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AUS must not miss out on biosequestration opportunity

11 January, 2010

The opportunity for Australia to remove 150 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year from the atmosphere will be lost if the Government does not include agricultural and biological sequestration offsets in the emissions trading scheme (CPRS).

Members of Environment Business Australia's Bio-CCS group say that biological sequestration methods provide cost effective and environmentally beneficial ways of safely drawing vast amounts of 'legacy' carbon from the atmosphere.

By 2020, or much earlier with a strong policy framework, more than a quarter of Australia's annual greenhouse gas emissions can be abated or drawn back into biological and terrestrial cycles.

EBA's Bio-CCS group says a price on carbon is vital to ensure that offsets have market value and to cover the initial cost of 'natural infrastructure' development. But once this is developed the lifecycle cost of carbon offsets can be provided for a fraction of the predicted costs of other solutions such as geological sequestration.

The proposed Bio-CCS approaches include algae sequestration of CO2 from coal-fired power plants; improved rangeland management to encourage photosynthesis of CO2 to below ground sequestration in root systems; selection of crops that offer high 'plantstone' yield where carbon is encapsulated permanently in silica; application of brown coal, other organic residues, and naturally occurring nutrients/biology to boost soil resilience and improve crop growth and soil carbon; and direct algal sequestration of CO2 from the atmosphere over deep ocean areas to sequester carbon in the deep ocean and promote fish stocks.

The Bio-CCS group emphasises that including biological offsets in the CPRS does not require agriculture's emissions to be included in the near term.

The benefits include the opportunity to repair seriously degraded soils and increase agricultural productivity and drought/salinity resilience. Farmers would also benefit by providing commercial offsets while industry makes the transition to a low carbon future.

The group has been meeting with politicians keen to see responsible amendments to the CPRS to facilitate biological sequestration because of the national benefits to Australia and the opportunity to export knowledge and technology to other countries with soil degradation problems in particular Africa, China, India, Middle East and the USA.

Biological sequestration can offer solutions at scale and at speed, however, they should be part of a holistic approach to tackling climate change that includes energy efficiency; reduction of emissions from industry sectors, transport and cities; and fuel and energy switching to low/zero carbon emission sources.

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