Carbon: the case for tree change
- by: SPECIAL REPORT: DEB RICHARDS
- From: The Australian
- April 20, 2012
Having been the lead adviser on the NSW government's ground-breaking Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme, which from 2003 required energy generators to reduce carbon emissions, Grant left his environmental advisory work at Ernst & Young to head a start-up company in 2005.
He now claims CO2 Australia is the country's "leading carbon business", dealing in carbon credits earned through planting trees and paid for by high-emission polluters. The trees suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, in measurable amounts, and polluters get credit for having reduced the amount of the gas that would otherwise have been in the atmosphere.
While some plantings become managed permanent forests, others offer different benefits. The vision is for salty, eroded or acidic farmland to be transformed. Cash-poor farmers are paid to plant trees that arrest land degradation, something they could not otherwise afford. This replenishes the land, provides wind breaks and an ongoing lease income for the farmers and, most importantly, helps combat climate change by locking away carbon. The client company gets one carbon credit for every tonne of carbon dioxide saved.
With major clients such as Woodside and Eraring Energy, CO2 Australia already has 22,000 hectares of plantings, equating to more than three million trees, and is protecting 3500 hectares of native bush. Over a 30- to 50-year growth period, this reduces carbon emissions by 15 million tonnes.
CO2 Australia expanded to New Zealand after an emissions trading scheme was introduced there in 2010, and it has since diversified into being a carbon trader in its own right. Grant expects the July 1 start for the federal government's carbon tax to be a boon, as it will open up a new customer base in Australia and internationally. "The carbon credits are the same metric, no matter where in the world the project is based. It speaks a business language - price it, trade it, build it."
Carbon dioxide is already the fastest-growing commodity trade in the world. As the federal Minister for Climate Change, Greg Combet, recently pointed out, the World Bank's 2011 report on carbon markets showed a near 13-fold increase in four years - from about $US11 billion in 2005 to $US140 billion in 2009-10. "The sheer scale is amazing," Grant says. "It has the same growth dimension as social networking."
Planting trees is, however, very "land-hungry". As part of its voluntary carbon reduction program in 2007, Qantas offset its carbon emissions from a single day of domestic and international flights - 40,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases produced by 950 flights carrying 100,000 passengers.
CO2 Australia's offset solution for that single day's worth of emissions involved more than 200,000 trees in permanent forests covering 130 hectares.
Grant says climate change is happening faster than originally predicted and the need to find new ways to reduce carbon emissions is urgent. Several studies show that tree plantings, renewable energy and energy efficiencies can all play a role, but will not be enough to do the job on their own. "We have to pursue all known solutions, we have to find some more, and we have to do it all quickly."