• Is Carbon Farming the Solution to a ‘Clapped Out’ Australia?

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Is Carbon Farming the Solution to a ‘Clapped Out’ Australia?

Jun 07 2016

In an attempt to curb emissions and meet its ambitious carbon targets, Australia has undertaken an innovative auction idea, designed to encourage farmers to reduce their carbon footprint. The idea revolves around the concept of carbon sequestration, which involves reducing harmful emissions into the atmosphere by capturing carbon in the soil and trees on farmland.

At the end of April, the country’s Clean Energy Regulator (CER) held its third emissions reduction fund auction, wherein farmers bid for a certain amount of carbon to store in their soil or a specific reduction in their carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. The director of Carbon Farmers of Australia, Louisa Kiely, believes the scheme could be a viable way of reducing emissions and increasing prosperity amongst the agriculture industry in one fell swoop.

Australian Emissions a Concern

The over-exploitation of the land due to agriculture has severely depleted the carbon content of the soil in much of Australia’s farms, exacerbating climate change issues and threatening food supplies at the same time.

“Farmers use the term ‘clapped-out paddock’ but we have a clapped-out Australia,” Kiely told the Guardian Australia. “Improving the land should be put on a war footing because food security is a real issue in the face of climate change.” One approach to tackling potential food shortages is targeting plant mitochondria to improve plant resilience in the face of ever-worsening climatic conditions.

However, this does not address the root cause of the problem. If Australia is ever going to overcome its global warming issues, it will need to address its carbon emissions. Certain steps are being examined in an industrial setting, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS), though such a tactic requires sophisticated gas analyser equipment and other apparatus to ensure the reduction in carbon isn’t being offset by the emissions of other harmful gases.

Carbon Farming a Lucrative Business

In an agricultural setting, carbon farming could be a solution to limiting the amount of carbon that escapes along with the already exorbitant amounts of methane released by grazing livestock. Kiely has been pushing for such a system for years, and while the movement is beginning to gain momentum now, it still relies largely on provability. Since farmers are effectively being paid for the carbon content of their soil or the non-carbon content of their air, they must prove that they have met their intended targets agreed upon at auction.

“When we issue a credit we need assurance that there is genuine abatement,” explained Chloe Munro, chief executive of the CER. “There is a balance to be struck between maintaining the integrity of the system and the burden [of proof] on the farmer. It’s not foolproof, but we are vigilant.”

Farmers are rewarded with a fixed amount per tonne of carbon stored or not emitted, which began as $13.95 per tonne at the first auction in April 2015. By the time of the second auction in November of the same year, it had fallen to $12.25 per tonne, while this year’s latest instalment saw the price fall further to $10.23 per tonne.

Despite the drop, there is still considerable amounts of money to be made from the endeavour. A total of $2.55 billion has been set aside for the project, while a farmer in New South Wales reportedly earned in excess of $1 million in his first cheque from the government.

“That got them listening,” smiled Kiely. If such sums can incentivise the whole country, Australia could be on its way to abating its currently serious carbon problem.

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