Australian regulator flags tree growth checks for regenerative projects as priority issue

Published 10:51 on August 19, 2022  /  Last updated at 10:51 on August 19, 2022  /  Asia Pacific, Australia  /  No Comments

Australia's Clean Energy Regulator has given priority status to so-called “regeneration checks” in its compliance and enforcement procedures, it announced Friday.

Australia’s Clean Energy Regulator has given priority status to so-called “regeneration checks” in its compliance and enforcement procedures, it announced Friday.

In a quarterly compliance update, the regulator noted that ERF participants with regeneration projects are required to carry out regular regeneration checks to assess and demonstrate forest regeneration – or put simply, check if trees are actually growing where they’re supposed to be.

“[P]roject participants will be required to provide a regeneration check for the first time during 2022-23. The CER will work with project participants so that they understand their requirements and meet the CER’s expectations,” the update said.

Regeneration projects, such as those governed by the human induced regeneration (HIR) and native forest from managed regrowth (NFMR) methodologies, have come under scrutiny after integrity issues were raised by former chair of the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee, ANU law professor Andrew Macintosh.

The federal government has appointed an independent review to examine the HIR method among others, as well as the broader oversight and governance structures of the regulator and the ERF.

The language of the update, taken at face value, makes it sound as if participants were previously not required to carry out regeneration checks.

A regulator spokesperson clarified to Carbon Pulse that regeneration checks for HIR and NFMR projects are required every five years, and have been a requirement since amendments were made to the Carbon Farming Rules in 2018.

“As regeneration checks are required every five years, projects registered in 2017-18 will be submitting their first regeneration check from 2022-23,” the spokesperson said.

“Five-yearly regeneration checks … form an important part of our compliance checks to ensure projects meet the requirements under the legislation, including rules and guidelines, and that Australian Carbon Credit Units are being issued for areas within a project that are progressing towards or have attained forest cover.”

Australian Conservation Foundation environmental investigator Annica Schoo noted with interest that the regulator was prioritising regeneration projects, in light of the recent criticism.

“In the past I would say the Clean Energy Regulator doesn’t appear to have taken these things seriously and they’ve been quite combative about [responding to criticism],” she told Carbon Pulse.

Schoo said it was important that the regulator was prioritising regeneration checks, but had doubts it would address the issues of the regeneration methodologies themselves, and that deeper reform was needed.

“The problems are a bit more systemic than just individual projects getting it wrong,” she said.

“It is to do with the way that the regulator has decided to apply the method, which some might argue is unlawful.”

She acknowledged the technical nature of calculating the level of carbon being sequestered, but argued regeneration project developers needed to pass the pub test of demonstrating physical tree growth.

“We’re looking at satellite data, and we’re showing things using computers, and the fact is if there’s not forest where there’s meant to be forest, that’s all you need to know – you can eyeball it,” she said.

Schoo added there should be a “ground truthing” requirement for all participants, and that it could be used to start thinking about how projects are re-stratified, and how carbon is estimated.

“And really use that data that they glean from the compliance checks to think about how it can inform performance of the method, or at least how that method is applied,” she said.

The CER spokesperson said the compliance priorities helped its data-driven and risked-based approach to managing compliance in each scheme.

“The Clean Energy Regulator uses a full suite of compliance and enforcement powers to protect the integrity of, and improve outcomes for, the schemes it administers. The annual compliance priorities reflect a mix of new and enduring priorities,” the spokesperson said.

By Mark Tilly – mark@cabon-pulse.com