THE reputation of Australia’s carbon trading scheme has taken a battering in recent weeks after media reports of dodgy methods used to obtain 70 to 80 percent of Australian credits.
Reports first emerged on The Guardian and ABC 7:30 report with a former advisor to the Federal Government, Professor Andrew MacIntosh, raising serious concerns about the integrity of three carbon farming methods.
The reports were a hot topic at the Carbon Market Institute webinar this month, with the representative body announcing a review into the methods Professor MacIntosh criticised.
Federal energy minister Angus Taylor addressed the program denouncing some of the language used, like “fraud”. Hopeful energy minister Chris Bowen announced that a Labor government will review the methods if elected next month.
While the industry is busy scrutinising the framework it operates under, Professor Richard Eckard from the University of Melbourne said some import distinctions needed to be made.
“I supported Andrew on his recent comments because the three methods he highlighted did have obvious flaws in them,” Professor Eckard said.
“But I think all the methods have been tainted by the media reports and that was not his intention because some of the agriculture methods are high integrity. If you take the herd methodology, where animals go to market three months early, that’s three months of methane they didn’t produce.”
Professor Eckard said Australia’s soil carbon methods, which have growing in popularity, were some of the most highly regarded in the world.
“10 soil carbon methods were evaluated by a group in the United States called Carbon Plan and our two methods ranked at the top,” he said.
Highlighted methods have issues
Currently, there are more than 50 methods used to generate Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs), nine of them agriculture based. The recent reports highlighted the avoided deforestation method, the human-induced regeneration method and landfill gas scheme.
Avoided deforestation is the method used in a lot of projects in the mulga lands of Western Queensland and New South Waled. Professor Eckard said he agreed with claims that a lot of the credits awarded were for companies not clearing land that was never going to be cleared.
“I’ve been on the record for a long time saying they should have called the avoided deforestation method a drought subsidy,” he said.
“Not clearing treed that were never going to be cleared is different to paying a piggery for reducing its methane emissions. In-the-case of the piggery you have a better outcome than the base case, but that’s not what happens with avoided deforestation.”
The three methods in question currently account for 70 to 80pc of ACCUs. But Professor Eckard said the situation was likely to change.
“There’s pretty much no new avoided deforestation projects at the moment and now that Andrew has blown the whistle on the tree planting in Alice Springs it’s hard to see more projects like that starting,” he said.
“I think as the carbon market goes on, we will see more engagement of the corporates using the beef herd methodologies or savannah burning.”
Regulatory issues remain
While the ag-related carbon farming methods are well regarded on the world stage, Professor Eckard said there was still regulatory issues.
“There’s nothing stopping an unscrupulous operator going to a farmer and signing them up by making a wrong claim about how much carbon they can store,” he said.
“Farmers can spend $20,000 or $200,000 on baselining for a soil carbon project and never earn a credit. You can have the highest integrity method you like but farmers can still be conned.”