Saturday, December 12, 2009

Getting rid of carbon 4 - carbon farming

In his report, Professor Garnaut made the point that in passing that there was no point in setting targets if they were not achievable. Yesterday evening as I was driving home there was a story that illustrated this.

The story was on wind power. The British Government has set quite ambitious targets for renewable energy. Wind power is important to this. An interviewee commented, my words, that whichever way he cut the numbers he could not see how the target could be achieved.

I am not close enough to the British scene to make a judgement. However, this does fit with Professor Garnaut's comment and my own experience.

In this context, the Australian Rudd Government is clearly striking wide spread delivery problems.

In the latest announcements,  on Tuesday it was revealed that the partnership agreement on indigenous housing is in a degree of trouble and and has to be renegotiated. I  won't comment on this one except to note that responsibility for the central design flaws rests with the Commonwealth, not the states. Then yesterday it was revealed that the Federal Government's GP super clinics were running well behind schedule.

This post is not about specific delivery issues, although I cannot help noting that I forecast them and that they have arisen for the reasons I set out. For the moment, my point is that no target or forecast from any present Australian Government can be accepted as gospel. Each has to be subject to a degree of forensic analysis.
Having made this point, I want to return to my discussion of options.

New Farming Techniques and Carbon Farming

I finished Getting rid of carbon 1 with this comment:
So trees are good, but you have to take into account any carbon savings lost from previous use. You also have to take into account conflicts over land-use. There is a very strong view in the bush that current and prospective approaches are leading to inappropriate forestation.
Inland Australia has been in structural decline for many years. This has been reflected in a decline in seats and in political power. Yet despite this, in the recent split within the coalition the country basically bit the city in the bum.

Once the National Party came out in a unified fashion against the proposed emission trading arrangements, it was far easier for the Liberal Party climate sceptics to get the numbers. To get a majority in the coalition party room, Mr Turnbull needed to a significant majority among his Liberal Party members just to hold the line. He could not deliver this.

To many city people, National Party opposition to the emission trading scheme is just another example of irrational, parochial behaviour. Why can't they see the need?

The problem is that while the impact of policy responses to climate change are still somewhat remote in urban areas, they are already playing out across regional Australia in a whole variety of often unseen ways. Regional Australia is a microcosm of the difficulties to come.

If you read the country newspapers as I do, or at least those versions that are on-line, there is clearly support for action on climate change. Yet the day to day costs of action are already there.

Limit irrigation to provide water for Adelaide and the environment and irrigators and the communities dependent on them suffer. By their nature, wind farms are country; local opposition is significant and growing. When land goes to forests or are locked up in national parks, other uses are lost.

Forestation is a particular problem because one outcome of pricing mechanisms flowing from Kyoto was an increase in forestry for green house gas purposes. Farmers can see that price based approaches will lead to new forests regardless of real costs and alternative uses.
In all this, sequestration of carbon in soil through changed agricultural techniques has become something of a holy grail because it holds out the possibility of great gains in CO2 capture while retaining farming.

I dealt with this in Sunday Essay - Farming, green house gases and the importance of practical experiments- Part One and Sunday Essay - Farming, green house gases and the importance of practical experiments- Part Two. I am suspicious of all holy grails, yet the arguments that I have seen suggest that soil sequestration could be a major option so far as Australia is concerned. To quote one protagonist:
This year Australia will emit just over 600 million tonnes of carbon. We can sequester 685 million tonnes of carbon by increasing soil carbon by half a per cent on only 2% of the farms. If we increased it on all of the farms, we could sequester the whole world's emissions of carbon.
This strikes me as a pretty big claim. Still, if we look at Professor Garnaut, and if I understand him correctly, his estimate is that we can remove 354 million tonnes of carbon per annum for 25 to 50 years through these methods.

Pretty striking, isn't it?

Mind you, there is a teensy, weensy little problem.

We might halve our carbon emissions, but no one actually knows how to measure all his within conventional emissions frameworks. Therein lies one of the rubs in the emission trading discussion!  


Neil had an interesting post on the City of Sydney response to climate change.

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