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Estimating soil organic carbon sequestration using measurement and models method

17 June 2022

Is the estimation of soil organic carbon sequestration using measurement and models method suitable for your business?

  • Are you looking to store carbon in soil in a grazing or cropping system, including perennial woody horticulture?
  • Are you willing to undertake one or more new land management activities to increase soil carbon?
  • Are you willing to measure the increase in soil carbon?
  • Are you willing to maintain stored carbon for at least 25 years after the first Australian carbon credits units are issued?

If you have answered yes to these questions, the estimation of soil organic carbon sequestration using measurement and models method may be suitable for you.

Up to $5000 advance to support Soil Method baseline sampling costs for soil carbon projects

An advance payment worth up to $5,000 is available through a pilot program for eligible Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) projects to help with upfront costs of soil sampling.

Key Features

See more information on the advance to support soil method baseline sampling.

Guidance available

The Clean Energy Regulator has released the following guidance products:

Contents

The estimation of soil organic carbon sequestration using measurement and models method credits increases in soil carbon as a result of one or more new or materially different management activities in grazing, bare fallow or cropping land (including perennial woody horticulture) that store carbon in that land. Soil carbon stocks must be estimated using specified soil sampling methods or using the specified hybrid approach that combines soil carbon model estimates with soil sampling. Samples must be measured for soil carbon content using specified laboratory techniques or calibrated in-field sensors.

Existing projects under the sequestering carbon in soils in grazing system method, estimating sequestration of carbon in soil using default values method, or the measurement of soil organic carbon sequestration in agricultural systems method may be eligible to transition to the estimation of soil organic carbon sequestration using measurement and models method.

Proponents will need to consider the legislative requirements and the requirements in the documentasset:Supplement to the 2021 Soil Carbon Method.

Project activities and eligibility requirements

To be eligible under this method, projects must introduce one or more of the following activities:

  • apply nutrients to the land
  • apply lime to remediate acid soils
  • apply gypsum to remediate sodic or magnesic soils
  • undertake new irrigation
  • re-establish or rejuvenate a pasture by seeding establishing or pasture cropping
  • establishing, and permanently maintaining, a pasture where there was previously no or limited pasture, such as on cropland or bare fallow
  • alter the stocking rate, duration or intensity of grazing
  • retain stubble after a crop is harvested
  • convert from intensive tillage practices to reduced or no tillage practices
  • modify landscape or landform features to remediate land
  • use mechanical methods to add or redistribute soil
  • use legume species in cropping or pasture system, or
  • use a cover crop to promote soil vegetation cover or improve soil health or both.

This method also has prohibited and restricted activities (Determination—part 3).

Projects must include ‘eligible land’ (Determination—part 3) that has been used for pasture, cropping (including perennial woody horticulture), bare fallow, or any combination of these for the previous 5 years. A land management strategy must be prepared or reviewed by an independent person—advising on what management activities are best suited to the site, including information on risks, monitoring and improvements. For further information see documentasset:Guidance for meeting the requirements of soil carbon land management strategies for 2021 soil carbon projects

Undertaking one or more eligible management activities under this determination may not result in soil carbon increases and crediting is dependent on increasing the baseline level of soil carbon.

Evidence of the above requirements must form part of an application to register a project.

Participating in other Government funded soil programs

The Australian Government is administering the following programs which may provide financial support for testing of soil carbon, trialling of new soil carbon measurement technology or trialling of management activities that increase soil carbon:

There may be opportunities for you to register an ERF soil carbon project as well as participating in one or more of these programs. If participating in these programs would involve undertaking activities on the same areas of land as those included in the soil carbon project, you should consider registering your soil carbon project before commencing any new management activity expected to sequester carbon in the soil. This will mean that any increases in soil carbon gained because of this new activity may be eligible for crediting under the ERF.

In addition, if soil carbon testing is undertaken as part of participating in one of these programs, it could be used in reporting your creditable increases in soil carbon. If you register your soil carbon project during or after undertaking any new management activities through one of these programs, then you would need to undertake baseline sampling and start new, additional activities after applying to register the project (in line with the usual project eligibility requirements).

If you have already registered your soil carbon project and you wish to participate in any of these programs you should review the program eligibility requirements as they are made available.

Soil sampling

A baseline sampling round (Determination—part 3) must be undertaken for both approaches to measure soil carbon stocks in carbon estimation areas in the first reporting period for new projects, or within 18 months of land being added to an existing project area. The measurement-only approaches require that a sampling round be conducted in every reporting period. The hybrid approach requires that for the duration of the crediting period of the project sampling rounds occur every 10 years and estimation events occur every 5 years.

An independent person must extract soil cores and measure soil carbon using laboratory measurements or laboratory calibrated in-field sensors. A consistent soil carbon estimation technology (for example, combustion or sensors) must be used within each carbon estimation area and each sampling round. The 2021 method allows project proponents to transition from a measurement-only approach to a model-only or model-assisted approach during their crediting period. However, project proponents cannot transfer from a model-only or model-assisted approach to a measurement-only approach.

Each carbon estimation area must be divided into at least three strata (subdivisions), and at least three soil cores must be taken from each strata. Other sampling requirements in the method and the documentasset:Supplement to the 2021 Soil Carbon Method must be satisfied. The documentasset:Sampling guidance for measurement-based soil carbon methods sets out sampling assurance processes and controls to complement these documents.

Calculating net abatement

Under this method, net abatement (the amount used for crediting ACCUs) corresponds to the increase in soil carbon over time, after the emissions caused by additional activities used to build soil carbon (for example extra fertiliser applications beyond the baseline) have been subtracted (Determination—part 3).

Due to the impact of climatic, temporal and spatial variability on soil carbon stocks, the method applies a temporary discount to increases in soil carbon stocks after the second sampling round (withheld credits are effectively refunded if soil carbon stock increases are maintained after the third sampling round) as well as ongoing discounts for statistical uncertainty and the risk of losing stored carbon that cannot be recovered. These discounts reduce the risk of overestimation of carbon stock increases and of over-crediting. The ongoing discounts decrease as the certainty of soil carbon estimates increase.

Reporting and crediting of carbon abatement

Each crediting application for Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs) requires the calculation of net carbon abatement and inclusion of this and other required information in an offsets report (Determination—part 5). Statements must be provided from the proponent and the independent person responsible for sampling verifying, respectively, that the abatement is genuine and the soil carbon estimate is accurate (Division 2 of Schedules 1 and 2).

Proponents can generally nominate the intervals of their reporting periods from one year to a maximum of five years.

Notification, record keeping and monitoring

In addition to the general requirements for all Emissions Reduction Fund projects, proponents participating under this method must:

  • notify the Clean Energy Regulator of events that change the management activities, sampling locations or land management strategy prior to each sampling round
  • keep records relating to land management activities, the independent person involved in a sampling, and the project’s land management strategy and other compliance requirements, and
  • monitor livestock details in the project, tillage, harvested product, removed crop residues as well as inputs of fertiliser, biochar, lime, electricity and fuel.

See more information in part 5 of the Determination.

Legislative requirements

Method development process

The 2021 soil carbon method was made by the Minister in December 2021.

For information on public consultation and consideration of the method by the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee (ERAC), visit the 2021 soil carbon method page on the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources’ consultation hub.

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