A carbon farming group has welcomed the Federal Coalition’s pledge to expand the Carbon Farming Initiative if it wins Government at the next election.
Shadow environment minister Greg Hunt recently told ABC Radio that the Coalition, while committed to repealing the carbon tax, supports the Carbon Farming Initiative and will honour carbon credits earned under the scheme.
He said the Coalition will look to give farmers greater choice under the scheme, by offering the option to commit to carbon storing activities over a 25 year period in order to earn credits, in addition to the current approach that requires a commitment of 100 years.
Mr Hunt told the national broadcaster that it was not reasonable to expect farmers to lock up areas of land for carbon sequestration for 100 years in order to earn credits.
He said a 25 year approach was realistic and allowed people to make long-term investments, but was not binding beyond the lifetime of one particular farm.
The policy has received a postive appraisal by Carbon Farmers Australia, a not-for-profit company that represents farmers’ interests in carbon farming and helps them to enter carbon markets.
Carbon Farmers Australia said it advocates a ‘plurality of offerings’ including a 100 year contract, a 25 year contract, and 5 year renewable contracts, renewable four times.
Its research showed that the latter option was the most acceptable to farmers, however it was also likely that prices farmers could earn would be lower under the shorter contract periods.
In a statement on its website in response to Mr Hunt’s comments, CFA said it had long advocated the logic of a shorter option for the "Permanence requirement" for several reasons:
“No sane farmer would sign a contract for 100 years with all the uncertainties and penalties associated with soil carbon as it has been presented;
“Soil Carbon sequestration can play an important interim role in the next 50 years while renewable energy sources grow to baseload capacity, according to prominent scientists
“The 100 years period is not scientifically significant; it is not the time it takes for a molecule of CO2 to cycle out of the atmosphere. It was selected as a convenient period for comparing the warming potential of different greenhouse gases.
“100 years was chosen supposedly to equalise offsets based on sequestration with offsets based on avoided emissions.
“But the permanence of the avoided combustion of a tonne of coal via the use of renewable energy has been questioned on the grounds that there is no guarantee that the tonne of coal won't be dug up and burnt at a later date.”
However, whether many farmers will see value in locking-up areas of land for carbon storing activities at prices of $8-$10 per tonne, as budgeted under the Coalition’s Direct Action policy, is questionable.
Carbon Farmers of Australia chair Michael Kiely told the Sydney Morning Herald this week that while farmers were very pleased to be offered a ''more realistic'' 25-year timeframe, they would still need to be paid a lot more than $10 a tonne to take the offer up.
At present four methodologies that allow people to earn carbon credits have been approved under the Carbon Farming Initiative: capturing methane emissions from piggeries; capturing gas from landfill sites, savannah burning and native revegetation.
Seven more methodologies are out for public comment and more are being developed.