A NEW approach to landholder-driven carbon-based income is on the table: the Australian Carbon Co-operative.The initiative of ecologist Johannes Bauer, the co-operative takes a fresh approach to generating carbon from private land, and also to the way landholders profit from carbon.Dr Bauer thinks landholders’ interests, and those of the environment, are best served by allowing regeneration of natural vegetation, particularly forests.In the long run, he says, the returns from carbon may be modest, but could be enough to allow landholders to set aside land for decades in order to grow timber – a resource in increasingly scarce supply and growing proportionally higher in value.Soil carbon is not currently on the co-op’s map because of measurement challenges. In time, though, the co-op hopes to be working with all a landholder’s carbon stocks, above and below ground.
A former ecology lecturer at the University of Sydney’s Orange campus, Dr Bauer worked in Papua New Guinea as an advisor to the United Nations REDD+ (Reduction of Emissions through Deforestation and Forest Degradation) National Joint Programme.
The experience taught him about the multi-billion business that is REDD, and about some of the exploitative business models being built around the program.
By using the co-operative model, he hopes that the income from carbon trading can be more equitably distributed to landholders, with no loss to middlemen.
The Australian Carbon Co-operative, which was incorporated last week, will aggregate carbon from across its members into large saleable packages.
Dr Bauer believes the co-operative could also have a role in marketing carbon, educating landholders in carbon management, developing policy, and ensuring benefits accrue to local communities and environments.
Carbon will be sorted into pools that appeal to a range of buyers.
A carbon pool created by a group of viticulturalists might target wine industry companies looking to offset their emissions. A biodiversity pool could be attractive to large companies wanting to advertise their environmental credentials.
While the political situation around carbon trading is unstable, Dr Bauer thinks the co-op may be best served by waiting for compliance markets to mature. That means initally focusing on the voluntary carbon market.
The voluntary market pays less per tonne but is also less costly to adminster, and less subject to the whims of politicians.
Cheaper voluntary market carbon will be available from Africa or Papua New Guinea, but Dr Bauer hopes that companies with the ethics to offset their emissions will also have an ethical approach to buying locally.
The co-operative is unusual in its focus on natural regeneration.
Plantation timber is easier to measure and manage, Dr Bauer said, but for this reason it has also attracted some big interests that are difficult to compete with.
Revegetation has until recently been regarded as problematic because it is difficult to measure. But new measuring technologies developed by CSIRO and overseas, and a range of new methodologies for verifying carbon sequestration – including one endorsed by the Carbon Farming Initiative – have made carbon credits from revegetation practical.
Getting together a business plan and incorporating the co-operative has taken many months. Now, with about 6000 hectares of land already pledged to the co-operative, its backers have to find the funds necessary to kick off the business.