A little something I finished putting together for a PhD student. We borrowed the chamber, but if I were to build one from scratch, I’d make the chamber a little differently, minimising the production further.
By Penny van Oosterzee, James Cook University
Australia’s two major parties have promised to reduce the country’s emissions by 5% by 2020, with two different approaches. Labor has used carbon farming as part of its approach; the Coalition is making it a centrepiece. But analysis of Labor’s approach shows it is likely to fail, whoever pursues it.
The Coalition has promised to tackle carbon emissions through Direct Action, and without a price on carbon or an emissions trading scheme. The plan hinges on reducing emissions at the lowest cost, which may include managing soils, forests and farming, energy efficiency, carbon sequestration or cleaning up power stations.
Direct Action will use and expand the current government’s Carbon Farming Initiative to achieve these emissions cuts, using the initiative as a platform to deliver an Emissions Reductions Fund.
But the initiative hasn’t come under scrutiny in its current role, let alone as a centrepiece for delivering Australia’s climate commitments. So, what is the Carbon Farming Initiative, and is it ready to take a starring role?
The Carbon Farming Initiative is the first national offset scheme in the world to include carbon credits derived broadly from natural resource management. It includes avoiding greenhouse gas emissions such as methane and nitrous oxides from managing livestock, crops and savanna burning, and sequestering carbon from reforestation and avoided deforestation.
Farmers and foresters generate carbon credits for emissions reductions. Polluters can then buy these credits, known as Australian Carbon Credit Units. Presumably, the Coalition would purchase these credits under Direct Action.
That’s how it’s meant to work. Let’s have a look at whether it’s actually working.
The success of carbon farming depends on uptake. Treasury provides two scenarios for uptake of carbon farming based on two global action scenarios. The first is based on medium global action for stabilising greenhouse gases at 550 parts per million by 2100. The second is an ambitious global action scenario aiming to stabilise at 450 parts per million. The ambitious scenario is what Australia, and the world, agreed at Copenhagen in 2009 would avoid dangerous climate change.
Under the medium ambition scenario Treasury projected the carbon price to start at around A$23 per tonne in 2012-2013, with carbon farming delivering 6 Mt CO2-e (carbon dioxide equivalent, which allows us to account for other greenhouse gases).
The ambitious scenario fetches a carbon price starting at A$47 per tonne with 9 Mt CO2-e delivered by the land. Avoiding deforestation and reforestation makes up about two thirds of land sector abatement in both cases.
Carbon farming has now been running for nearly two years. What has it delivered? The answer is astonishing: virtually nothing.
Around 46,000 carbon units (each equivalent to a tonne of CO2-e) have been issued. This covers a little less than 1% of reductions needed for the year 2012-2013 under a medium ambition scenario, and about 0.5% of the ambitious scenario.
Why has carbon farming failed to achieve anything? One of the main reasons for this situation is that it’s not cheap to create offsets. In fact the idea that the land sector can provide low cost abatement is a bit of a furphy.
Under carbon farming, offsets are generated by developing a baseline level of emissions and crediting reductions from the baseline. The process is complex. Steps include:
- becoming a recognised offset entity
- opening a registry account
- undertaking a project according to approved methodologies
- submitting regular audit reports
- applying for carbon credits and having them issued.
Rigorous “integrity standards” are required including permanence obligations, which guarantee sequestration of greenhouse gases for 100 years. Australia is one of the few in the world to have such a stringent rule and it is one of the major obstacles to investment. Others use tried and true risk-based approaches such as insurance, which allow for shorter contracts.
Also, carbon credits are considered financial instruments. This triggers policy frameworks established Australia’s Corporations Act and other legislation.
Even before you step on the carbon farming treadmill there are costs associated with registering legal rights to carbon. In Queensland, for instance, you need to contract a surveyor to map and register one stand of forest. This might cost in the order of A$500-$10,000 or more depending on the complexity of the forest stand and whether you are registering the whole property or not.
At year three after planting (based on the wet tropics forests which have high sequestration rates) you might have sequestered 10 tonnes of CO2-e per hectare. Your cumulative return might be in the order of A$230 (or about A$76 per year) per hectare. This return would not cover the costs of registering legal rights to the carbon, let alone the cost of survey and plan preparation or the costs of establishing the forest.
If it is high-environmental-value forest, surveying and planning might be in the order of A$25,000 to A$67,000 per hectare.
With the government bringing forward a floating carbon price that links the European Union’s carbon price, currently at around A$6, you can expect enough from carbon farming for lunch (one good lunch, or three sandwiches).
Ultimately to invest in carbon farming requires two things: an ambitious global action agenda, and certainty of the investment environment for decades. Both the government and Coalition have committed to a 5% reduction of greenhouse emissions below 2000 levels by 2020. This correlates more or less to the medium ambition scenario (and an acceptance of dangerous climate change).
Certainty might be guaranteed under an emissions trading scheme that has global links in a world of high ambition. Under the Direct Action policy, however, the first round of money to purchase lowest cost abatement would be July 2014. And this would be a year before the policy would up for review.
Given this, the chances of carbon farming delivering effective abatement from the land might be about zero.
Penny van Oosterzee is a director of a company that receives funding from the Biodiversity Fund for a rainforest restoration project.
If it is true, where then is the evidence?
It is noble and dignified to stand firm not to an idea but the pursuit of certainty. It is humble to acknowledge the less-than completeness of our knowledge base.
Yet such an enlightened cap is too easily placed on the scalp more fitting a dunce’s cone.
Anti-science is the core kingdom of all phyla of irrationality, be it climate change “scepticism”, 911, Obama birth or moon landing truthism, creation, anti-vaccination and anti-fluoridation. A central trait of this kingdom is wilful ignorance.
Interestingly, the anti-climate-science movement has marketed itself cleverly in this regard through the tacking on of the word “scepticism” to their cause.
However, there are light years between wilful ignorance and this pretence of scepticism.
How Ignorance Differs
Whether it is the creationist demanding for the “missing link”, the climate change sceptic insisting they merely want the evidence, the anti-fluoridation advocate pleading that the science has not yet been done convincingly… whatever the anti-science angle may be; in each case the individual attempts to mask their wilful ignorance behind the burden of proof – a core scientific method.
It sounds reasonable; if the evidence is so compelling, give it to me and make me a believer.
Firstly, it is not a matter of belief, but entirely a rejection of bad belief / ideas. One accepts that all other known alternatives have been tested and found to be erroneous and thus is drawn to the pool of ideas that remain and cannot be refuted – to the best of our current knowledge.
What exposes such people for their position however is not merely that they ignore the body of scientific evidence when presented to them, not simply that they jump feverishly to the odd paper hot off the peer-reviewed press that their media outlets inform them is the “final nail in the coffin” of the given topic and not just that they continue this argument against the scientific literature completely outside of the peer-review / scientific method process; but because they do all these things simultaneously.
Choosing ignorance or to avoid scientific understanding is not scepticism of presented proof at all.
Where the Debate is Now
We have moved pass this burden in the public “debate” or better termed, conversation and are now really talking about the burden of understanding. The ball is in the court of the anti-science advocate – the burden of proof has been fulfilled – and it is not the fault of science if the enthusiast came without a racket.
Simple tests prove what greenhouse gases are and that we emit them. Only slightly more complex tests show that these greenhouse gases we emit are changing their concentration in the atmosphere. Simple tests show the world is warming. More complex tests have removed the solar or astrological radiation or other meteorological processes as the source of this change. Regardless of whether the result will be 1, 2 or 5 degrees Celsius, we are witnessing anthropogenic climate change.
Equally, the fossil record, genetics and geology all place evolution beyond a shadow of a doubt. Furthermore, Richard Lenski’s work and the body of ecological science have truly left the ball bouncing around the creationist’s court with their response little better than a Three Stooges slap-stick performance.
Again and again, the various phyla of anti-science prove that they have yet to critically review and illustrate fundamental lapses in the science, but rather attempt to pass off ignorance as valid scepticism of the body of evidence provided as proof.
This is what I spend my time writing about on NewAnthro. The anti-science advocate will not challenge the science, but offer another position instead as a competing idea and suggest that the science isn’t settled. In other words, it’s doubt mongering, it’s a sleight of hand designed to distract and confuse. Yet, I take their hypothesis, test it and show why it fails to provide a convincing argument and avoids the science completely.
Science is not about absolutes, but about drawing reasonable conclusions from the highest level of certainty available… with the error bars noted. The kingdom of anti-science instead doesn’t like the conclusion and would like something else to be concluded instead. And so all anti-science phyla ignore inconvenient evidence to pretend they stroll along the high road; sceptics surefooted on the burden of proof. Of course, the only proof they can accept acknowledges their conclusions and so they are walking backwards, down the road of dark age myth.
Firstly, I have to thank my readers. My previous post, The Great Northern Development: the Coalition’s dead horse, did extremely well. I’ve never had a post that has caught such traction, so thank you to everyone who has shared it via report, twitter, facebook, email, whatever. It’s rewarding to know that my efforts are not in vain.
Yet one criticism has crept up over and over again; I’m ignoring the Ord River Irrigation Area. The commentators think I’m dead wrong, based entirely on this point and so, I figured it was worth writing a detailed reply post.
While I admit that my local knowledge of northern Australia between Cairns and Broome is limited (not a small area, by any means), I know enough about remote sensing, climate and ecology to feel my analysis remains correct.
Ecology demonstrates that where there is a resource, species move in to exploit it. Even warm springs full of chemicals that are toxic to most life can be abundant with activity – just look at Yellowstone Park.
The advocates of the northern development talk of the north as being “underdeveloped” and this River Irrigation Area being shockingly impressive for soil quality.
But microbe and plants never organised committees or governments to decide where they will set up home, they do so and to population sizes that the environment allows.
Looking at gross or net primary productivity gives us an idea of how productive an environment is, obviously. Apart from eastern Queensland and the top of the Northern Territory, much of this northern development region has a productivity akin to that of the dry land irrigation regions in southern Australia. Of course, it also lacks the accommodating mild climate of the south as well.
Using the MODIS GPP image, we have the existing Australian food baskets in the south – largely Victoria, Eastern NSW and the southern tip of WA – with a value greater than 0.03; a value this wonderful northern region simply does not reach anywhere.
If there is wide spread untapped fertile lands just begging for agriculture, how has it managed to hide itself from the most basic microbes, communities of trees (this region is typified by savannah, wetlands and arid landscapes) and most disturbingly, our best monitoring equipment?
I know the tropics can be farmed, but the land in southeast Asia is not as old and depleted as Australian soil. You cannot build complex carbon lifeforms without nutrient rich environments. Australian tropical rainforests are our best teachers to this reality; they are hives of life, yet their soils are depleted, which Australian farmers learned when they cleared them for farming.
In such places, there is a wealth of nutrients, but life lives on the fringe – keeping all the resources in the cycle and leaving none in the ground (ie. rip and burn removes the nutrient base).
So, as was stated in the original article, without vast investments in fertilisers or clearing of the few fertile ecosystems currently there, we do not have an untapped Australian food bowl in the north, as far as productivity is concerned.
Again, water is a massive problem. One critic told me about pumping water – but that is a commitment. If one is planning to move hundreds of thousands of people to the north, that is a massive, ongoing, commitment to keep the community hydrated. It is terribly hot, regardless if it is dry or monsoonal, having ample water will be essential.
How is pumping gigatonnes of water to irrigate a low productive environment and to hydrate a heat stressed large community any different to the criticisms regarding desalination plants? In fact, I think it is worse because a political party is willfully wishing to invest in placing such people in such an otherwise avoidable position.
The Ord River Irrigation
This is the root of the dream for the northern Australian food bowl. The Ord River Irrigation area proves the norther is fertile and begging for development.
No, it is one region we have been flooding for more than 50 years, so that the feeding water supply and wetland birds can fertilise. It is also not an ecological risk if extended.
Yet it covers 117km2 of agricultural area – apparently to be extended to 440km2.
Yet a quick GIS polygon of the northern development region norther of Cairns to Broome is a region around 1025700km2. So the Ord River Irrigation area currently amounts for less than 0.0001% of the total region, to be extended to 0.0004%.
Sure, I’m ignoring currently developed regions and places you would not develop for ecological reasons, but are we really willing to bet on “greener pastures” on a sample less than a hundredth of 1% of the entire study region?
My argument was this; it is wishful thinking to bet on the northern development. The Coalition is no stranger to wishful thinking if basic mathematics mean anything, as I demonstrated in my review of the sequestration requirements of the Direct Action Plan or my analysis of their enthusiasm for 100 new dams – a move that would provide as much greenhouse emissions as a city the size of Warrnambool.
The advocates for the northern development, from my opinion, seem to be people who either have no personal interest to endure the harsh tropical climate or are the few locals there that seem to enjoy the prospect of investment potential and a few extra mates at the pub.
The climate is harsh. The soils are old and depleted for the most part. Once the mining investment is done, pumping water, maintaining dams, transporting resources to the middle of nowhere (which will also make them more expensive locally); all these and more will become more and more of a financial burden to be taken up by the locals. It will erode the financial security of the local community and leech the settlements until most move back down south (again the productivity is evident – not just in MODIS data, but in the carrying capacity and economy of a region).
In short, the dead horse is still a stinking rotting mass of bad ideas and wishful thinking. A good punter would be quick to be turned off. However, I do not like instincts. I prefer to test things. I have listened for a heart beat and found none. I have tested for temperature and found it unsuitable for life. I have looked into the eyes of the beast in search for the racers spirit and found nothing but the pale, unfocused glare of an idea that should have been buried a long time ago.
The Ord River Irrigation development is the unlucky horse shoe on the foot of the dead beast. This is not a subject I wish to debunk for the rest of my life, regardless of how many whipping boys are lining up in the vain hope of the norther development.
Part one here.
In mid February, a Coalition draft dams plan was leaked to the media. This plan suggested the potential for an additional 100 dams across Australia to help with water security and flood mitigation as well as provide hydro-power.
While this plan does not officially form part of the Coalition’s environmental strategy, Tony Abbott has thrown his support behind it, suggesting Australia needs to move beyond it’s “extreme greenism” and “dam phobia”.
One aspect of reservoirs that is not widely appreciated is that they are a source of greenhouse gas emissions. This is due to the inundation of land with a storage of organic matter. If the water column is highly oxygenated, the degradation of this organic matter will produce CO2. If there is little available oxygen, methane is produced. Both are greenhouse gases.
Initially, I used the global average surface area emission rates for the comparison, but found that the estimates were unrealistically high. This number was more than 860 million tonnes of CO2 annually. This is probably due to the poor quality of Australian soils in general, which in turn reduce productivity and lead to lower than average organic material storage and thus resultant emissions.
Instead, I used the global total emission from reservoirs (upstream only). This comes to 163 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, of which Australia is currently responsible for 2.1%, or, 3.42 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
Within the dam database, 564 large dams are listed. This returns an average of 6069.15 tonnes of CO2 equivalent per dam, annually. Therefore, an additional 100 dams could provide 0.61 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent annually.
To provide some scale; if this sequestration was achieved through tree plantation, the annual yield required to compensate the average greenhouse gas emissions of 100 new dams would be an additional 0.55 million m3 of wood. This translates to more than 15 thousand hectares of plantation.
As this is utilising the same overly optimistic assumptions as that of my analysis of the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan, the real world figure would likely be much higher.
Data on Australian reservoir emissions came from the height of Australia’s recent prolonged drought, where many reservoirs were far from full and thus covered less land. Emissions downstream (that is, degasing water once it has left the reservoir) were not accounted for in the data also. Additionally, no data on greenhouse gas emissions from dam production is included within this analysis.
Lastly, with the potential for these additional dams to support a new “food bowl” in northern Australia, it is likely subtropical and tropical dams will be favoured. A review of the reservoirs studies globally found that tropical reservoirs produced more greenhouse gases than subtropical which in turn produce more greenhouse gases than temperate dams.
This difference has been suggested to be related to water temperatures, which tend to be warmer closer to the equator, which in turn, speed up the process.
For the reasons listed above, the estimate for average emissions from Australian dams derived above can be seen as conservative (it should be noted that boreal dams were the second highest emitters, due to the tendency for organic rich peat land inundation, however this is irrelevant to Australian climates).
Coupling this with my previous analysis of the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan, if this dam plan is implemented, this additional greenhouse gas contribution would require sequestration above the proposed 85 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
Due to the El Niño Southern Oscillation, Australia naturally experiences shifts between drier-than- or wetter-than-average years. Generally, though, Australia is an arid country. Climate change due to increasing greenhouse gas forcing is likely to reduce precipitation globally. For this reason, Australia has strong motivations to lead the path of climate change mitigation.
Should the Coalition win the upcoming September election, my previous analysis illustrated the immense scale and thus cost required to implement the Direct Action Plan. The selected path, soil sequestration, is notably less certain scientifically than other methods, such as plantation. This also comes at the expense of removing the price on carbon which in turn can be utilised to provide market based motivations to decouple carbon emissions from industrial activities and economic growth.
It is not unreasonable therefore to raise concerns about the ability of the Direct Action Plan to assist with climate change mitigation.
Alone, the draft dam plan will contribute a comparatively small greenhouse gas contribution. But by building more dams, the Coalition is making its direct action plan even more difficult to implement.
Find the full report here.
Just some fun. Have a good weekend.
Sure, Australia is a country of drought and flooding rain, but not often at the same time, year after year!
- The Australian summer over 2012 and 2013 has been defined by extreme weather events across much of the continent, including record-breaking heat, severe bushfires, extreme rainfall and damaging flooding. Extreme heatwaves and catastrophic bushfire conditions during the Angry Summer were made worse by climate change.
- All weather, including extreme weather events is influenced by climate change. All extreme weather events are now occurring in a climate system that is warmer and moister than it was 50 years ago. This influences the nature, impact and intensity of extreme weather events.
- Australia’s Angry Summer shows that climate change is already adversely affecting Australians. The significant impacts of extreme weather on people, property, communities and the environment highlight the serious consequences of failing to adequately address climate change.
- It is highly likely that extreme hot weather will become even more frequent and severe in Australia and around the globe, over the coming decades. The decisions we make this decade will largely determine the severity of climate change and its influence on extreme events for our grandchildren.
- It is critical that we are aware of the influence of climate change on many types of extreme weather so that communities, emergency services and governments prepare for the risk of increasingly severe and frequent extreme weather.
Maybe weather itself must be deemed alarmist…?
They even showed a rice crop, happily evaporating that water away…
The only conclusion that I can draw is that Tony Abbott and a team of geniuses, work through the wee hours of the night to put together ridiculous plans so that people have something to deconstruct. I mean, no-one could intentionally be so misinformed and be in a position to ask Australians to vote for them as Prime Minister, could they?
Yes, water management on an arid continent such as Australia is important. I’ve always questioned the fury from NSW and Queensland farmers in response to the Murray Darling Basin Plan, when it is they who then cover their land with a few inches of water, a large shallow pool, begging to be evaporated, to grow cotton and rice in the dry interior.
However, are dams really the option?
We know that with increasing climate change there is a high chance for drying conditions (Liu et al., 2013). Unlike increasing sun activity, which affects the planet with heat loading disproportionately, an increasing greenhouse effect is likely to increase the heterogeneity of the atmosphere. Basically, it becomes more stable, reducing the potential for your typical rainfall (Liu et al., 2013). That isn’t to say anything about the intensity of storms – a warmer atmosphere can “hold” more water.
So, while we do have a problem already with the boom and bust cycle of Australia, changing between drought and flooding rain, we can expect an increasing amount of water instability the longer we do next to nothing to mitigate anthropogenic climate change.
Abbott is excited to let us know that his team are dabbling with the idea of adding as much as 100 new dams to help with this water insecurity, which will also increase food production and hydro-power production.
Here’s the problem.
Flooding land, covered with biomass (which will die as part of the inundation) provides a nice environment for anaerobic respiration. In short, dams are wonderfully good at producing the potent greenhouse gase, methane (Kemenes et al., 2007). As a side note, this is another issue I have; the sudden new “wetlands” developed as part of every new suburb also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions in much the same way.
So we have a situation where water insecurity is exacerbated by anthropogenic climate change and the Coalition’s plan to help this water insecurity is to increase water capture via methodology that will inevitably exacerbate anthropogenic climate change.
If Australia collectively votes for this party with the coming election, with such wacky logic on the table, surely, are we not eligible as a contender for the Darwin Award?
Liu, J., Wang, B., Cane, M.A., Y, S., and, Lee, J. (2013) Divergent global precipitation changes induced by natural versus anthropogenic forcing. Nature. 493. DOI: 10.1038/nature11784
Kemenes, A., Forsberg, B.R., and, Melack, J.M. (2007) Methane release below a tropical hydroelectric dam. Geophysical Research Letters. DOI: 10.1029/2007GL02476
By Ian Lowe, Griffith University
The forthcoming Australian election will be a critical one for the environment.
The most urgent issue is climate change. We are already seeing the social, economic and environmental impacts of about one degree increase in average temperature. The possible impacts of two degrees are frightening enough, but we face the possibility of even greater increases if the world fails to take concerted action.
As the worst polluter per person in the developed world and a major exporter of fossil fuels, we have a critical responsibility.
It is crucial for the next government to take considered advice from the Climate Commission on the scientific basis for our reduction targets. While it is a step in the right direction to have a modest charge on polluters, the initial level is too small to make the sort of difference that is needed by itself. There are too may concessions to polluters, too many exemptions from the charge.
We should be urgently phasing out all subsidies of fossil fuel supply and use. These don’t even make economic sense and are environmentally disastrous.
We need concerted programs to promote renewables and to improve the efficiency of turning energy into the goods and services we use. The Howard government’s National Framework for Energy Efficiency showed we could cut pollution by 30% using measures that pay for themselves within four years.
This is not low-hanging fruit, it is fruit lying on the ground. These changes provide economic benefits as well as slowing climate change.
Urgent attention needs to be given to urban transport. The carbon charge does not apply to transport fuels, and successive governments have failed to modernise public transport, so more and more commuters are driving longer distances in large and inefficient cars. Even the US government now has serious targets for improving vehicle efficiency. We should be moving rapidly to reflect world’s best practice, rather than continuing to be a dumping ground for out-of-date technology.
Recognising that we now contribute more to the problem of climate change through our fossil fuel exports than all domestic energy use put together, we have a responsibility to take action. It is just irresponsible to be encouraging expansion of fossil fuel exports for short-term economic gain, especially as most of the companies benefiting from that expansion are not even Australian.
There are other serious environmental issues that should be addressed by the next government – and considered by voters when we help to choose that government.
A tentative start has been made to restore the health of our greatest river system, the Murray-Darling, but the momentum of reform needs to be continued and accelerated. The Tasmanian forest agreement is still not secure, the Great Barrier Reef is under increasing pressure both from activities onshore in Queensland and frightening numbers of freight vessels, and we are still losing our unique biodiversity.
We hear ridiculous calls to wind back “green tape”, dishonestly suggesting that over-zealous environmental regulation is impeding economic development. That campaign has led to some state governments doing a Great Leap Backwards, as when Queensland moved to scrap Wild Rivers protection in the Channel country and Victoria tried to let cattle back into the Alpine national park. These examples show how critical it is for the Commonwealth government to maintain its capacity and political will to hold short-sighted state governments to account.
While it is obviously important for the Australian government to have responsible environmental policies, it is even more important to address the driving forces that are causing environmental degradation. The first independent national report on the state of the environment stated that population growth and lifestyle choices, including increasing consumption, are behind the environmental problems.
We urgently need a national government that has a vision for a future sustainable Australia, rather than the irresponsible headlong pursuit of growth. We know that growth cannot continue for ever in a finite system.
We should have a national conversation now about the trade-off between population and quality of life. Survey after survey shows that the community understand we are losing socially and environmentally through the short-sighted obsession with growth. We should be aiming to stabilise the population by reducing immigration levels, as well as introducing policies to limit consumption to levels that can be maintained.
The current approach is funding our material consumption by destroying our natural resources, effectively stealing from our own children. That is morally indefensible and doesn’t even make economic sense. We need a government that will act responsibly to secure our future!
These are the critical issues which will determine our future, but most political candidates are either blissfully unaware of them or totally reluctant to discuss them. The 2010 election was dominated by personality politics, economic trivia and mud-slinging. We are entitled to demand more from those who aspire to lead us.
Ian Lowe is President of the Australian Conservation Foundation.