Push for July carbon date

Kate MatthewsCountryman

WA farmers will be able to earn money on the voluntary carbon market but pastoralists will have to wait until changes to leasehold land conditions are introduced to benefit from the Federal Government’s Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI).

Climate Change Minister Greg Combet introduced the CFI Bill into Federal Parliament last Thursday and wants it to start in July.

If passed, farmers will receive carbon credits for every tonne of carbon pollution saved or stored.

Credits can be exported or sold to companies wanting to offset emissions or sell carbon neutral products.

The National Farmers’ Federation (NFF) has welcomed the legislation, saying farmers can at least be recognised for some of their future contributions to the carbon abatement challenge but many farmers were disappointed early efforts are not recognised.

But the NFF has cautiously warned that farmers need to be aware of strict obligations under the CFI.

As it stands, trees need to remain in the ground for 100 years, and the same timeframe applies to carbon stored in the ground.

Mr Combet noted farmers could “hand back” credits at any time if they want to alter their land use.

But of course, they’ll have to pay the market price.

Pastoralists wanting to trade carbon may only have to wait until spring when legislation changing leasehold conditions is expected to be introduced.

Parliamentary secretary Wendy Duncan, head of the Rangeland Reform program, said a discussion paper would be released this May or June.

“The discussion paper looks at proposed new forms of land tenure for pastoralists and those wishing to use rangelands in a non-intensive way,” Ms Duncan said.

The amended Land Act will allow rangelands to be used for specific purposes including carbon trading or tourism.

The Australian Greens remain worried the CFI could increase competition for land and water “and drive farmers off the land”.

Tasmanian senator Christine Milne is concerned the Government does not understand the huge amount of offsets the CFI could create.

“Flooding the market with offsets could undermine the purpose of the pollution price — to build a cleaner, healthier, jobs-rich economy by driving investment into clean energy,” she said.

Government climate adviser Ross Garnaut has recommended limiting the number of farm offset credits that can be purchased each year once the CFI is linked to an economy-wide carbon price.

In the beginning, businesses should only be able to offset 4 per cent of their total emissions and government spending on farm credits should be capped at 2 per cent of the total carbon tax revenue.

Mr Combet acknowledged work remained to be done before abatement could be accurately estimated.

But he said the CSIRO and other research institutions were making “important advances” on that front.

Professor Garnaut believes that once carbon farming is part of an ETS it could be worth $2.25 billion a year — the equivalent of another wool industry.

Not everyone agrees with the CFI, which was introduced just one day after national protests against the proposed carbon tax.

Narrogin mother of four Janet Thompson organised WA’s rally of 200 protestors, independent to her role at the Pastoralists and Graziers Association, for people angry at being mislead by Federal Labor. She said the tax would not decrease carbon dioxide and could take manufacturing jobs overseas.

Mrs Thompson said introducing a CFI made no sense and farmers were sceptical of the climate change movement.

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