Academics discredit Australia’s carbon credit system as ‘serious people’, says former chief scientist | Greenhouse gas emissions

Australia’s former chief scientist charged with investigating the country’s dividing carbon credit scheme says academics who have described it as a fraud and a sham are “serious people”.

In an interview with Guardian Australia, Professor Ian Chubb said there were also credible voices defending the scheme and he would have to weigh the evidence carefully.

Chubb, a neuroscientist who served as an inaugural board member of the Climate Change Authority and vice-chancellor of the Australian National University, has had six months to resolve a growing controversy over the integrity of the program, which is at the heart government and corporate plans. reduce emissions and reach net zero by 2050.

Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen will announce three panelists on Monday who will work with Chubb on the review. They are Ariadne Gorring, co-CEO of the climate advisory and investment firm Pollination Foundation, retired Federal Court Justice Dr. Annabelle Bennett, and economist Dr. Steve Hatfield-Dodds.

Carbon credits are purchased by governments and businesses as an alternative to reducing emissions. Each carbon credit represents a ton of carbon dioxide that has either been prevented from entering the atmosphere or has been sucked out.

Concerns over the validity of the program have intensified since March, when Professor Andrew Macintosh of the Australian National University – who, as chairman of the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee, was previously responsible for integrity of the program – has published several academic papers with colleagues arguing that most credits do not actually represent real or new emissions reductions.

Macintosh, an expert in environmental law and policy, said the government-run scheme and clean energy regulator was “largely a sham” and a fraud for taxpayers and the environment .

The Clean Energy Regulator and the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee rejected this, saying they had asked independent experts to test Macintosh’s claims and found no evidence to support them. They have been supported by the industry body Carbon Market Institute and some companies that run carbon credit schemes.

On Friday, Macintosh and his colleagues published two new papers which argue that the “vast majority” of carbon credits issued for so-called “human-induced regeneration” projects – which involve regenerating native forests in preventing grazing by livestock and wildlife (not being the planting of trees) – had not extracted more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere than would have happened anyway.

Human-induced regeneration is the most popular method for creating carbon credits. The academics said the method had ‘many flaws’, including landowners receiving carbon credits for growing trees in arid and semi-arid rangelands, despite the vegetation already being present before the start. Works.

Questions and answers

What are carbon credits?


Carbon credits are used by government and polluting companies as an alternative to reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

Instead of reducing their own pollution, they can choose to buy carbon credits that are supposed to represent a reduction in emissions elsewhere.

Each carbon credit represents a ton of carbon dioxide that has either been prevented from entering the atmosphere or has been sucked out.

Approved methods of generating carbon credits in Australia include regenerating native forest that has been cleared, protecting forest that would otherwise have been cleared (known as ‘avoided deforestation’), and capturing and use of emissions leaking from landfills to generate electricity.

The credits are purchased by the government through the $4.5 billion taxpayer-funded emissions reduction program or by polluters in the private market.

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In a statement last month, the Clean Energy Regulator and the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee said Macintosh and his colleagues failed to present strong evidence of a lack of integrity in the system and – like the specific areas land where the carbon credit projects took place could not be released due to legal restrictions – had based their analysis on an incomplete dataset. They said this meant the Macintosh had relied only on “indicative project areas”.

Macintosh and his colleagues said graphs released by the regulator and committee to make the case showed that tree cover in the carbon credit project areas began to increase around 2010 – around the time the “drought of the millennium” broke – and before the start of work on carbon projects. The academics said this showed that rainfall was the main driver of forest growth and therefore carbon storage would have taken place anyway – it was not “additional”, as required – and n should not have been rewarded with public funds from the Coalition’s $4.5 billion emissions reduction fund. .

Chubb said it was important to have a working carbon credit system because it would be difficult to reduce emissions in some parts of the economy and would have to be offset. He said he had been a “passive observer” of the system integrity debate and described himself as a “knowledgeable amateur”.

“My view is that the commentary – the commentary from both sides, really – I think they’re all serious people. Our role will be to come in from the outside and look at the weight of the evidence,” a- he declared.

“I’m not surprised that the language is robust from people [such as Macintosh] who are fully committed. Some of the language on the other side is also quite firm.

Chubb said the review would examine the integrity of the methods used to generate carbon credits, whether the governance structure overseeing it was fit for purpose, and whether social, economic and environmental impacts were appropriately managed.

He said it was worth considering to what extent governments and companies should rely on carbon credits to meet emissions targets. “What proportion [is right] I’m not sure, but we might get a better idea of ​​that when we look at the circumstances,” he said.

The new panelists have varying degrees of experience with carbon markets.

Gorring has worked on nature-based climate solutions, including with the Kimberley Land Council and in developing the savannah carbon industry in northern Australia.

Hatfield-Dodds was the executive director of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Science, worked at CSIRO and recently joined consultants EY Port Jackson Partners.

Bennett, a former Federal Court judge, is chancellor of Bond University, chair of Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organization and worked on the royal commission into the national disasters following the Australian bushfires. black summer.

The exam is due by the end of the year.

Lance B. Holton