Thursday, 2 August 2012

CFI workshop in Tennant Creek recommends cautious approach

The recent CFI workshop at Tennant Creek was told that land managers looking to engage with the Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) should proceed with caution. There is still a lot of uncertainty as to how CFI can be applied in northern Australia, and the development of methodologies to measure carbon sequestration or reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is in its infancy. This isn’t to say that there is no potential. Just that it may be years before we start to see the potential being filled.

The requirement that sequestration projects permanently store carbon (i.e. for at least 100 years) is a concern in fire prone environments. Project proponents would not need to return credits after a fire so long as they take reasonable steps to recover the lost carbon (e.g. maintain management practices already being employed). However, risks to the permanent storage of carbon presented by fire may affect the confidence of potential buyers and the marketability of the carbon credits.
The workshop heard that sequestration in the soil through rehabilitation of degraded parts of landscapes may present the least risky option. However, soil carbon is patchy and difficult to measure, and may require significant research and development of models.

Emission reduction methodologies such as savanna burning and enteric methane reduction in livestock don’t come with permanence requirements so may be easier to engage with. However, there is not enough knowledge to accurately measure or model methane reductions in cattle, and issues around additionality and leakage still need to be overcome. Also, savanna burning projects may not be feasible in arid zones with below 600mm annual rainfall.

There is a sense of frustration that the Carbon Farming Initiative is not ready to use, unless you are in an area with an annual rainfall greater than 1000mm and wish to conduct a savanna burning project. The concern is that this frustration will lead to political pressure to rush methodologies onto the market. Methodologies need to be conservative and based on peer review science to maintain market confidence. Therefore, patience is required to allow the research to be conducted so that rigorous methodologies can be developed.
Listen to Tim Moore (Northwest Carbon), who spoke at Tennant Creek, speaking to ABC's Caddie Brain after the Alice Springs workshop in May 2012.

Acknowledgements: Ashley Sparrow and Ed Charmley, CSIRO, and Tim Moore, Northwest Carbon.

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