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Benefits and Risks of Carbon Farming Initiative

16 May 2011

AUSTRALIA - A review of the potential benefits and risks associated with the Australian Government's proposed Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) features in the April-May edition (160) of CSIRO's ECOS magazine.

The CFI aims to enable Australian farmers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and generate tradeable carbon credits. The agricultural sector accounts for over a quarter of the nation's total annual greenhouse gas emissions. It also offers significant opportunities for emissions reductions through tree conservation and planting, improved land management, and new technology.

Challenges facing the CFI include effective codes of practice â€" for example, ensuring carbon remains locked up in ‘carbon forest' plantations for at least 100 years. Carbon can also be locked up in soil.

CSIRO's Dr Jeff Baldock says land clearing and agriculture in Australia have resulted in losses of 20 to 70 per cent of soil carbon, compared with undisturbed areas.

"This has created an opportunity for farmers to rebuild soil carbon," Baldock says.

If the CFI bill is passed by Parliament, it will become the world's first legislated mechanism for generating carbon credits from farm projects.

ECOS 160 also reports on technological developments in the area of concentrating solar thermal (CST) power generation, which will enable solar plants to supply mains power in all weather and around the clock.

According to CSIRO's Dr Jim Smitham, Australia's interest in the potential of CST has been led by CSIRO for more than a decade.

"As well investigating standalone CST, CSIRO is investigating hybrid solar/fossil fuel and solar/geothermal plan combinations, including solar-assisted gas turbine or high-temperature steam support for fossil fuel power stations to achieve greater thermal efficiency at lower cost," Smitham said.

In a feature article, CSIRO researcher Dr Joely Taylor provides an insight into Australia's prospects of developing a sustainable biofuels industry from waste biomass.

"A home-grown, waste-fed, ‘second-generation' biofuels market would provide environmental, economic and fuel security benefits for Australia. Second-generation technologies â€" many of which are now reaching the commercial demonstration stage â€" convert waste materials like wheat chaff, cane bagasse, forestry residues and urban waste diverted from landfill," Taylor says. "This reduces the competition for arable land â€" a problem posed by first-generation, crop-based biofuels."

In another article ECOS investigates a controversial idea for helping conserve native plants and animals threatened by climate change by relocating them to areas outside their known range.

CSIRO's Dr Tara Martin says fossil evidence indicates some species, such as the mountain pygmy possum, were once found in areas outside their normal distribution. Although managed relocation of species in the face of other threats â€" such as feral predators or disease â€" is not new, climate change presents a new set of challenges, such as whether the species might be able to adapt to climate impacts.

"However, while managed relocation will be used in some specific circumstances for species we really value, it will not be a saviour for all biodiversity in the face of climate change," Martin says.

ECOS, one of Australia's longest running environmental magazines, is moving to online-only publication from July this year. For more information and to register for regular article alerts go to: www.ecosmagazine.com.

TheCropSite News Desk

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