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Agriculture's sequestration potential - some food for thought

- Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Opposition released a research paper early this week which contains an alternative proposal for reducing national greenhouse emissions. It involves a modified emissions trading scheme for some sectors of the economy, a baseline and credit scheme for the electricity sector, and an exemption for agricultural emissions - but a major role for agriculture in providing greenhouse offsets.

It appears from the research paper prepared by Frontier Economics (see post on 11/8) that non-covered sectors of the economy (predominantly agriculture) are assumed to be the source of up to 150 million tonnes of sequestration per year - with farmers selling these offsets into the emission permit market.

If farmers were able to find ways to sequester 10 tonnes CO2-e per hectare per year (perhaps achievable in high rainfall areas by growing trees) that would mean 15 million hectares of plantations would need to be established on land that was cleared of forests on 1 January 1990. Considering that the total crop area in Australia is a bit over 20 million hectares, this is a pretty big area.

If Australia ditches the Kyoto Protocol accounting rules and decides to recognise soil carbon sequestration (as the Americans have) and farmers were able to consistently increase soil carbon levels by 0.1% per annum, sequestration rates might be similar to that for forestry, so again 15 million hectares of farm land would need to be under 'carbon management' virtually from day one to achieve the 150 million tonnes of sequestration. Using Biochar might achieve higher rates of sequestration - but it can probably only be applied to an area of land once, and not repeated every year.

Whatever way it is looked at, the 150 million tonne task is a pretty big challenge.  
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