Will the coalition direct plan work? Not likely… (reprint)

Tim from New Anthropocene (and a researcher at Monash University) has a great piece up on The Conversation on the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan (DAP). The question is – will it work? Most likely not. In order to be effective, we’d need to plant trees in an area twice the size of Sydney by 2020. Congratulations Tim – a great piece. And good to see his work getting the audience it deserves.

By Tim Lubcke, Monash University

The Coalition has promised that if it takes government in September, it will get rid of the price on carbon emissions established by the Australian Labor Party. In its place, the party will implement a Direct Action Plan, its way of reducing emissions. This plan relies mainly on carbon sequestration and funding industrial improvements through taxpayer-funded initiatives.

While the Direct Action Plan outline has been removed from the Coalition website, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and the shadow Minister for Climate Action, Environment and Heritage, Greg Hunt, continue to state the plan is their climate initiative.

What does the Direct Action Plan promise to do?

The plan says:

The single largest opportunity for CO2 emissions reduction in Australia is through bio-sequestration in general, and in particular, the replenishment of our soil carbons. It is also the lowest cost CO2 emissions reduction available in Australia on a large scale.

Through the Emissions Reduction Fund a Coalition Government will commit to a “once in a century” replenishment of our national soils and farmlands.

Through the Fund we will support up to 85 million tonnes per annum of CO2 abatement through soil carbons by 2020 – and reserve the right to increase this, subject to progress and evaluation.

The favoured sequestration strategy is soil carbon storage. This methodology is still controversial, and a review by CSIRO demonstrates the large uncertainties involved in long term storage of carbon in soil.

Because of these difficulties, the Coalition may need to supplement soil sequestration at least in part, if not entirely, with more certain sequestration methodologies, namely tree plantation, if it is to have any impact on Australia’s net CO2 emissions.

The plan does include forestry measures. And on February 5, 2013, Greg Hunt confirmed on ABC News Breakfast that tree plantation would make up part of the plan.

I analysed the sequestration component of the plan to test its viability. To ensure the plan was given the best chance for success within this analysis, the selected assumptions were purposely designed in its favour.

This largely involved assuming soil sequestration would work and that, if not, the best quality plantations could be established and that the necessary high quality land could be sourced.

The species I selected as sequesters were the Tasmanian Blue Gum (Eucalyptus globulus) and Shining Gum (E. nitens), with optimum wood density of 600kg per cubic metre and an annual yield of 30 to 35 cubic metres of wood per hectare.

Can it be done?

A relatively modest reduction of 5% below the Australian emissions of CO2 in 1990 yielded a sequestration target of around 77 million m3 of wood per annum.

Sequestration within biomass accounts for around 50% of that biomass’ dry weight. For this reason, sequestration becomes a major project if expected to compensate for greenhouse gas emissions on the order of many millions of tonnes.

To achieve the pledged return of an annual 85 million tonnes of CO2, Australian wood production would need to be around four times what it currently is by 2020. The minimum land requirements for this additional wood production would be close to two times the size of Sydney by 2020.

As my analysis relied upon the most optimistic assumptions, real-world limits to tree plantation were ignored and optimal yield was used. The real scale of the Direct Action Plan would be much larger physically, in management and in cost, with real world conditions.

If tree plantation becomes the favoured option, this also presents the additional land and fire management requirements of such a large project.

Sequestration will play a role in mitigation of anthropogenic climate change. However, it would need to be of an immense size, spatially and financially, if it is considered a primary activity, rather than complementary.

In short, while sequestration is of value, to rely upon it at this magnitude is unlikely to be viable, especially by 2020.

Is it cost-effective?

Sequestration is of value, but the scale the Direct Action Plan calls for appears unlikely to be viable, especially by 2020, and is likely to become very expensive as the scale is adjusted over time to deal with increasing emissions reduction targets.

It is unfeasible to imagine that any sequestration initiative of the magnitude required can be achieved without significant additional expense.

Placing this hand-in-hand with funding improvements to industrial efficiency increases the cost to the taxpayer. In the case of the latter, this would be to the benefit of polluters. The Coalition has stated that this will be achieved without further taxes. The only other option is a retraction of standing public services.

The ultimate goal will necessarily be to achieve carbon neutrality. In this case, soil sequestration simply could not fulfil such obligations without major shifts away from a carbon driven economy – we will have to reduce emissions if we hope to sequester all we create.

The Direct Action Plan seems unlikely to be a viable counter pathway to the established price on carbon, because a carbon price has intrinsic market-based motivators to decouple carbon emissions from economic growth.

Ultimately, a quick analysis demonstrates the plan is very unlikely to provide the returns promised by the Coalition and is most likely to increase in cost beyond what has been promised by the Coalition. This is especially true if the Coalition eventually plans to scale up to meet future reduction targets or if it becomes necessary to scale up, simply due to returns failing to meet current targets.

The full report, A Review of the Viability of the Coalition’s Direct Action Plan, can be downloaded here.

Tim Lubcke does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation.
Read the original article.


28 thoughts on “Will the coalition direct plan work? Not likely… (reprint)

  1. john byatt says:

    Yep noticed the comments, no one trying to justify the Direct action plan, which would be impossible, all comment is about the carbon tax,

    Direct action plan is a dud 36 of Abbott’s party and over half of the cabinet are deniers.

    future costs from Abbot’s non plan will be huge

    • Dr No says:

      Crime and Punishment

      Remember Vaclav Klaus? president of the Czech Republic and a high profile speaker at the Heartland conference. One of his quotes: .
      “I’m convinced that after years of studying the phenomenon, global warming is not the real issue of temperature. That is the issue of a new ideology or a new religion. A religion of climate change or a religion of global warming. This is a religion which tells us that the people are responsible for the current, very small increase in temperatures. And they should be punished.”

      On Monday, the members of the upper house of the Czech parliament voted to impeach him on charges of treason after a controversial amnesty decision in January that ended numerous high-profile fraud and corruption cases related to major financial scams.

  2. Eric Worrall says:

    I’m hoping the direct action plan is an electioneering lie, like Gillard’s promise not to introduce a carbon tax.

    • john byatt says:

      So much then for your claimed outrage over political lies,

      • Eric Worrall says:

        I’d much rather Abbott was straight up about his views on climate change. I think political lies like the one Gillard told undermine democracy. If you don’t get what you voted for, you’re effectively disenfranchised, so whats the point of voting?

        So its an ugly dilemma for me – do I vote for Abbott and hope he’s a liar, or do I tear up my ballot because I think both of them are useless? I’ll probably hold my nose and vote for Abbott, in the hope he will re-implement the Howard era reforms, undo the damage Labour did.

      • Skeptikal says:

        Eric, hopefully Abbott will limit the spending on his action plan to what Swan’s budget surplus will allow. 😛

      • john byatt says:

        Gillard’s lies undermine democracy but Abbott’s don’t ?

        no wonder i do not involve myself with politics

      • zoot says:

        I’d much rather Abbott was straight up about his views on climate change.

        No need for confusion Err-ic, Tony explained it some time ago.
        If he’s reading from a prepared statement it’s straight up.
        If he’s not, he’s telling you a political lie.
        Can’t say fairer than that.

      • Dr No says:

        “I’ll probably hold my nose and vote for Abbott, in the hope he will re-implement the Howard era reforms, undo the damage Labour did.”

        Howard was a fiscal disaster. Remember his cash splashes.
        Remember he personally championed the dud F35 jets that will cost us billions.

        Logic has never been your strong point Eric!

      • Skeptikal says:

        Dr No says:

        Howard was a fiscal disaster. Remember his cash splashes.

        At least he had the cash to splash. It came out of his budget surpluses.

        When Howard left office, the government had no debt… and actually had money in the bank. To call that a fiscal disaster shows your level of intelligence.

      • Dr No says:

        So what?
        Unemployment was higher, interest rates were higher, inflation was higher and productivity was lower than today.
        Nothing to be proud of in my book.

      • Moth says:

        “hope he will re-implement the Howard era reforms, undo the damage Labour did.”

        My jaw dropped… I knew Eric was, well let’s say Eric, but this is insanity… Howard; the great reformer and the destruction later caused by the ALP? wft?

        Of course, one needs to overlook that Howard is responsible for Australia’s most wasteful spending period and the the latter ALP governments kept us from falling with the rest of the developed western economies…

        Great point you make there! Certainly unblemished by ideological fantasy.

      • john byatt says:

        “Being prejudiced saves a lot of time looking up facts”

    • Nick says:

      I hope a direction action plan is enacted in conjunction with carbon pricing. The schemes compliment each other,with some tidying up and rhetoric removed. End irrational discounting and deferment of costs now!

      • john byatt says:

        Ben Eltham
        Despite the rhetoric, Direct Action contains much that is similar to the Government’s carbon policy eventually agreed with the Greens and independents. Like the Government’s policy, it will spend billions on retiring dirty power plants in the La Trobe valley like Hazelwood. Like the Government’s plan, Direct Action promises to invest in clean tech and renewable energy. And, believe it or not, Direct Action also promises to establish a form of carbon pricing.
        Unlike the Government’s scheme, however, it will not cap Australia’s carbon emissions, it will not allow carbon pollution credits to be traded on a market, and it will not charge polluters for their emissions.
        Instead, the Coalition plans to tackle carbon emissions by paying industry to pollute less, through an Emissions Reduction Fund. As the Direct Action policy document states:

      • Nick says:

        Sadly neither party will retire Hazelwood: to do so would take too much courage,alienate voting cores,and devalue the resource to something closer to its real value;)

  3. john byatt says:

    The summer of our discontent

    • Eric Worrall says:

      Not really that warm at the moment. I wonder how the Summer average temperature compares to other years? I mean, I wouldn’t want to make the mistake of focussing on a single unusual weather event ;-).

      • Nick says:

        That graphic is a summer wide compilation of extremes from different events over the three months of summer, so it’s not a “single unusual weather event” Rest easy,Err-ic.

        “I wonder how the summer average temperature compares with other years” So did the BOM. Averaged over the continent,it was the warmest since reliable data started. The usual suspects are questioning this,but they are proposing different data sets, I you want to challenge the BOMs data and results you must test THEIR method to see whether it is coherent and whether they have performed the calcs correctly. Unless your intent is rhetorical.

      • john byatt says:

        Yet you repeatedly do

  4. catweazle666 says:

    Meanwhile, half a World away, another utterly misconceived scheme produces precisely the opposite effect to that it was purported to have when it was sold to the public.

    Thousands of Britain’s wind turbines will create more greenhouse gases than they save, according to potentially devastating scientific research to be published later this year.


    And please note, that is research commissioned by the Scottish government, not the anti-windfarm movement.

    • Eric Worrall says:

      Hi catweazle, good to see you visiting :-).

      The position here is they support nuclear power, but they don’t want to talk about it. Or something like that.

    • Nick says:

      The suggestion is that building windfarm networks on peatlands will inevitably degrade the peat and release carbon. Very likely there will be damage. But if it amounts to a few hectares per scheme it should not be exaggerated for effect. Oh wait…

      Whether you can,or need to, call that ‘precisely the opposite effect to that it was purported to have’ or ‘potentially devastating’ is more questionable unless it media-fun. If you built a coal fired PS on peatland,then that would be be frigging obviously compounding stupidity. But turbines will have far less embodied CO2 in their production and deployment and produce none in their working life.

      And of course,not all wind farm sites are on such land.

  5. Jon says:

    Serious question – is planting trees in an area twice the size of Sydney by 2020 all that unrealistic? Even allowing that a lot of Australia is too dry for trees to thrive, there must be many times more area than that that could be reforested if there was the will to do so.

    • john byatt says:

      all needs to be done in the tropics from my readings

      we are also still clearing a lot.of trees so would most likely need a much larger area of replanting

      supplementary fine but reducing emissions is the only real solution

      total about 3500km2

      70,000 trees p/km2

      total trees = 245,000,000

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