11 May –The land sector can play a full part in the low carbon economy of the 21st century,
if the right framework is created to encourage innovation and investment, the parliamentary secretary for climate change and energy efficiency, Mark Dreyfus, has told a conference in Melbourne.

Mr Dreyfus presented the Carbon Farming Initiative as the best framework, which “we are working very hard to legislate,” when he spoke on 5 May to the Natural Environmental Law Association about carbon pricing and the farming sector.

Mr Dreyfus warned that despite the development of advanced farming techniques, climate change threatened to do great harm to grain, pastoral and livestock industries, as scientists predicted average temperatures across the country  could increase by 2.2 to over 5 degrees Celsius by 2080 (compared to 1990).

Climate science has also found that climate change could see irrigated agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin effectively destroyed by the end of the century. In 2008–09 the Basin’s irrigated production was valued at $4.3 billion.

While Australia had among the highest agricultural emissions of the developed countries. there were also opportunities to increase carbon storage in its landscape. The CFI would create incentives to protect the natural environment and adopt more sustainable farming practices as well as mitigate climate change.

Increasing carbon storage in agricultural soils improved soil health and productivity, re-vegetation would help restore degraded landscapes and protect biodiversity and tree planting helped to address salinity and reduce erosion.

Abatement challenge
The CFI gave farmers, forest growers and landholders access to carbon markets, potentially worth hundreds of millions of dollars each year in 2020, he said. This would begin to unlock the abatement opportunities in the land sector which currently contributes 23 per cent of Australia’s emissions.

Australia’s levels of carbon pollution were now projected to be 24 per cent above 2000 levels by 2020 and 44 per cent above those levels by 2030. To achieve an unconditional target of 5 per cent below 2000 levels by 2020, annual pollution reductions of around 160 million tonnes were needed – the 160 million tonnes being additional to those reductions already being achieved by the land use, energy efficiency and renewable energy policies in place.

“Our total agricultural emissions in 2009 were 86 million tonnes. Our total electricity sector emissions were 207 million tonnes. So the 160 million tonnes target will require significant effort across many parts of our economy,” Mr Dreyfus said.

He  stressed that the CFI was not a government grant program but a legislated scheme allowing voluntary participation by farmers and landholders with sellers dealing directly with buyers –just as occurred now for other farm products. It included provisions to ensure Indigenous Australians could effectively participate and take up these opportunities.

“There is no requirement on anyone to participate,” he said. “But those who do will be eligible to receive carbon credits for every tonne of carbon pollution saved or stored. These carbon credits can be exported or sold to companies that want to offset their emissions or to sell carbon neutral products”.

The price buyers would be willing to pay for credits depended on their perceived environmental credibility, Mr Dreyfus said. The process would be monitored by an independent expert committee, the Domestic Offsets Integrity Committee, which ensured that estimation methodologies were rigorous, and led to real and verifiable abatement.

Mark Dreyfus

Other factors ensuring the integrity of credits include:

  • Issuing credits after the sequestration or emissions reductions have actually occurred;
  • Tracking of credits through a central national registry;
  • Transparency provisions including the publication of a wide range of information about approved projects;
  • Appropriate enforcement provisions to address non-compliance; and
  • A robust audit scheme based on the National Greenhouse and Energy Reporting Scheme.

Mr Dreyfus said carbon storage had to be permanent if it was going to be treated as equivalent to carbon emission reductions from the industrial sectors.

Participants would be able to cancel their project and hand back credits issued at any time if, for example, they wished to sell the land or use it for something else. Land managers would not have to hand back credits if carbon stores were lost because of bushfire or drought. Instead, they would have to take steps to re-establish lost carbon stores.

Temporary losses of carbon following a bushfire or drought would be covered by a risk of reversal buffer where a proportion of the credits were withheld.

Project proponents would also be required to take account of regional natural resource management plans. These provided a mechanism for local communities to have their say about the type and location of abatement projects.

Mr Dreyfus said the government was also working with the Multi-Party Climate Change Committee to establish how best to link these credits to the carbon pricing mechanism.

Appropriate links would underpin strong domestic demand for Kyoto-compliant credits, ensure land sector abatement was properly rewarded and help Australia reduce its carbon pollution at least cost, he said.

editorial@thefifthestate.com.au

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