WA has enormous potential to grow a carbon farming sector that benefits farmers, pastoralists, other landholders and managers including Traditional Owners and Aboriginal enterprises, and regional communities.
Carbon farming can play a key role in supporting landscape restoration and reforestation, protection of WAs unique and endangered wildlife and ecosystems, and improving the resilience of natural areas threatened by climate change.
Through the sale of carbon credits, carbon farming has the potential to significantly improve farm income while at the same time supporting better land management, conservation of biodiversity and other co-benefit industries.
Despite these opportunities, WA has barely begun to explore the potential of a local carbon farming industry.
By unlocking the potential of carbon farming, WA could become Australia’s biggest source of premium land sector carbon credits over the next two decades.
Our large and complex environment and vast areas of low productivity land give us an advantage of carbon farming methods that also deliver environmental, social and economic benefits.
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What is carbon farming?
Carbon farming refers to land management activities aimed at storing carbon in woody vegetation and soils or preventing the release of carbon through avoided land clearing or logging, and better management of fire, livestock, and fertiliser use.
Carbon farming activities that comply with specific formulas or ‘methods’ can generate tradeable carbon credits or offset certificates. These methods include:
- Agricultural methods such as dietary supplements to cattle and sheep to reduce emissions, capturing the methane from effluent waste at piggeries, or changing cropping practices to build carbon stores in the soil;
- Vegetation methods such as reforestation, revegetation, encouraging native regrowth, protection of standing forests and avoiding the clearing of existing forests and native vegetation;
- Savanna burning methods which use fire management practices in northern WA to avoid the release of greenhouse gases through late dry-season wildfires, and to protect the carbon stored in soil and dead vegetation.
A market for carbon credits is already established in Australia and is regulated by the Commonwealth Clean Energy Regulator. Activities that result in verified, additional carbon pollution savings, or directly remove carbon from the atmosphere through carbon sequestration are eligible to be certified by the regulator which issues Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCU’s). ACCU’s can be sold to polluters wishing to voluntarily offset emissions or comply with offset requirements.
WA is missing out on carbon farming jobs
In comparison with other states that have supported carbon farming Western Australia has few carbon farming projects and has attracted only 26 projects out of 486 across Australia funded through the Climate Solutions Fund. (Table x).
Innovation in agricultural projects that avoid methane production or reduce emissions is also lagging in WA. Nationally there have been 64 agricultural projects funded through the ERF but zero in WA to date (at June 2020).
Within the last 100 years, over 90% of the WA Wheatbelt has been cleared for agriculture, and natural carbon stores across WA’s vast pastoral regions have been systematically depleted by unsustainable grazing practices.
There is great potential to rehabilitate and revegetate low productivity farming and grazing lands. Development of a carbon farming industry in WA would provide a win-win by paying farmers and landholders to do this.
Clean State has been a strong advocate for the creation of a WA carbon offset market, and for emissions from WA’s largest existing polluters to be offset here in WA.
If the direct emissions from WA’s largest existing polluters were offset here in WA, over 4,000 jobs would be created across regional WA.
Queensland’s Land Restoration Fund
Queensland’s $500m Land Restoration Fund was established by the Queensland government to generate a pipeline of Queensland-based carbon offset projects that deliver economic co-benefits.
The Fund will invest up to $100 million in carbon farming projects with co-benefits in 2020. Investment is directed into premium carbon farming projects that deliver co-benefits including social, cultural and environmental outcomes rather than simply lowest-cost abatement.
The Land Restoration Fund supports three main categories of co-benefits:
- Environmental –enhancing habitat for threatened species, increasing diverse native forest cover, and by improving the health of wetlands, soils and water systems (which in turn improve water quality flowing into the Great Barrier Reef).
- Social and Economic – ways that improve the resilience and strength of regional communities by providing jobs and facilitating enterprises; and
- First Nations – supporting connection to Country for First Nations peoples, providing on-country business opportunities as well as new service delivery businesses including carbon farming projects.
Clean State strongly supports the adoption of the Queensland model as a key plank in the plan to unlock carbon farming potential in Western Australia
Unlocking the potential of carbon farming in WA requires a package of initiatives; including:
- Introduce a WA Carbon Farming and Land Restoration Fund, in line with the Queensland model, to support a pipeline of carbon farming projects that maximise co-benefits.
- Establish a Forest Carbon Research Centre in Manjimup and a Rangelands Carbon Research Centre in Geraldton, in partnership with CSIRO, industry and a leading university.
- Introduce a requirement for offsets to WA’s largest polluters as a market signal to promote avoidance and mitigation at source and provide a revenue stream to be invested in carbon farming across the state.
- Work with carbon farming enterprises and the commonwealth to address key gaps in existing carbon farming methodologies relevant to WA.
- Map the distribution and extent of natural carbon stocks and sequestration potential across Western Australia’s land systems. 25 land systems have been surveyed, with more than 200 still to be done.
- Invest in the training of intermediaries like agronomists, NRM and Landcare groups and land councils who can provide advice to landowners.
- Adopt the Forests for Life business plan to phase out native logging and increase our plantation estate by 40,000 hectares to support a sustainable timber industry (outlined in more detail elsewhere).
- Utilise the Forest Products Commission (or other government agency) to provide common-user functions for carbon farmers including carbon and soil mapping and testing, seed collection, propagation and delivery, planting services, land sale database and facilitation, carbon insurance, and aggregation and marketing of carbon products.
- Work with regional shires to develop a template planning scheme to allow rapid approval for carbon farming projects and standard local government requirements for fire and property management.
- Develop a special purpose covenant for carbon plantings and natural carbon assets that can be applied where carbon farming is integrated with other farming activities.
- Assist carbon farming projects and landholders to develop Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUA’s) which allow carbon farming to occur in a way that maximises benefits to Traditional Owners and Native Title Holders.
- Reform legislation governing pastoral leases to support diversification and adoption of carbon farming methods by leaseholders.
- Support Aboriginal Ranger Programs across different land tenures to generate revenue from carbon sequestration or reductions in emissions resulting from cultural land management practices