Carbon and co-benefits is part of the 10 Deserts Project’s (10DP) strategy to build alternative sustainable income streams for Indigenous land management in the desert.
It is also potentially provides a long-term source of funding for fire management.
A carbon story for the deserts
The 10DP is committed to investigating the potential for generating carbon credits in the project area in a similar way that Indigenous organisations have been successful in northern Australia with savanna burning projects.
South Pole in conjunction with Natural Carbon was commissioned to undertake a feasibility study to address the Australian Government’s prioritisation criteria for method development under the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF). Work on the feasibility was completed in early 2020.
The key findings of the study were:
- Potential carbon credits are estimated to be in the order of 146,000–438,000 tonnes CO2-e per annum for emissions reduction from cool season burning activity in spinifex country across the project area.
- The carbon credit estimates were derived from using a similar approach as the savanna ERF method (but with some changes to parameters for desert conditions).
- Emissions reduction in spinifex would predominantly be in the northern and central part of the 10DP project area where the fire frequency and rainfall is higher.
- Emissions reduction from fire management in the southern region is unlikely due to very low fire frequency.
- The accuracy of the emissions estimates would improve (and potentially change) if there was additional research to enhance vegetation mapping and to undertake field work to quantify fuel loads, burning efficiency and patchiness.
- Due to the relatively low volume of emission reductions and considerable research gaps, it is highly unlikely that the government would agree to an ERF method development.
- An alternative activity was investigated for protecting mulga through improved fire management of surrounding spinifex country.
- This was dismissed by the consultants due to uncertainty as to whether protection of carbon stores (i.e. mulga) would meet the Offset Integrity Standards.
- Other carbon pools such as soil organic carbon, inorganic carbon in aquifers, removal of feral animals (such as camels), and emissions avoidance under other methods were also ruled out. However, human induced regeneration of native forests may be a possibility for the middle and southern regions if these involved destocking and planting on for instance pastoral leases.
- Carbon credits generated for the voluntary market using international standards can attract additional premiums for co-benefits such as social, cultural and environmental outcomes in line with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
- The issues of relatively low emission reduction volumes and significant research gaps would still apply if 10DP went down the pathway of developing a method using an international standard.
- In response to the findings from the study, the project will pursue the following:
- Canvass a direct investment model with the Australian Government where cool season fire management is funded and undertaken to reduce overall emissions from the project area (outside the regulatory arrangements of the ERF). An investment of $2–3 million per annum is estimated.
- Ongoing discussions with the National Greenhouse Gas Inventory (NGGI) team to ensure that calculations and assumptions for emissions from the project area are based on the latest available data.
- Commissioning additional field and desk-based research in spinifex country initially to address key research gaps in vegetation mapping, fuel loads, burning efficiency and patchiness.
Copies of the feasibility study and associated reports can be downloaded from the links below.
In addition, the 10DP is investigating the opportunities for deriving income from co-benefits.
Co-benefits often refer to social, cultural and environmental benefits that are derived from land management activities associated with the generation of carbon credits and for which buyers are prepared to pay a premium or additional price. For Indigenous communities in Australia this generally relates to the use of cool season burning to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Strategically though the 10DP seeks to flip the above so that social, cultural and environmental benefits are seen to be the primary outcome (sometimes referred to as ‘core benefits’) and carbon credits, when generated, are the co-benefits.
These ‘core benefits’ may include payments for ecosystem services (PES) or new products such as healthy country credits which are aligned to national and international commitments such as the Australian Government’s Threatened Species Strategy and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.