If you follow that Shangdu as the summer capital of Kublai Khan’s empire, then you would be forgiven for thinking the CFI is our XANADU and an enigmatic bright feature on the surface. Thereby, we have a problem because it is being profiled as exactly that and actively marketed by government as a series of experiments to showcase. Practitioners are asking: What about us in the ‘real’ world, can we believe something that looks good on the surface is enough? Some say yes, many no.
This conversation started because projects are to be funded that address recognised program gaps of the Carbon Farming Futures activities. This round: The Extension and Outreach Phase two submissions were due Wednesday June 12 5pm. Information is be found on Extension and Outreach daff.gov.au.
Some disquiet continues and numerous amounts of feedback do focus on the issue of the bankable when needing to finance, and other is the number of reference groups that were set up to work through the matters and the concern some of the critical consultation groups are difficult to contact or not able to be mobilized. A prime example being: The Biochar Reference Group. After some searching key people advocating the approach found part of the problem was people moving on to further their personal interests. The difficulty is that the group has funding to develop the soil carbon methodology necessary to be approved by the DOIC to produce ACCU’s (carbon credit units), and although soil carbon methodologies now has an active ‘reference group’ to attempt to push it along, the two subgroups (Mixed farming, and Rangelands) do not, or have not formally communicated what each are up to in their work levels. Compounding this the CFI is looking less of a ‘farming’ initiative in terms of reward systems, and as of the time of writing the government has not produced an example of a good news story on a true ‘farming’ credit. It is difficult to sell virtues without success stories and Gant chart the project support from the farming community without it.
A closer look at the cost of participating is also most interesting, and it is easy to see another genuine hurdle is related to the methodologies development. There is considerable variation in calculating the cost of participating, and some use this as an excuse that farmers are simply not ready to seek approval of their methods, some say it is simply too expensive to get approval. Some even say there is a genuine disinterest for government to get on with ‘innovation’ attempts.
In terms of cost we need to consider that published 8 April 2013 by Co2Land.org: ” It costs up to $1M to develop a methodology acceptable under CFI. Once accepted the transaction cost to create the ACCU’s is said to be about $70,000. Although it is not a definite cost, it can be less but a reasonable guide and it requires you to look carefully at the potential yield of each project and whether you can smear the transaction cost across the entire project to determine the minimum size for it to be a worthwhile program”. Then Country Carbon ( www.CountryCarbon.com.au ) said the numbers posted by CO2land of transaction cost of $70k for ACCUs are ridiculous. They made no attempt to say what is a typical transaction cost other than a comment, and the spokesperson (identified as NC) said “I have no idea where they sourced those”. Curiously NC goes on to say: “The Clean Energy Regulator register shows only a few projects from farmers and only 1 I believe has done a transaction. I doubt very much that every methodology needs $1 million for development as well. Too many variables to generalize”.
Co2Land org agrees that too many variables are involved, and then notes two other people advocating for the CFI saying: “None of the methodologies applicable to general farming, that we have examined so far, appear to have net positive financial benefits. Some can lead to substantial unknown liabilities in the future or limit land use in overly prescriptive ways. If I am wrong in this please correct me, and show me where it does work and I will be happy to spread the good news”. And, “I am a farmer (even if less active than I would like) and all the ones I know are not only not ready to adopt but are only following the program with peripheral interest until such times that they are satisfied something of genuine benefit to their own operation has become apparent. Many I have talked to see it as another under handed greenie grab for the land, some of the prescriptions on approved methodologies certainly seem lifted from this camp. Methodology development using all our substantial ‘in house’ skills and resources we estimate to still cost in excess of $100,000 with no guarantee of success “(source identified as PK). Then source LK – not related, said “Many unresolved issues remain, however moving ahead is better than waiting for the ‘perfect’ answer in my view. Just wish for political consistency at this end – the fact that State Coalitions have stripped climate change policies bare is of most concern to me.”
In all this there does seem to be agreement that for farmers, environmental planting does not pay a sufficient return to justify the investment on carbon alone. NC also said “It is also considered that the RMT tool (modeling tool) is deliberately using carbon sequestration estimates well below average because no direct sampling is required for audit”. Possibly this is an oversight, maybe not? In this approach they have taken an ultra conservative approach and the indications are these carbon estimates are so low it is not economical to do it – participate in the initiative that is! So it remains only one of those methodologies remain with few takers. Even the CSIRO was showing how low these estimates are for the RMT. Reported is the government has taken a decision to use the lowest rates possible for landholders carbon sequestration from tree planting. A good source of this view is https://twitter.com/CountryCarbon/status/332655918254792706/photo/1 They go on to say: ”In simple language the govt will only recognize extremely low carbon sequestration rates regardless of what happens on the land. It is not even the mid-point average. So that farmers would earn very few carbon offsets. Therefore they say, why bother? Most of the extension and outreach to date talks about tree planting or piggeries. (Piggeries are a different question). Most projects approved are all about landfill projects and they are town councils.” They also say: “It actually has less to do with government cut backs or Coalition vs Labor politics and more to do with implementation”. More than one providing input say it may be just a simple matter as readjusting the RMT tool.
CO2Land org intends to continue this thread of knowledge and asks: Unless you be fortunate enough to have a government program that is more generous behind you. Should we lobby government harder to be more encouraging for innovation in CFI?
Notwithstanding, CO2Land org wish everyone the best with their endeavours in the initiative. Applauded is the intention is well founded, the legislations well intended, and the potential well received – but something is missing! Maybe it is a case of it is too difficult to include farming in CFI and the outreach context for farmers is that the potential liabilities that could be incurred by landholders using some already approved methodologies are not properly explained and/or are dismissed as of a trivial nature. The great harm in this possibility is that the program reputation will be tainted – irrespective of its intention of fairness. Even recent Government decisions on department restructuring (especially the Department of the long name – too long to repeat) and budget constraints required by departments and the continued efficiency dividends to Treasury are not helpful to the pledge. What is hoped for by farming advocates and practitioners is a more direct show of continuous steps to perfection for the farming community and eliminating any direction that might be seen as a series of steps to dismantle or derail such a worthwhile cause from its name sake – the Carbon Farming Initiative.