THE government's hopes it will be able to boost participation in its flagship Emissions Reduction Fund by making it easier for farmers to win grants for so-called "soil carbon" abatement technologies may be misplaced, according to experts, who say it will not deliver a significant amount of emissions reduction.
Environment minister Greg Hunt on Tuesday announced soil carbon sequestration would be added to the list of techniques eligible for participation in the current Carbon Farming Initiative, which will form the basis of the fund.
"This brings farmers and landholders a crucial step closer to being able to participate in the Carbon Farming Initiative and the proposed Emissions Reduction Fund, by storing carbon in their soil and contributing to direct action on climate change," Mr Hunt said.
"It paves the way for developing methodologies for soil carbon sequestration, under which projects can participate in the Emissions Reduction Fund."
He also announced soil carbon projects would only have to prove they were effective at capturing emissions for a period of 25 years, down from 100 years.
In 2010 Mr Hunt said soil carbon could account for as high as 60 per cent of the carbon abatement needed for the country to achieve its target of reducing emissions to 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020.
But the National Farmers' Federation (NFF) expressed some reluctance in employing the technique on a wide scale in its submission to the government's terms of reference on the Emissions Reduction Fund late last year.
"There has in the past been considerable focus on increasing soil carbon stocks, which the evidence suggests is very difficult to achieve on a permanent basis," the NFF said.
They noted the government is "enthusiastic about soil carbon, despite the evidence".
Climate Institute chief executive John Connor said the public was yet to see sufficient rigour in soil carbon methodology.
"Soil carbon is vitally important, for building farm resilience to drought, for instance, but all credible projections suggest it's highly unlikely to make more than a small contribution to the 5 per cent target," Mr Connor said.
The technique has been ridiculed by the Greens party, which calls it "soil magic".
But in a statement Mr Hunt said he was confident the land sector could play a strong role in the Emissions Reduction Fund.
"The Emissions Reduction Fund is being designed to secure low-cost abatement from across the economy to deliver best value for money to the Australian community.
Innovation and market forces will determine how much abatement is delivered from each sector," Mr Hunt said.
During a senate inquiry hearing on Tuesday night Greens leader Christine Milne said it was unlikely many soil carbon schemes would win payments from the Emissions Reduction Fund as they cost too much.
A departmental official said internal modelling had shown it could be delivered at a lower cost, but the truth would only be known once the technology was deployed.