Thursday, July 19, 2012

"Rivers of Cash" - Soil Carbon Bonanza?

When Terry McCosker announced that soil carbon would bring 'rivers of cash' into regional economies several years ago, he was derided as a snake oil salesman by sober, conservative members of the agricultural business community. With the announcement of the successful trials of new measurement technology in conjunction with the CSIRO, the rivers are getting closer. Terry's own data, collected over decades, gave him an early indication of the potential rate of soil carbon sequestration. He has clients measuring the impact of grazing management against conventional management who have recorded increases of 0.4%C/Ha over 10 years. His latest data from properties in the New England have soils sequestering carbon at 4 times that rate in two years. Terry believes graziers making $60/ha/yr from animal production could be earning an extra $70/Ha/yr over a period from 20 to 40 years. But Terry is advising farmers to baseline as soon as they can - the CSIRO system might be commercialised within 6 months - but to wait until the 100 Years requirement is made more reasonable before trading in soil carbon credits. For more information about Carbon Farming, visit Carbon Farmers of Australia.

Cracking The Soil Carbon Code - Baseline Breakthrough

"We have got the first useful commercial-scale, accurate soil baselining in the world," announced Terry McCosker on ABC Radio's Bush Telegraph yesterday. Terry's company Resource Consulting Services has been testing new CSIRO technology that promises to give farmers a baseline measurement on how much carbon is in their soil, so they can then work to improve that amount to earn significant amounts of money from carbon credits. The CSIRO technology is being tested on 10,000 acres in NSW. The system involves mapping the soil types in the paddock by driving over the country using a very accurate GPS and a gamma reader that records the natural radiation off the soils. This process is called 'stratification'. Another reader - an electromagnetic resonance reader - can put a signal down into the soil to a depth of 5m, but in this case measures soil carbon to 1m in 5cm slices. Combining the output of both scanners, a map is produced which reveals the variability of the country. A typical property might have 12 to 15 soil types. The CSIRO software directs the measuring team where to go to take core samples that are a true representation of the soil carbon held. A 10,000 acre property might need only 120 cores to get a reliable measurement of soil C. Once the cores are obtained, another scanner can calculate the Bulk Density of each 5cm slice to quantify the amount of carbon in the soil. The system can also identify different types of carbon in the soil (fractions) - to separate the more permanent fractions from the more volatile labile fraction which would not be traded. Terry, highly respected for his work in holistic soil management, estimates that significant revenue can be earned by increasing soil carbon levels. For more information about Carbon Farming, visit Carbon Farmers of Australia. 

"Why aren't we talking about soil?"

Sydney University's Soil Security Research Symposium 2012 broke new ground (pun intended) for such gatherings. The core concept was Soil Security through Soil Carbon Sequestration. New windows to solutions were delivered by three overseas professors: 1. Prof. Cornelia Flora, a rural sociologist from Iowa State, said 'people suffering poverty and distress pass on their suffering to the soil'. (I heard a farmer say recently: "Debt makes people do bad things to soil.") 2. Prof. Rattan Lal told us that 1 in every 7 people in the world are food insecure. This is due to rise rapidly. A global effort to return soil carbon to somewhere near earlier levels could resolve this issue. 3. Prof. Johan Bouma from Wageningen University, the Netherlands told us that "every soil type has a story to tell", about how "she" reacts to management, and "we are privileged to articulate these stories". Prof. Bouma describes soil security as a 'wicked problem' - meaning it has many dimensions and many stakeholders with contrary expectations. There is no single solution apparent. The theme of a Q&A-like session was "Why aren't we talking about soil?" - and the challenge was how to raise 'soil security' to a policy-level. The professors teetered on the edge of advocating activism. Prof. Bouma said there was too much talk - 'metababble' he called it - but refused to agree to an activist role for the scientist because "We have our reputations to protect." "We can be the intermediary between the soil and land and the public." To get to  the policymaker level we need to engage the public. "Policymakers listen to those whose ideas they agree with." (More reports to come.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"Establish soil carbon as a measure of global sustainability"

This headline was the 3rd recommendation made in a submission by the United States Studies Centre and the University of Sydney to the recent UN Rio+20 gathering. The first and second refer to the global soils crisis - known as "Soil Security".  This follows closely on the United Nations Environment Programme Yearbook 2012 recognising the importance of increasing and maintaining  soil carbon for the reversal of soil degradation.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Are soils the missing sink? More evidence

Scientists have discovered an abrupt increase in the uptake of atmospheric carbon dioxide by the land biosphere (which comprises all of the planet's plant and animal ecosystems) since 1988. The increase in uptake is about one billion tonnes of carbon per year. Equal to 10 per cent of the global fossil fuel emissions for 2010. Without this natural increase in uptake, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would probably have increased even more rapidly over the last two decades. 
These new results have been reported in a recent paper in the journal Global Biogeochemical Cycles, written by an international team of researchers at Princeton University (USA), NIWA (New Zealand), and the University of Missouri (USA). They applied a suite of statistical techniques to objectively determine the timing, size, and statistical significance of this shift. They explored whether it could be explained by volcanic eruptions or the El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO) – it can't.
"The scientific community has known for a long time that the land biosphere takes up CO2. What's new about this study is that we have discovered an abrupt shift towards more uptake by the land biosphere since 1988. Our team applied mathematical techniques that haven't been widely used in this field to detect the shift," says NIWA's Dr Mikaloff-Fletcher.
"While the increase was shown to be significant, the physical processes driving it remain a mystery. It poses big questions for us. What caused this shift? What can it tell us about how land's ability to take up CO2 is going to change in the future, and the sensitivity of the land carbon sink to climate? How is that going to feed back into climate conditions in the future?" says Dr Mikaloff-Fletcher 

Forests losing soil carbon to the CO2 Effect

Increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide accelerates soil carbon loss in forests, new research has found. Carbon stored in soils, as opposed to in the wood of trees, is desirable in that soils are more stable over time, so carbon can be locked away for hundreds to thousands of years and not contribute to atmospheric carbon dioxide increases. But new evidence supports an emerging view that although forests remove a substantial amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, much of the carbon is being stored in living woody biomass rather than as dead organic matter in soils. The research was conducted at the Duke Forest Free Air Carbon Dioxide Enrichment site in North Carolina, where mature pine trees were exposed to increased levels of carbon dioxide for 14 years. Indiana University biologist Richard P. Phillips, said, "It's been suggested that as trees take up more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, a greater amount of carbon will go to roots and fungi to acquire nutrients, but our results show that little of this carbon accumulates in soil because the decomposition of root and fungal detritus is also increased. Nitrogen cycled faster in this forest as the demand for nutrients by trees and microbes became greater under elevated CO2. "The growth of trees is limited by the availability of nitrogen at this site, so it makes sense that trees are using the 'extra' carbon taken up under elevated CO2 to prime microbes to release nitrogen bound up in organic matter," Phillips said. "What is surprising is that the trees seem to be getting much of their nitrogen by decomposing root and fungal detritus that is less than a year old." 
“Microbial priming” is a process where soil microbes are stimulated to decompose old soil organic matter via an increase in new carbon and other energy sources, and the faster turnover of recently fixed root and fungal carbon.
"We call it the RAMP hypothesis -- Rhizo-Accelerated Mineralization and Priming -- and it states that root-induced changes in the rates of microbial processing of carbon and nitrogen are key mediators of long-term ecosystem responses to global change," Phillips said. "Most ecosystem models have limited representations of roots, and none of them include processes such as priming. Our results demonstrate that interactions between roots and soil microbes play an underappreciated role in determining how much carbon is stored and how fast nitrogen is cycled. So including these processes in models should lead to improved projections of long-term carbon storage in forests in response to global environmental change'" he said.

 PHOTO Will Owens, Indiana University

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Keeping Carbon Cash In The Country

The Regional Carbon Market Summit will bring together the largest gathering of Carbon Market experts ever assembled in regional Australia to brief local accountants, solicitors, insurers and advisers and farmers serious about understanding the $2bn Carbon Farming opportunity for regional economies. With both sides of politics committed to the Carbon Farming Initiative, there is a danger that too much of the ‘Carbon Cash’ will wind up in the pockets of big city corporates rather than in the cash registers of local businesses. The Summit includes a 1-day Conference and a 1-day series of advanced workshops which allow participants to work through issues at close range. As the Carbon Market is highly regulated, there will be demand for investment advice, legal and accounting services as well as environmental engineering, auditing and measurement and commodity marketing services. If they can’t find it locally, the farmers become vulnerable to big city firms swooping in with a packaged solution that takes the money back to the city. Topics covered at the Summit include: • How does a carbon market work? • Who can trade? • Can I trade direct? • Why should I consider it for my business? • What are the risks? • What potential returns are there?  Local Government has a central role to play and carbon-based waste management  strategies are explored and best practice identified. The presence of speakers from the industry peak body Carbon Market Institute and other leading firms such as Climate Friendly and Norton Rose is proof that Regional Australia is considered important among city-based organizations – because so much of the activity will take place in the regions." The organizers of the Summit – Carbon Farmers of Australia – have been behind the successful Carbon Farming Conference for 7 years.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The first soil carbon methodology arrives

The first soil carbon meth has been published for public comment. It is a good example of the way meths can be made up from modules plucked from other people's work. This meth is submitted by a company from Queensland called GroundWorks, that sells a product called Ecoblanket® - a seeding method that involves compost and a spray technique. Its name says it all: a "Methodology for Quantifying Carbon Sequestration by Permanent Environmental Plantings of Native Species established through Direct Seeding, Planting or application of Ecoblanket® using the CFI Reforestation Modelling Tool [and Sample Testing for Soil Carbon] Prepared by Groundworks Pty Ltd". They started by taking the Government's own environmental plantings meth in (total), adding their seeding system and adding a soil carbon measurement system from a 2008 UNFCCC CDM reforestation and aforestation methodology (in total). The weakness in the soil carbon meth is that the crediting period is 20 years. That means you have to wait for 20 years to see a return. Too long for most people. PS. Clever approach to meth making. Like Duplo.


Australian Government shifts on Additionality?

The Australian Government is determined to avoid penalising landholders who have been managing their land well. The Savanna Burning Methodology allows landholders to choose a date to set the Baseline so they won't be excluded. Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Change Mark Dreyfus told ABC Radio's PM program on 3 July: "land managers can get credit for all their good work in the future, without being penalised for any good work they've done in the past." This means that landholders will be able to earn carbon credits in future for land management practices they adopted before the start date of a recognised project.  The precedent has been set that "good work" should be recognised: "As part of this methodology a baseline, which is set with reference to averaging annual emissions over the 10 years up to the project, and if they've already been doing recent pollution reduction burning, then that will be taken into account and the average will be set from the period immediately before the recent pollution reduction burning that they've been doing." The Methodology allows landholders to go back up to 6 years to start the 10-year average emissions estimation to set the Baseline. The Methodology for Savanna Burning puts it this way:
"A project’s baseline will be the estimated average annual CH4 and N2O emissions from the project area in the 10 years immediately preceding project commencement. Where strategic fire management has been implemented within the project area for a period of at least one year but no more than six years immediately prior to project commencement, the baseline emissions can be estimated as the 10 years preceding this period of fire management."
It remains to be seen if this provision can be used in a non-savanna methodology.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Commitment from farmers ‘significant’ or too much?

The Government understands that it is asking a lot of farmers wanting to take part in the Carbon Farming Initiative. The commitment asked of farmers is significant, to ensure that credits generated by the scheme meet the strictest global standards, according to parliamentary secretary for climate change, Mark Dreyfus. "Australia comes to this with a very high reputation for scientific integrity, for regulatory integrity. We're expecting that Australian carbon credits will be in world demand for those reasons.” he said. Australian farmers will benefit from having to meet high standards to earn carbon credits. To earn credits for native revegetation projects, for example, that land must be locked up for 100 years.
But will the enthusiastic buyers find any growers willing to take the risk of signing a contract that lasts longer than their lifetime? Will the rules that make CFI Carbon Credits so attractive to buyers have the reverse effect on sellers?
Could it be that locking up land is overkill, especially in the environmental plantings methodology?
1.     The methodology requires a planting density that reaches only 20% ‘crown cover’ at maturity, leaving 80% of the project area grassy vegetation that will need grazing to avoid baring of the soil due to desertification (rank and dead grasses stifle fresh grasses emerging).
2.     The carbon in the understory is not factored into the sequestration equation anyway.
3.     Occasional grazing can reduce fire loads.
4.     The methodology itself makes allowances for occasional grazing from 3 years after establishment.
Carbon Faming is not about locking productive land up. It is about making the land more productive by integrating trees and shrubs into the farm design. A change in practice is more attractive to a farmer if it has a production benefit.
But Mark Dreyfus says there is some good news: farmers will not face financial penalties if the credits they've earned are destroyed by a bushfire or drought. Now you're talking.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Carbon Market experts go bush to advise the advisers

The largest gathering of Carbon Market experts ever assembled in regional Australia is being staged at Dubbo NSW 25-26 July, 2012. The Regional Carbon Market Summit brings the most experienced people in this new industry together to brief regional accountants, solicitors, insurers and advisers and their business clients.

“What will you say to your client when they ask you what this carbon market is all about and what does it mean for my business?” asks Convenor of the Summit, Louisa Kiely of Carbon Market Services. “The only sector of the economy that is guaranteed to prosper from carbon markets – no matter who wins the next election – is Regional Australia,” she says. “Both sides of politics are committed to regional carbon markets.”
The Summit aims to keep as much of the wealth generated by carbon market in the pockets of farmers and agribusiness and in the services they need. As a highly regulated market, there will be demand for investment advice, legal and accounting services as well as environmental engineering, auditing and measurement and commodity marketing services.
Anyone offering advice about carbon should be aware that the law requires that they have a Financial Services Licence because carbon offsets under the Carbon Farming Initiative are treated as financial instruments.
The speakers have been selected for their integrity as much as for their expertise, says Louisa Kiely.
Topics covered at the Summit include: • How does a carbon market work? • Who can trade? • Can I trade direct? • Why should I consider it for my business? • What potential returns are there?
Local Government has a central role to play and carbon-based waste management  strategies are explored and best practice identified.
The presence of speakers from the industry peak body Carbon Market Institute and other leading firms such as Climate Friendly and Norton Rose is proof that Regional Australia is considered important among city-based organizations – because so much of the activity will take place in the regions.
The Summit includes a 1-day Conference and a 1-day series of advanced workshops which allow participants to work through issues at close range.
The organizers of the Summit – Carbon Market Services – have been behind the successful Carbon Farming Conference for 7 years.

 or call (02) 6374 0329

Breaking the 100 Years barrier (25 is better)

"The Coalition... says it's committed to repealing the carbon tax, but supports the Carbon Farming Initiative and will honour carbon credits earned under the scheme," reported ABC Radio earlier this week. In fact, shadow environment minister Greg Hunt says, in Government, he would look to expand the Initiative. Greg says it's not reasonable to expect farmers to lock up areas of land for carbon sequestration for 100 years in order to earn credits.
"Our view is we will work to make a 25-year approach... It's a view which is almost universal across the sector that a quarter of a century, which is still a long time, is realistic, it allows people to long-term investments, but it's not binding beyond the lifetime of one particular farm."

We believe in the principle of healthy diversity and ‘let the market decide’. We advocate a plurality of offerings: 100 Year contract, 25 Year contract, 5 Year renewable contracts – renewable 4 times. The latter is the most acceptable to farmers, according to our research. However prices are likely to be lower at this end of the continuum.
We have long advocated the logic of a shorter option for the Permanence requirement because:
• No sane farmer would sign a contract for 100 Years with all the uncertainties and penalties associated with soil carbon as it has been presented;
• Soil Carbon sequestration can play an important interim role in the next 50 years while renewable energy sources grow to baseload capacity, according to prominent scientists
• The 100 Years period is not scientifically significant; it is not the time it takes for a molecule of CO2 to cycle out of the atmosphere. It was selected as a convenient period for comparing the warming potential of different greenhouse gases.
• 100 Years was chosen supposedly to equalise offsets based on sequestration with offsets based on avoided emissions. But the permanence of the avoided combustion of a tonne of coal via the use of renewable energy has been questioned on the grounds that there is no guarantee that the tonne of coal won't be dug up and burnt at a later date.
• The co-benefits of soil carbon are so many and so beneficial, including reducing the need for chemical inputs and suppressing disease in crops, according to the latest reports.


Sunday, July 01, 2012

Carbon Sunday: Judgement Day?

On a day in October 1844 in Ithaca, New York, a Baptist Minister and his parishioners gave away all their belongings and climbed to high places - hills, treetops, roofs-  -  to wait for the Second Coming. The Minister had calculated the day from the Book of Daniel. admitted that he'd made a mistake and recalculated a new date. The new date came and went. These good folk did not question their beliefs. They simply called the day The Great Disappointment and formed a religion: The Seventh Day Adventists. Fast forward 168 years. Today is Carbon Sunday. It could be a day of Celebration ora day of Calami. It depends upon belief that looks, smells and feels like religious belief.  Most people know very little about Global Warming. Only a tiny number are scientists. An even smaller number are genuine climate scientists. The rest of us can't spend the time studying the subject, so we have got to take someone's word for it. It's Blind Faith. How we feel about Climate Change will reflect how we feel about politics and religion. Fear and irrational beliefs create their own impulsion. Populations 'catch' them from each other. Both sides don't want facts except those that confirm our beliefs. They cant hear the other side's facts. The Deniers denied that Climate Change was happening... until it became too obvious. So they agreed it was happening, but denied CO2 was the cause. The Alarmists blamed it on "warming" until it appeared to be cooling at the same time. So they shifted to climate chaos. It's human nature to pick another date. And to climb up a tree. Happy Carbon Sunday.