet the basic Kyoto requirement that there be a change in land management beyond ‘business as usual’ Without a change in land management there can be no sequestration.
No research conducted or being conducted in this field is focusing on land management practices which have demonstrated in on-farm trials the greatest impact on sequestration rates. They are: 1. Biological Farming and 2. Carbon Farming (or portfolio planning), the latest innovations in this field.
Dr Jeff Baldock is wrong when he says “if you really want to capture enough carbon to start affecting our total emissions, a big chunk of land is going to have to be converted from the agricultural use it has seen into something else.” Practical experience reveals that actively grazed pastures and rangelands sequester more carbon than other land uses. There are more than 400m hectares of these lands in Australia. Even in croplands, changes to land management do not mean land must go out of production. It is the active life of the roots of plants that produces soil carbon.
Corn crops can sequester 5tonnes of carbon per hectare per year, according to NSW Industry & Investment researchers. (See below) That is the equivalent of more than 15 tonnes of CO2.
Dr Mike Gundy is wrong when he says that the Opposition could not reach its target when sequestering only half a tonne of carbon per hectare. 0.5 tonnes of carbon is equivalent to 2 tonnes of CO2. Australia has more than 400m hectares of agricultural lands. At 2tonnes CO2-e, the potential annual sequestration is 800m tonnes.
WHITE PAPER: A comprehensive analysis of why formal science suppresses soil carbon sequestration rates can be found in a white paper titled “Good Science & Snake Oil” posted at

Michael Kiely
Carbon Coalition
(02) 6374 0329

Corn crop can sequester 34 tonnes CO2-e per hectare per year (DI&I)

Corn can be used to build soil carbon levels. Total carbon added from corn roots averaged five tonnes per hectare per year with cotton-corn and 9.3t/ha/year with back-to-back corn, says Industry & Investment NSW senior research scientist, Nilantha Hulugalle. THIS IS THE EQUIVALENT OF BETWEEN 18 TONNES OF CO2-E AND 34 TONNES OF CO2-E PER HECTARE PER YEAR. Soil organic carbon dynamics in these farming systems have focussed on inputs of above-ground material.
“Addition of root material to soil carbon stocks either in the form of roots dying and decaying during and after the crop’s growing season are, however, significant," she said in a Land Newspaper report.
A project examining grey clay cotton soils near Narrabri found root death and decay contributed more than half of corn’s carbon to soil. Corn is a summer crop often grown under irrigation after cotton.
“We measured corn root growth in back-to-back corn and a cotton-corn rotation sown on one metre beds during the summers of 2007-08 and 2008-09, Dr Hulugalle said. Root measurements were made at intervals of two to four weeks during the growing season by using a combination of soil cores, a minirhizotron and an image capture system, using a video camera inserted into the soil through a clear plastic root observation tube. “The video camera was connected to a field computer with software which is able to take root images at specified depths. Carbon was analysed in roots sampled by coring.
The amount of carbon held in the crop roots at the end of the season and the amount of carbon added to the soil by roots dying during the growing season, were measured. Corn root densities, particularly towards the latter part of the growing season, were higher with back-to-back corn than with cotton-corn rotation.
“The amount contributed by root death during the growing season averaged 11% of the total amount.
“Relative to carbon contributed by the whole corn crop, above and below the ground, the amount of carbon contributed by roots can range from 50% to 65%.”

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Waiting for a Soil Carbon Offset Unit

When the Commonwealth Government released what it calls the National Carbon Offset Standard, it did not set down the rules for making offsets. Instead it invited industry to write the rules for them: "Proponents may propose methodologies for offset projects and develop offset projects within Australia from emissions sources not counted toward Australia’s obligations under the Kyoto Protocol target." Agriculture is not counted. The Carbon Coalition sees this opportunity to achieve its goal, stated in
our mission: To see soil carbon traded and farmers paid fairly for what they grow. Recognising that the investment and technical expertise to formulate a methodology that would solve the many 'problems' surrounding soil carbon trading was beyond it, the Coalition opted to provide support and advice to others willing to take the risk.
After 2 years work by a cluster of businesses and organisations, and a huge personal investment by its principal Ken Bellamy, Prime Carbon has applied for certification of six different “Offset Units” for agriculture under the National Carbon Offset Standard. That means six different ways that farmers can reduce or absorb emissions of Greenhouse Gases and be paid for it. Soil Carbon Sequestration is the first. There are also offsets proposed for reducing Nitrous Oxide emissions from fertiliser use, Soil Stewardship, Revegetation, Reduced Usage of Lime, and Water Efficiency. Other opportunities include solar power and wind turbines to generate energy to be sold back into the grid. These have been submitted and we now await the 'consultation' process promised when the Standard was released late in 2009. Greg Combet, Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change Penny Wong, told us in June that a consultation paper wold be forthcoming soon. The Government has established an independent body called the Carbon Trust to oversee the administration of the Standard. It is chaired by former Environment Minister Robert Hill and includes on its Board Tony Coleman, who first identified climate change as a major business risk while chief actuary of IAG and who subsequently played an important role in the influential "Business Forum" which carried the issue up to Government and convinced the Howard regime to change its approach. We just want a fast track to an offset unit so we can get on with saving the world. (If it is not forthcoming, the Coalition favours going to the market and letting the people decide...)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Waiting for Gillard

A day is a long time in politics, they say… Prime Ministers can come and go in a day. Policies usually take a little longer.
The Gillard Government has not yet made a clear statement of its intentions with the carbon market yet, but we are confident that statements from Gillard supporters Tony Burke (Minister for Agriculture) and Greg Combet (Minister Assisting the Minister for Climate Change) and from the Department of Climate Change itself will hold true – agricultural carbon offsets will soon be possible.
These are the reasons we are confident:
1.The majority of Australians believe Climate Change is real and man-made and expect something to be done about it.
2. The Government must face the people in an election before Christmas, possibly next month.
3. The Government must be seen to be doing something about Climate Change.
4. The Prime Minister has ruled out “putting a price on Carbon” until 2012 (which is code for introducing an Emissions Trading Scheme based on a cap and trade system or a ‘mandatory market’ mechanism.)
5. The Prime Minister wants to build a ‘community consensus’ on Climate Change before implementing a price on carbon.
6. Large corporations including ANZ, NAB, Qantas, Fosters and Lion Nathan have announced that they will buy offsets through the Voluntary Market launched on 1 July, 2010 (National Carbon Offset Standard or NCOS).
7. Soil Carbon Offsets are a good news story for the electorate – assisting with Climate Change, with environmental restoration and with supporting farm families.
8. Offsets cost the Government nothing.
So until the Mandatory Market emerges, the Voluntary Market is all there is to choose from. And if it has to wait until consensus emerges in the community, that could be a long, long time.
Which means we will have the market all to ourselves at least until 2013.

The Outrageous Potential for Climate Change Agriculture

Imagine what could happen if close to 100% of Australia's agricultural soil was managed to sequester carbon and soil health levels rose across 450 million hectare. What tipping points would be reached? What emergent properties would emerge? No one can tell because it has never happened before. It seems like an outrageous suggestion, but some Australian farmers claim that they can slow, stall and even reverse the progress of Climate Change if given a chance. Members of the Carbon Coalition say they know how to turn Australia’s agricultural soils into a carbon sink large enough to play a major role in saving the world from the worst that climate chaos can inflict on us.
“Carbon Farming is already part of the Government’s policy on Climate Change. The decision we are looking for is a fast track to approval of soil carbon offsets under the National Carbon Offset Standard so we can get on with the job of saving the world,” says Michael Kiely of Carbon Farmers of Australia (the not-for-profit commercial arm of the Coalition.)
The world’s most highly awarded soil carbon specialist Professor Rattan Lal has announced that the world’s agricultural soils and vegetation can capture and hold enough CO2 from the atmosphere to stabilise Global Warming while the world makes the change to renewable energy. “It buys us time”, he says. Adviser to the US Government on soil carbon, Dr Lal believes plants and soils can be a bridge to the future because of their capacity to ‘draw down’ or absorb via the process of photosynthesis a massive amount of CO2, equivalent to 50ppm. In the race to contain global mean temperature below 2°C increase, we are told we must limit airborne carbon to below 450ppm – as the needle rockets through the 400ppm point.
Australian scientists agree. The Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists announced that it is now too late to hope that setting targets for reductions in emissions will meet the 450ppm limit. It too advocates agricultural soils as an essential ingredient in the world’s survival plan.
Soils are the largest carbon sink mankind has the ability to influence – holding 1500 gigatonnes of CO2 vs 650Gt held in vegetation and 750Gt in the atmosphere. Photosynthesis is the only known process that can extract CO2 from the air and transform it into soil or plants. The world’s farmers control 5 billion hectares of soil which can start absorbing airborne carbon at a faster rate tomorrow if they are willing to change the way they farm. They need an incentive to grow a new commodity: carbon. They need a market.
The potential of soil carbon sequestration is uncharted by Science because no one alive has witnessed a landscape in which soil carbon levels were rising. Modern agriculture is carbon emitting by nature.
The upside potential is dramatic if there is widespread adoption of “Carbon Farming” practices. There will be more vegetation providing more ground cover and consequently less bare earth. This will have two outcomes: the landscape will capture and hold more of the rain that falls (which would otherwise rush off the bare earth carrying top soil into creeks and rivers and further baring the earth) and the landscape will be cooler as the darker surface provided by vegetation reflects less sunlight than bare earth.
Scientists call this the ‘albedo effect’ – lighter, harder surfaces reflect sunlight, heating the air above them. The ‘reverse albedo effect’ cools the air above. This cooler environment is likely to attract more rainfall than locations reflecting heat skywards as clouds are attracted to cooler air. There is the possibility of the “reverse albedo effect” creating “micro-climates” on individual farms. A micro-climate is a localised climate pattern that is caused by local conditions (can be man-made) that have an effect that is different to the general climate of the district. Vineyards are often sited to capture the effects of a micro-climate. Carbon farmers report increases in moisture in paddocks revegetated by trees on fencelines or scattered across the pasture.
Can the micro-climate effect be generalised to cover districts and whole regions as individual farms make the transition to carbon farming? The cumulative effect cannot be predicted because no one alive has experienced it. But outcomes could be dramatic as feedback loops kick in and new patterns emerge. Scientists do not speculate on the extreme upside, but do concede that conservatively it can be expected that Carbon Farming will provide farms with a ‘buffer’ against higher temperatures and lower rainfall.
Buffer or better than buffer, all is speculation. The simple fact remains that more vegetation and less bare soil means more soil carbon, less erosion, more effective rainfall, and cooler landscapes. Multiply these effects over 450 million hectares in Australia and the impact must be dramatic. Extended across 5 billion hectares around the globe, and we have Professor Lal’s Carbon Bridge to the Future.
Reference: Rattan Lal, The Potential for Soil Carbon Sequestration, International Food Policy Research Institute, Focus 16, Bri eF 5, May 2009 Rattan Lal ( is Director of the Ohio State University’s Carbon Management and Sequestration Center and Professor of Soil Science in the School of Environment and Natural Resources.

"Some men see things as they are and say, 'Why'? I dream of things that never were and say, 'Why not'?" (Senator Robert Kennedy)

Pew Outback carbon study only half the story

A study by the Pew Environment Group understates the Australian countryside’s carbon storage by more than half. The study measured only carbon captured in plants and trees, overlooking soils which can hold three times as much carbon as vegetation. The Pew Study says vegetation could possibly contain an extra 1.3 billion tonnes of carbon by 2050. Australian scientists have said the soil can sequester nearly a billion tonnes of CO2 each year.
NASA estimates that the world’s soils hold 1500 gigatonnes of carbon while the world’s vegetation holds less than 800 gigatonnes.
The Pew website describes its study as "An assessment of carbon storage, sequestration and greenhouse gas emissions in remote Australia."
Why would the Pew study ignore soils if it wanted to demonstrate the carbon capture capability of our farmlands and rangelands? It is very pointed. Green groups cannot get their heads around anything that isn’t forests and native vegetation. Carbon Farming includes protecting native vegetation and reforestry. The Pew study report hides the exclusion of soil carbon in a footnote. This suspicion of farmers and the ideological belief that they should not be rewarded for changing to more conservationist farming practices because ‘they should be doing it anyway’.

Potential soil carbon sequestration tonnages: various estimations

256 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year – rangelands only
(Baker, B, Barnett, G., and Howden, M. “Carbon Sequestration in Australia’s Rangelands” CRC for Greenhouse Accounting, Canberra, 2000)

596 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year - rangelands, cropping soils (Garnaut Climate Change Review 2008)

928 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year – rangelands only
(Grace, Peter, Carbon Models and Rangelands, Carbon Farming Conference, 2008)

946 million tonnes carbon dioxide per annum – rangelands, cropping soils (Dr Christine Jones, Pers. Comm, Garnaut Enquiry, 2008)