Carbon Accounting

Facilities or Organisations emitting more than 25ktCO2-e per year in Australia are required to report emissions annually. Roughly this is equivalent to 5m Truck km or 20,000kWhrs electricity use.

The rules for reporting emissions are contained in NGERS (National Greenhouse Gas Reporting System) .

Tables within the guidelines allow calculation of emissions in carbon dioxide equivalents CO2-e from a wide range of sources such as fertilisers, refrigerant gasses, electricity in different states, vehicles of different types, livestock operations etc.

Emissions are broadly categorised into 3 categories called scopes:

Scope 1 emissions are a direct consequence of business activities such gas used in boilers, fuel in vehicles , burning waste and fugitive emissions. Fugitive emissions include methane escaping from coal mines and gas drilling,  methane from landfill waste or livestock, or gases released in manufacturing processes.

Scope 2 emissions are from grid electricity used by the business.

Scope 3 emissions occur from other sources not owned by the business eg fuel used by suppliers, outsourced activities or emissions from end users of the product or service. Scope 3 emissions are not required to be reported but are included in studies called Life Cycle Analysis which are useful to government and industry when comparing total emissions from particular types of products or services eg wheat versus beef. Life Cycle Analysis may also include other resources used such as fresh water.

Total Australian emissions are calculated using reports, estimates and offsets under complex rules of the Kyoto Protocols

National Emissions are reported in two broad categories:

Energy Use ( includes agriculture and fugitive emissions)

LULUCF (Land Use Land Use Change and Forestry – includes fires and losses from soils. Figures can increase sharply in drought years).

The figures used in comparisons between countries and in emission targets are usually only those for Energy ie excluding LULUCF. Australia however negotiated a special provision internationally known as the Australia rule which allowed reductions in land clearing to be used as an offset against Energy use. This allowed Australia to increase energy emissions by 25% but still meet its 2012 Emissions “Reduction” target of 8% above 1990 levels. The Global Financial Crisis in 2007 helped Australia beat the target allowing a carry over “credit”  to help make the new 2020 target of 5% below emissions of year 2000. Using a reference year of 2000 allowed the big increase in emissions during the 90’s to be effectively hidden. Australia has also introduced Australian Abatement Units (AAU) to allow offsets not recognised in the original Kyoto agreement.

Australia releases quarterly updates on Energy emissions but because LULUCF emissions require detailed land monitoring then the final annual figures lag by  up to 2 years.

Official Australian Emissions

Official Australian Emissions

Detailed Industry analysis is at

Soil Carbon and Carbon Trading

Soils around the world hold three times more carbon than all the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Most of this carbon is in the form of organic matter and  humus but cultivation for cropping encourages microbial breakdown of the organic matter and release as carbon dioxide. Many soils, particularly in Australia have already lost a large part of their stored carbon. Less than 2% soil carbon in topsoil is considered low. Soil carbon helps soil retain moisture, encourages beneficial soil microbes and is important in maintaining good structure allowing rainfall entry, drainage and root penetration. A one percent increase in soil carbon in the top 10cm represents sequestration of about 10tC/ha or 3.7tCO2-e/ha. Increasing soil carbon not only improves soil and yields but sequesters a lot of carbon cheaply.

Unfortunately soil carbon is covered under article 3.4 of the Kyoto Protocol which includes natural changes to forests (eg fire) and soils in non-agricultural lands (a very large area in Australia). Australia did not ratify article 3.4 and could not use soil carbon as offsets in the first commitment period to 2012.

Kyoto compliant carbon credits are known as CERs (Certified Emission Reductions). Australia has introduced its own units called AAU (Australian Abatement Units) which have their own rules and now recognise soil carbon. Credits under the EU trading scheme are known as EUA and do not recognise soil carbon since gains can later be lost in droughts and not reported.

There are a wide range of management techniques to increase soil carbon such as mulching, minimum tillage, pulse grazing, biochar etc. Most methods are limited by the supply of carbon material (eg biochar) or the carbon can be lost during drought and erosion because it is vulnerable to breakdown by aerobic microbes. A promising exception being developed in Australia is the inoculation of seed with a symbiotic microbe called Melanising Endophytic Fungi. These fungi produce a very stable form of carbon called melanin which is stored deep within the soil crumbs.


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