Offset opportunities: Australia ignites interest at COP21

In his latest post direct from the 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris, Ai Group’s Tennant Reed reports on an innovation in carbon offset opportunities that is much closer to home – and of great potential value to business.

The COP21 climate conference in Paris is about more than formal negotiations – it’s also about swapping the latest global experience and information on everything from carbon capture and storage technology to carbon accounting.

Oddly, I’ve had to go halfway around the world to find out more about something exciting happening in Australia: carbon offsets from managing the fire cycle on Indigenous lands in Northern Australia. This will offer valuable opportunities to businesses with a compliance obligation, a corporate social responsibility program, or a customer-driven need to demonstrate social and environmental outcomes.

The underlying activity involves setting small fires across northern savannahs early in the dry season, pre-empting larger fires that would otherwise spontaneously break out late in the season. The fires burn at lower intensity, less land burns, less carbon is released and there are co-benefits for wildlife and local employment. Researchers have developed a methodology for measuring the results by satellite imaging, approved by the Federal Government’s vetting process.

Now the Kimberley Land Council, other indigenous organisations like the Aboriginal Carbon Fund, and non-Indigenous pastoralists are applying that method and registering projects to manage fire over large swathes of land – and generate high-quality carbon offset credits that are accepted for voluntary carbon-neutrality purposes or for compliance with the Commonwealth’s Safeguard Mechanism.

This video from KLC tells a compelling story and a range of resource multinationals, finance heavyweights and energy businesses at a briefing in Paris today were excited by the opportunities. The projects are concrete, offer multiple benefits, and the accounting is solid.

While Ai Group continues to press the case for access under Australian climate policies to low-cost abatement opportunities overseas, the savannah projects are also an exciting home-grown option for businesses with a compliance or voluntary interest in offsetting. They deserve much wider recognition.

And there is an international angle too: the methodology can be easily adapted to similar landscapes in Africa, Latin America and beyond, plausibly offering a billion tonnes per annum of savannah abatement globally. If taken up by other countries – potentially in partnership with Australian-based global businesses needing offsets – this Australian innovation could produce a lot of winners.

Want to know more? Or have something to add on this interesting Australian innovation? Leave a question or comment for Tennant Reed below.

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Tennant is Principal National Adviser – Public Policy at Ai Group. He has worked heavily on climate and energy issues, advising Ai Group’s Leaders’ Group on Energy and Climate Policy and developing reports on natural gas supply, energy prices and energy efficiency. He also works on a range of issues related to manufacturing and innovation. Previously he was an adviser in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, working on fiscal policy, stimulus and infrastructure.

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