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Estimating sequestration of carbon in soil using default values method (model-based soil carbon)

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17 September 2018

Is the estimating sequestration of carbon in soil using default values method (model-based soil carbon) suitable for your business?

  • Will your project be located on an operating farm?
  • Are you able to implement one or more new management actions on the land where the project will occur?
  • Are you qualified, or are able to fund a qualified person, to prepare a strategy for each management action?

If you have answered yes to these questions, the estimating sequestration of carbon in soil using default values method (model-based soil carbon) method may be suitable for your business.

A model-based soil carbon project involves setting up specific project management activities on eligible land that aim to remove carbon from the atmosphere by increasing the amount of carbon added to the soil. As they grow, plants take up carbon and return it to the soil, where it is broken down to form soil carbon.

A project using this method may also aim to decrease the amount of carbon biomass removed from the soil,  for example, by keeping crop stubble in the soil. The amount of carbon stored in the project area from each project management activity over the project reporting period is modelled using the Sequestration Value Maps.

At least one of three types of 'project management activities' must be undertaken in a project. Each of these is made up of specific 'management actions':

  • Sustainable intensification - where new ways of productive land management are started with the aim to increase soil carbon content.
  • Stubble retention - where crop residue that was previously removed by baling or burning is now retained in the field.
  • Conversion to pasture - where cropped land is changed to permanent pasture.

Soil carbon projects are to be carried out on operating farms. As such, the projects are designed to support profitable enterprises and accommodate 'business-as-usual' activities, such as land use rotation and other activities that are not part of the project's management actions. However, soil carbon projects must provide new ways to sequester carbon, and so cannot include existing practices on the farm.

As a sequestration activity, that is, an activity that stores carbon on the land, a model-based soil carbon project is subject to permanence obligations. This means the sequestration must be maintained for the nominated permanence period (either 25 or 100 years).

Method variations

Section 114 of the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Ini​tiative) Act 2011 (the Act)​ ​allows for methods to be revised and varied. This is to ensure methods continue to operate as originally intended. Variations to methods are developed and drafted by the Department of the Environment and Energy. Information on draft methods and method variations is available on the Department of the Environment and Energy’s website.

The Clean Energy Regulator recommends making yourself familiar with proposed method variations relevant to your project should they arise, and how any changes between the original method and the varied method may affect your project plan.

Legislative requirements

You must read and understand the method and other legislative requirements to conduct a model-based soil carbon project and earn Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs). This includes:

Tools and Resources

Quick reference guide to the estimating sequestration of carbon in soil using default values method

The quick reference guide provides basic information about eligibility criteria and obligations that must be met to earn ACCUs from this method. It includes specific links to the relevant legislation but should not be viewed as an alternative to reading the full legislative requirements. Additional information can also be found in the full method guide linked above.

Contents

Crediting period

Twenty-five years – The crediting period is the period of time a project can apply to claim Australian carbon credit units.

Relevant section of the Act:

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Eligibility Requirements

There are general eligibility requirements in the Act, which include:

In addition, projects must be carried out on operating farms in areas of Australia for which FullCAM (Full Carbon Accounting Model) data exists. The project must provide new ways to store carbon in the soil, and cannot include existing practices used on the farm.

The method also has general eligibility requirements that apply to all projects, which relate to the carbon estimation areas of the project land, and the permanence period that you select for your project (25 or 100 years).

Depending on the project management activities that you choose, the method also has specific eligibility requirements. The three types of management activities are:

  • sustainable intensification
  • stubble retention, and
  • conversion to pasture.

Part 3 of the method also requires that specific information is included in a project application before the project can be considered eligible. You should ensure you refer to this part and provide all the required information.

Find this part in the latest version of the Act:

Find this part in the latest determination of the Method:

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Project Activities

A project involves removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil. This is done by setting up project management activities that change agricultural soil conditions to improve crop and pasture growth.

You must undertake at least one of the following types of project management activities:

  • sustainable intensification
  • stubble retention, or
  • conversion to pasture.

Each of the three project management activities is made up of specific management actions, as described below.

In sustainable intensification projects, new ways of productive land management are started with the aim to increase soil carbon content. This can include:

  • managing nutrients
  • managing acidity (pH)
  • introducing new irrigation, or
  • renovating pasture.

Two of the above actions may be undertaken on either pasture or cropping land, but pasture renovation may only be carried out on land that is already under pasture.

Stubble retention projects involve keeping biomass as crop residues in the field, where previously they were removed by baling or burning (but not by grazing). This can only be done on land that is already cropped.

In conversion to pasture projects, cropped land is changed to permanent pasture. This can only be done on land that has been continuously cropped for at least five years before the project starts, and the land must stay as pasture for the permanence period of the project.

Before you apply to run a project, you need to identify your project area using the Sequestration Value Maps found under method tools, and then divide the project area into a combination of carbon estimation areas and exclusion areas. Only one project management activity can be carried out in each carbon estimation area.

More information about project activities, carbon estimation areas and exclusion areas.

Find these sections in the latest determination of the Method:

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Exclusions

When preparing a project area, you cannot clear woody vegetation, except where you:

  • are clearing woody weeds, or
  • have a valid clearing permit or similar that was already in force before the project began.

 

Find this section in the latest determination of the Method:

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How is abatement calculated

Abatement is calculated by first subtracting a baseline level of emissions from the actual emissions produced by a project. This net amount of emissions is then subtracted from the amount of carbon stored in the soil by the project to determine the amount of abatement.

The baseline emissions are calculated over a 'baseline emissions period', which is usually the five years before the project starts. They represent the level of emissions that would have been produced if your project did not go ahead, and they vary depending on the type of management activities and actions you undertake.

The method accounts for the following sources of emissions, when calculating both baseline and project emissions:

  • livestock metabolism
  • lime and synthetic fertilisers added to soil
  • crop residues and operations to till crop residues into soil, and
  • fuel and electricity used to operate irrigation.

The amount of carbon stored in soil as a result of your management activities is modelled using the Sequestration Value Maps located under method tools. The calculations are based on default values, instead of measured values. This is because it is sometimes not practical or easy to measure the amount of carbon stored in every project area. The default values have already been modelled by FullCAM for different types of soils, climate and management activities.

Click for more detail on calculating abatement, emissions and soil carbon levels.

Relevant section of the Method:

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Reporting Requirements

In addition to the reporting requirements of the Act and the Rule, Sections 93–96 of the method set out method-specific requirements for offset reports that relate to the following:

  • review of strategies for certain management actions (nutrient or soil acidity management, pasture renovation or conversion to pasture)
  • determination of certain factors and parameters when calculating abatement
  • changes to carbon estimation areas, and
  • occurrence of any depletion events (where stored soil carbon starts to be released back into the atmosphere).

 

Relevant section of the Act:

Relevant section of the Rule:

Relevant section of the Method:

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Notification Requirements

You must notify us if:

  • you stop a project management activity or action before your nominated permanence period has ended
  • you change a project management activity or action, or
  • a depletion event occurs in carbon estimation area.

 

Relevant section of the Method:

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Monitoring Requirements

In addition to the general monitoring requirements of the Act, projects must meet specific monitoring requirements in the method. These include monitoring:

  • livestock numbers (according to species, state or region, and livestock class) in each carbon estimation area
  • the number of days each year (according to season) that the animals are in the carbon estimation area, and
  • the parameters listed in the table in Section 101 of the method.

 

Relevant section of the Act:

Relevant section of the Method:

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Record-keeping requirements

In addition to the record-keeping requirements of the Act and the Rule, projects must also meet specific record-keeping requirements in the method.

Section 98 of the method outlines that these include records relating to:

  • qualified persons involved in the project, and any written advice from a qualified person
  • management strategies and actions, including any changes to these
  • testing results
  • depletion events
  • abatement calculations, and
  • whether additional water was used as part of a new irrigation management action.

Section 99 of the method outlines further records that must be kept in relation to determining whether a carbon estimation area has less than 70 per cent vegetation groundcover. These records include:

  • the location and photographs of transects through a carbon estimation area
  • a description of the method used to estimate the percentage of groundcover.

Sections 100–101 of the method list additional records that need to be kept to show you are monitoring your project management activities. These records involve livestock information and the parameters given in the table in Section 101.

Relevant section of the Act:

Relevant section of the Rule:

Relevant section of the Method:

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Audits

All projects receive an audit schedule when the project is declared and must provide audit reports according to this schedule. A minimum of three audits will be scheduled and additional audits may be triggered. For more information on the audit requirements, see the Act, the Rule and the audit information on our website.

Relevant section of the Act:

Relevant section of the Rule:

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Specialist skills

To meet the requirements of the method, a qualified person must prepare a strategy for each management action, to ensure the actions improve productivity as well as increase soil carbon. The requirements for qualified persons are detailed in the Guidelines—Qualified Person under the Estimating Sequestration of Carbon in Soil Using Default Values Determination.

Relevant section of the Rule:

Relevant section of the Method:

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