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Soil carbon promoters ignore the 'rules'

- Monday, August 03, 2009

The sequestration of extra carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by biological processes is often cited as the 'cheap solution' that will reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and make farmers money, but there is curiously little reference to the major problems - including the Kyoto Protocol rules - that are stopping this from occurring.

Almost without fail, promoters of these processes (and of the potential for farmers to make money from them) leave out three critical issues. The first is that as a consequence of Australia ratifying the Kyoto Protocol and being bound by Kyoto accounting rules, the Australian Government has decided not to include soil carbon in the national greenhouse inventory, and has also stated that soil carbon credits will not be included in the CPRS. While-ever this decision stands, soil carbon can only ever be included in the voluntary carbon market, at an enormous discount in price.

The second issue is that farmers who accept payments for sequestering soil carbon are selling their rights to manage soil carbon to someone else. This means (depending somewhat on the nature of the contract) that if at some time in the future they decide to change management in a way that affects soil carbon, they will first need to buy back those rights, possibly at a higher cost than they sold them for.

Thirdly, if the Australian Government proceeds with its intention to include agricultural emissions within the CPRS or to impose a cost on agricultural emissions (as has been stated) farmers will need every possible source of sequestration available to reduce their own emission costs, and wont have the luxury of being able to sell soil carbon credits to others!

Soil carbon sequestration MUST become part of the coming carbon economy, but not under the current 'rules'. Australia will either need to ditch the Kyoto Protocol or ignore its rules (as the USA is doing), or succeed in getting major changes to those rules before this can occur.


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