This page summarises information in Bulletin 4856 'Carbon farming in relation to Western Australian agriculture'.
What benefits does carbon farming offer?
Carbon farming is one way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and/or to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere in a productive way, with the intent of limiting the increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Over the last century, Australia’s mean annual temperature has increased by 0.9°C, and south-western Australia has experienced long-term reductions in winter rainfall. These changes are in line with global climate models. Most scientists, and most of the evidence, support the view that increased greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are responsible for much of the change.
Agriculture is responsible for 14% of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions, with livestock and agricultural soils the largest sources of the potent greenhouse gases, methane and nitrous oxide.
Australian businesses are acting to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and remove (sequester) carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere, with the goal of limiting global warming to less than 2°C. The agricultural sector can participate in carbon farming projects to create Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs) that can be sold into the Emissions Reduction Fund.
Carbon farming activities are voluntary and aim to help Australia meet its domestic and international greenhouse gas obligations by creating financial incentives to undertake land sector abatement projects.
Carbon farming activities
Carbon farming activities fall into 2 categories:
- sequestering atmospheric carbon
- abating greenhouse gas emissions.
Activities may involve modifying existing land management practices, such as changing tillage practices to increase soil organic carbon or savanna fire management to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and may be largely driven by associated productivity or other environmental benefits. Other activities, such as revegetation and reforestation, involve completely changing land use, while others involve adopting new technologies, such as covered effluent ponds.
Methodologies for the following carbon farming activities are available:
Mitigation rates are highly variable and achieving acceptable rates will depend on understanding the productive capacity of biological systems at a paddock scale, combined with careful project planning and management. Additionally, land managers will have to meet any leakage criteria and the obligations for permanence of sequestration.
Making a decision for carbon farming
Anyone considering carbon farming should assess:
- returns on capital
- administrative costs
- permanence obligations for sequestration projects
- land use change and how this fits in the farming business
- likely low medium-term carbon prices.
Offset income alone will not be enough to make most carbon farming projects economically viable. Carbon farming activities usually need multiple economic and environmental co-benefits to be attractive.