Labor promises to review Australia’s carbon credit system after claims it is ‘largely a sham’ | Climate crisis


Labor has promised an independent review of Australia’s carbon credit system if it wins government, saying it is concerned about claims by whistleblowers the scheme is ‘largely a sham’ that wasted money and did not reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Chris Bowen, the opposition climate change and energy critic, said carbon credits were “very important”, would be “increasingly important” and that Labor wanted to make sure the system was intact.

Professor Andrew Macintosh, who spent years working on the integrity of carbon credits as head of the government’s Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee, described the scheme this week as a fraud that harmed the environment and wasted over a billion dollars in taxpayer funding.

He said all of the main government-approved methods for creating carbon credits had “serious integrity issues, both in their design and in the way they are administered”. They included projects to regenerate native forests in cleared areas, projects to protect existing trees from being cleared, and projects at landfills to capture and use methane emissions.

Macintosh is a professor of environmental law at the Australian National University who has been appointed to several leadership positions by the Coalition, including as Royal Commissioner reviewing Australia’s response to natural disasters after the bushfires. black summer.

Bowen said he had concerns “for quite some time” after previous allegations that there were integrity issues with carbon credits.

“This report by Professor McIntosh was concerning. Now carbon trading, Australian credit units, are very important and will be more and more so, including under our leadership, and I support the carbon trading system,” he told the ABC national radio. “But I also want to make sure they have integrity.”

He said Labor had already promised, as part of the climate change policy it published in December, that it would commission a rapid review of the carbon market that would take into account the integrity and other issues, including how it interacts with efforts to improve biodiversity, if it wins. the election scheduled for May.

“I am not a scientist. I would like independent advice giving me the confidence, and the Australian people the confidence, that the [carbon credit] the market is working as it should and that’s what we would offer if we won the election,” Bowen said. “I would welcome [energy and emissions reduction minister] Angus Taylor makes a similar pledge.

Questions and answers

What are carbon credits?

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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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The Greens said they had referred Macintosh’s allegations to the national auditor general. Party leader Adam Bandt called for a “full and independent investigation”.

“When the former head of the government’s Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee reveals the carbon credit scheme is ‘largely a scam’, we need an open and transparent investigation with powers to get to the bottom things,” he said.

“It is a crucial problem. The Morrison government and Labor claim to take the climate seriously while planning to open 114 new coal and gas projects, relying on permits and offsets to hide their duplicity. If carbon credits are also fraudulent, then Australia is sure to blow its climate targets.

Independent Senator Rex Patrick said he plans to table a disallowance motion in parliament next week to block a change proposed by Taylor that would allow projects in landfills that capture methane – a potent greenhouse gas. greenhouse liberated by waste – to run on-site electricity generators to continue earning credits for another five years.

The Macintosh Integrity Committee in 2018 found that these projects should no longer get credits because they were profitable without them, and the emission reductions would have happened anyway.

Patrick said more than $300 million of taxpayers’ money was at stake. “It is therefore essential that the Senate carefully consider the appropriateness of the determination and whether the money is being spent in the most effective way,” said he declared.

The carbon credit system is managed by the Clean Energy Regulator, a government agency. It is responsible for designing and regulating carbon crediting methods, advising the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee which oversees the integrity of the methods, and purchasing credits on behalf of the government.

The regulator rejected Macintosh’s claims, saying it and the committee undertook extensive work using independent experts to test Macintosh’s previous claims and found no evidence to support them. He said he had “well-established and rigorous processes” to resolve potential conflicts of interest that resulted from both developing carbon credit methods and issuing and buying credits, and that the $4.5 billion emissions reduction – through which the government buys credits from landowners and businesses – was a “robust offset system with a high degree of integrity”.

Macintosh said issues with the system included a lack of transparency. He called on the regulator to release data not currently in the public domain on which he relied to say the system was working, and said there should be an independent investigation into the failings of the system with the power to compel people to testify.

Regulator chairman David Parker told the ABC he would be “more than happy” to make the data public, but the law has blocked the release of data on the precise areas where carbon farming has taken place. location. Only information relating to the entire project area, which is much larger and which Macintosh and his colleagues had examined in several new reports released Thursday, could be released.

“If the law changes, I’d be perfectly happy to release that data,” Parker said.

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What do Macintosh and his colleagues specifically allege?

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  • Credits are regularly issued for tree growth that would have occurred anyway. The method is based on the assumption that cattle grazing drastically reduces tree growth and tree cover, but scientific evidence shows this to be incorrect.
  • Credits are issued for growing trees although in many cases they already contain mature trees at the start of the projects. The rules require areas with mature trees to be excluded.
  • Landfill projects that receive carbon credits for capturing and burning methane to generate electricity are already profitable – they make money by selling electricity and receiving and selling certificates of renewable energy – and therefore should not be eligible. The Macintosh Integrity Committee recommended in 2018 that these projects no longer receive credits. Instead, the government created a new method giving landfill projects a five-year extension.
  • Credits are issued based on the incorrect assumption that any landowner in western New South Wales with a clearing permit issued between 2005 and 2010 planned to use it within 15 years. This would have required an increase of at least 750% in the pace of land clearing. This means credit is given to farmers for not clearing land that would never have been cleared in that time frame.

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John Connor, chief executive of the Carbon Market Institute, which represents companies that commit to reducing their emissions, said the organization takes claims about the integrity of the carbon market seriously and will review Macintosh’s new analysis.

He said the methods for creating carbon credits were regularly reviewed so that they could be improved. “[The institute] supports continuous improvement in method development and implementation,” he said.

Macintosh said he believed the initial errors in the way carbon credits were issued were unintentional, but later attempts were made to cover up those errors. More recently, as demand for credits increased with fossil fuel companies under pressure to show they were tackling the climate crisis, he believed the government had made a conscious decision to prioritize the construction of a plentiful supply of cheap offsets rather than the guarantee of their integrity.

A spokesperson for Taylor said Wednesday that Macintosh reviewed and approved methods that it said lacked integrity.

Macintosh said he tried to address carbon credit issues while on the committee, but had limited success, and regretted not taking a stronger stance on some issues. He said he had continued to try to persuade the regulator and other officials of the need to act in the two years since he left the committee before deciding to go public.


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