Report

Dishing the dirt: Australia’s move to store carbon in soil is a problem for tackling climate change

Publisher
Climate change mitigation Carbon capture and storage Climate change Carbon emissions Global environmental change Australia
Description

To slow climate change, humanity has two main options: reduce greenhouse gas emissions directly or find ways to remove them from the atmosphere. On the latter, storing carbon in soil – or carbon farming – is often touted as a promising way to offset emissions from other sources such as energy generation, industry and transport.

The Morrison Government’s Technology Investment Roadmap, now open for public comment, identifies soil carbon as a potential way to reduce emissions from agriculture and to offset other emissions.

In particular, it points to so-called “biochar” – plant material transformed into carbon-rich charcoal then applied to soil.

But the government’s plan contains misconceptions about both biochar, and the general effectiveness of soil carbon as an emissions reduction strategy.

Key points:

  • Storing carbon in soil is often touted as a way to remove greenhouse gas from the atmosphere to slow climate change.
  • Biochar, material transformed to carbon-rich charcoal, is seen as one way of sequestering stable carbon in the soil but there is a catch.
  • When all energy inputs and outputs of producing biochar are considered, the net energy balance can be negative – the process can create more greenhouse gas emissions than it saves.
  • The Government Carbon Farming Initiative has largely failed.
  • To be effective, future emissions technology in Australia should focus on improving energy efficiency in industry, the residential sector and transport, where big gains are to be made.
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