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A new approach: Growing our nation’s green infrastructure

A new approach: Growing our nation’s green infrastructure

By Greenfleet CEO, Wayne Wescott

When Ipswich City Council purchased 140 hectares of grazing paddocks a decade ago, it was determined to restore the native habitat to build a better place for the community.

Working with Greenfleet, more than 90,000 native trees transformed 72-hectares of the land into a flora and flora sanctuary in 2007.

Today, the former grazing site is home to a healthy forest which forms part of the Purga Nature Reserve. More than 100 wildlife species, including koalas, are found in the new forest which counterbalances loss of habitat elsewhere as the region’s population grows.

Now, Purga Nature Reserve has become a “carbon abatement interest” registered on title in Queensland. This means the economic benefits from the carbon captured by the forest can be accessed – and it represents a new model for councils wanting to invest in the rehabilitation of conservation areas and biodiversity projects without opening the public purse.

Ipswich Mayor Paul Pisasale says that working with Greenfleet enabled council to “make a long-term investment in green infrastructure without costing the community a cent”.

The work at Purga Nature Reserve is just one of the hundreds of untold stories of climate action occurring around Australia – action that is delivering multiple benefits for local communities.

Now that Australia, along with 176 other nations, has signed the Paris Agreement and made a binding agreement to minimise carbon emissions to below two degrees Celsius, we must move towards a zero carbon economy by the middle of the century.

And so the real work begins. While many of Australia’s industries face massive obstacles in getting to net zero, we are also presented with massive opportunities as we reinvent our entire economy.

There are currently billions of dollars available in carbon markets – and this money can provide the funds local governments need to revegetate large tracts of land, invest in green infrastructure and take steps towards a zero carbon future. It is a new approach to financial mechanisms that recognise the ecosystem benefits of forests.

Global carbon markets are well established, and carbon credits are being issued for forestation projects around that world. Credits are issued to individual landholders, companies or governments growing forests, provided they meet a strict set of criteria. These credits can then be sold to a carbon emitter, such as a power company. This is known as ‘offsetting’ emissions.

In Australia, thousands of individuals and organisations are making voluntary commitments to offset the carbon emissions they generate. Greenfleet, for example, is supported by everyone from families offsetting their annual car use to companies demonstrating corporate social responsibility. Together, these commitments have helped us plant more than 8.7 million native trees in 425 native and biodiverse forests around Australia.

Planting trees is a tried and tested method of offsetting carbon emissions, and using a biodiverse mix of native species has the added advantages of restoring habitat, halting erosion and supporting local jobs and communities.

Greenfleet and other sources of carbon offsets have access to funds to plant trees, and local governments often need help to finance their projects. But outdated legislation and lack of policy certainty has made it difficult for us to connect the two.

A carbon agreement must do two things – it must protect the trees we plant, and protect the carbon rights associated with those trees. Greenfleet aims for trees to be protected for 100 years – which ensures enough carbon has been collected to offset any emissions generated by the supporter that is funding the planting. We need legal protection of the trees because otherwise we are reliant on the vagaries of government and shifting philosophies and policies on climate change. It is critical that voluntary supporters are confident that their donations are effective for the long-term.

Gaining carbon rights on private land is a fairly straightforward process – we simply put it on title. Public land poses a much greater challenge, because it generally has multiple land use approaches. Until fairly recently, no state in Australia allowed for the transfer of carbon rights on crown land to a third party. However, Victoria, Queensland and Western Australia all now have legislation in place to make it possible to transfer carbon rights from public land.

In Bundaberg, a revegetation project at the Barolin Nature Reserve is close to being funded through this mechanism. The Bundaberg Regional Council has offered Greenfleet a 30-year trustee lease over land owned by the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Mines.

Deputy Mayor and environmental spokesperson Cr Bill Trevor has said that the agreement will “allow the tree planting project to proceed and give Greenfleet confidence that it can make a substantial investment in the Barolin Nature Reserve as a voluntary carbon offset.

Both the Barolin Nature Reserve and Purga Nature Reserves demonstrate that we can find clever ways to invest in trees to tackle climate change, while delivering the amenity the community needs and deserves in the long term.

This is a truly innovative approach to carbon offsetting – one that enables us to bring private money to fund the public good.


This article was first published in Govlink Issue 2 2016