Carbon scheme aims to fund planting

Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs) could become managers of "carbon pools" under a scheme which aims to generate more revenue to allow additional trees to be planted in regional NSW.

The scheme also seeks to pay farmers to continue to look after trees they have already planted, over the long term.

A study conducted last year by the NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and the Murrumbidgee CMA found that with some minor changes to their existing systems, CMAs could become carbon pool managers under the NSW Government’s Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme (GGAS).

Based on these findings, a pilot project to enable CMAs to become accredited as pool managers involving NSW DPI and seven CMAs began in 2007.

Research to date indicates vegetation plantings that meet the definition of a "forest" under the GGAS could qualify for inclusion in a carbon sequestration pool.

The idea is that CMAs could establish a pool of eligible plantings, providing the necessary guarantees are in place.

These include registering the carbon rights on the land title and agreeing to restrictions on the use of the land to ensure carbon stocks are maintained for 100 years.

GGAS creates a market for carbon by imposing penalties on electricity retailers if they do not reduce or offset emissions from electricity generation through such measures as establishing forests.

If CMAs were able to be pool managers for GGAS, they could then sell the carbon credits generated by environmental plantings, and share returns with the landholders.

Early findings from the research are that over a number of years, a viable pool could be established comprising areas of newly established vegetation, as well as some previously planted sites.

More detailed estimates are being made of administrative and legal costs, likely uptake by landholders, and potential income from sales of carbon to support a decision by a CMA to apply for accreditation as a pool manager.

Other options, such as using the services of a third party (for example, an existing pool manager), are also being evaluated.

Whatever the outcomes of research into carbon pool management options, successful carbon trading requires accurate assessments of the amount of carbon stored in vegetation and soils.

Research being undertaken by NSW DPI’s Forest Resources scientists is providing more precise data on the growth of native tree species in low-rainfall areas where commercial forests have not traditionally been planted.

This will contribute to the development of models which underpin carbon accounting methods for use by pool managers in emissions trading markets.

While the reality of CMAs managing carbon pools depends on developments in national and international emissions trading policy, NSW DPI research is laying the platform for natural resource managers to join with landholders in attracting additional income for targeted re-vegetation.