The Australian Federal Coalition, which is currently in shadow ministry of what is effectively a hung government supported by independent senators, has promised to reverse the price on carbon emissions charged on the highest emission sources, established by the Australian Labour Party (ALP). In its place, the Coalition has referred to their Direct Action Plan (DAP) as their alternative carbon emissions reduction scheme. DAP relies mainly on carbon sequestration and funding private industrial improvements through taxpayer financed initiatives.
Early in February, 2013, Julia Gillard, the current Prime Minister, announced the coming election date, September 14th, 2013. The polls have shown that the Coalition are in strong position in the lead up to the election. The shadow ministers, notably Tony Abbott and Greg Hunt, the party’s Prime Minister and Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage respectively, have continually highlighted DAP as their climate initiative.
This study explores the necessities required for the sequestration promised by DAP.
To ensure DAP was given the best chance for success within this analysis, the selected assumptions were purposely designed in favour of DAP. Thus highly optimistic assumptions were made in favour of the Coalition’s promises. This largely involved assuming soil sequestration would work and if not, the best quality plantations could be established and that the necessary high quality land could be sourced.
Placing the required sequestration into context, to achieve pledged return of an annual 85 million tonnes of CO2 captured would require equivalent to a plantation within a minimum size more than twice the size of Melbourne and to increase wood production by more than an additional 300%. As this analysis relied upon the most optimistic assumptions, real world limits to tree plantation
ignored and optimal yield was used. With this in mind, the scale of DAP would be much larger physically, in management and in cost with real world conditions.
There remains scientific uncertainty with soil sequestration methodology and difficulties involved in both monitoring and ensuring long term carbon storage. Thus, if tree plantation becomes the favoured option, this also presents the additional land and fire management requirements of such a large project.
Furthermore, the ultimate goal will necessarily be to achieve carbon neutrality to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations, in which case, soil sequestration simply could not fulfil such obligations without major shifts away from a carbon driven economy already.
In short, while sequestration is of value, to rely upon it in the order of which DAP appears to is unlikely to be viable, especially by 2020, and is more than likely to become very expensive as the scale is adjusted over time or adjusted to increasingly depend upon tree plantation.
Combined with the initiative to fund industrial transition to low carbon alternatives, DAP will cost the taxpayer, either through additional taxes directly or through the loss of public services that currently exist. This is contrary to the claims made by the Coalition.
Ultimately, a quick analysis of sequestration and review of the funding initiative of DAP demonstrates that it is very unlikely to provide the returns promised by the Coalition and is most likely to increase in cost beyond that promised by the Coalition. This is especially true if the Coalition eventually plans to scale up DAP to meet future reduction targets or if it becomes necessary to scale up, simply due to returns failing to meet current targets.
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