I became involved with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) some years ago, so I have quite a lot of experience in how countries report their greenhouse gas emissions. Combined with my research interest in coastal ecology, I’ve been in a good position to think about the development of a Blue Carbon method for the Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCU) scheme.
It’s been a big collaborative effort to gather all the sides together and get the data in some kind of shape so that it can be used for our market climate credits – policy can sometimes be really hard for scientists because it involves simplifications, and no scientist is happy with that. We like the detail – we want it to be right. But I think as a group we managed to get it done for the common good, and for the good of the ecosystems that we care about. We reckon it offers a lot to Australian society.
There are some innovative solutions coming down. The restoration of coastal ecosystems is one of them – the idea that you can restore something that was once a wetland back to wetland, and by doing so you can get some financial benefit that can help you manage it and even reinvest in it. In the meantime, the asset that you restored will help protect you from the next storm surge, while also providing fisheries resources for the common good, and so many other things. If we can make it work, it’s a recipe for improving the lives of everybody.
Basically, it’s a method where you get a carbon credit if you reintroduce the tides where they’ve been previously locked out. Of course, this makes it rather niche – it means you need to restore either a drained landscape or a bunded landscape. And these kinds of landscapes are ones that are used for agriculture. It means this method stands to benefit those that have agricultural land on the coast that used to be wetlands.
There’s a test project being conducted now on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast – the Blue Heart project in the Maroochy River floodplain. This was once largely Melaleuca wetlands before it was converted to sugarcane. Now the council is restoring it for a carbon credit, or at least a small portion of it, which they will register with the ACCU scheme. The larger project will cover 5000 hectares.
Policy can sometimes be really hard for scientists because it involves simplifications, and no scientist is happy with that.
It’s a great test case. There’s no sugar mill in the region anymore, because the industries have changed. They’re basically going from sugarcane land that’s not very productive to making land that is really important for flood protection.
This is a way to do something productive with that land by turning it back into a natural asset that people in the Sunshine Coast value – a lot of people move there because they like nature, and they like that kind of lifestyle. When you can get these confluences of interests and opportunity, you’re going to get good impetus to do restoration and adopt a Blue Carbon method.
Of course, that’s not the case everywhere. Many people, including the Indigenous people of Northern Australia, don’t have the kind of land where the tides have been locked out. So this Blue Carbon method isn’t much good for those sorts of landscapes. But with the proposed Nature Repair Market, there’s a possibility to add to the value of Blue Carbon by adding a biodiversity component to it – which should make it more financially attractive to landholders.
One of the other things I’ve been looking at is controlling feral animals for carbon credits in wetlands. Pigs, buffaloes, donkeys, horses and goats do enormous damage to wetlands around Australia. And they also cause greenhouse gas emissions, because of the damage they’re doing to soils and vegetation.
When you can get these confluences of interests and opportunity, you’re going to get good impetus to do restoration.
I’m looking at a developing a carbon method for feral animal control where you can get a credit for stopping the damage and emissions they cause, and also for the repair of vegetation and soil sequestration as you remove them. It’s something I hope to do in the next few years. If it can happen, it would be of huge benefit to the Indigenous communities of Australia. This way you get not only a carbon benefit, but also benefits for biodiversity.
This approach puts the responsibility in the realm of the markets. And some would argue that climate change is evidence of big market failure. Personally, I’m reluctant to leave it to the markets – regulation can be a part of reducing emissions as well.
Why not make more people buy carbon credits? Increasing the demand for carbon credits increases the price, which might make carbon projects like blue carbon more attractive. That could be a real possibility.
I don’t like to crystal-ball gaze too much into the future – I’m so busy trying to get done the few small things that I can do. But when you value something, you’re more likely to manage it properly. I think people’s understanding of the values of our coastal ecosystems has been increasing over time. It gives us hope.
As told to Graem Sims.
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