PRODUCERS will be able to get cash for increasing the carbon content of their soil by July this year, following an announcement from federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt to the National Carbon Farming Conference.
The Coalition will add soil carbon storage to the list of approved projects under the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI), which allows land managers to earn carbon credits by storing carbon which are then sold to companies that need to offset their emissions.
Current projects approved by the CFI include activities that avoid emissions of methane from livestock, rice fields, burning grasslands, crop stubble and methane or nitrous oxide from soil.
The CFI is funded through the Emissions Reduction Fund, which in turn is part of the federal government’s Direct Action policy. The upshot is $300 million, $500m and then $750m have been committed to fund carbon farming over the next three years.
Mr Hunt said the government will replace the requirement for landholders to commit to a 100-year obligation for ongoing land management under the current CFI arrangements with a 25-year commitment.
“We promised that we would introduce a 25-year option for carbon sequestration projects - the government intends to deliver on this promise,” he said.
The Emissions Reduction Fund is set to kick off in July. Between now and then, a White Paper will be released seeking feedback from stakeholders.
“The CFI is not as well designed as we’d like it to be. It can be better, stronger, simpler and more streamlined.
“As we think through the final design of the Emissions Reduction Fund, front and centre in our deliberations is the question of how we can improve the CFI and make it easier for farmers and landholders to participate," Mr Hunt said.
Mr Hunt estimated in 2010 that soil carbon would account for 60 per cent of the carbon cuts needed for Australia to meet its target of reducing emissions to 5pc below-2000 levels by 2020, although he has toned down the potential since.
A number of scientists, including from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), have criticised the government for exaggerating soil carbon's potential.
"Soil carbon in agricultural zones is likely to provide low levels of greenhouse gas abatement," CSIRO said recently in a submission to a Senate inquiry into the government's climate policies.
CSIRO this week released a new map of Australia's stored soil carbon, which could provide a "touchstone" against which future changes in carbon storage or sequestration can be tracked.
"The map provides a reliable benchmark for Australia to monitor the influence that changes in land cover, climate, land management and greenhouse gas offset activities have on soil carbon stocks and associated carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere," CSIRO lead researcher, Dr Raphael Viscarra Rossel said.
Providing the most detailed and accurate representation of soil organic carbon stocks (to a depth of 30 centimetres) at a national scale, the 2010 soil organic carbon map for Australia draws on recent soil sampling data and prediction methods. It includes an estimate of soil carbon stock and an estimate of the uncertainty for approximately two billion football-field-sized blocks (90m by 90m) across Australia.
The average amount of organic carbon in the top 30cm of Australian soil was estimated to be 29.7 tonnes per hectare and the total stock for the continent at 25.0 gigatonnes (Gt=1000 million tonnes) with a 95 per cent confidence of being within the range of 19.0 to 31.8 Gt. The total stock in agricultural regions of Australia is 12.7 Gt with 95pc confidence of being within the range of 9.9 to 15.9 Gt.