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THE United Nations has thrown its support behind soil carbon, but Australian attempts to create a market mechanism to reward the building of soil carbon reserves are still mired in complexity.

The United Nations Environment Program's (UNEP) 2012 yearbook stated building the world's soil carbon stocks was an urgent necessity.

About 60 per cent of the carbon held in the soil in the 19th Century had since been lost to land use changes, UNEP estimated, with much more to come if forests, grasslands and peatlands continued to be destroyed.

Destruction of soil carbon creates double trouble. The release of carbon into the atmosphere increases the potential for global warming, thus climate change, while reducing the capacity of soils to withstand the effects of climatic extremes like drought and flood.

Both sides of Australian politics agree on the notion of building soil carbon, albeit with different mechanisms.

The Coalition's soil carbon program, which underpins its whole emissions reduction strategy, limits sales of soil carbon offsets to the voluntary market.

Labor's Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) is more ambitious, with the intention of creating a robust, well-audited framework for generating emissions credits from farming in ways that satisfy both voluntary schemes and the international carbon market.

But a soil carbon methodology was yet to be pushed out the gates by the CFI's Domestic Offset Integrity Committee (DOIC). The gulf between the variable ecological processes that shape soil carbon, and the market's need for certainty, is not easy to bridge.

If marrying natural processes to the financial market wasn't complicated enough, the CFI's aspiration to link in with international carbon markets also demanded methodologies comply with rules laid down under the international Kyoto agreement.

Some of those Kyoto-based rules were muddying an already complex process.

The Carbon Farming and Trading Association (CFTA), an arm of the non-profit lobbyist Carbon Farmers of Australia, said under its current brief the CFI may force farmers into an "additionality trap".


Extpub | by Dr. Radut