Australian cassowary credit scheme highlights the long road to a biodiversity market

Published 12:10 on January 19, 2023  /  Last updated at 00:16 on January 23, 2023  /  Biodiversity  /  No Comments

A crediting project looking to protect tropical rainforests in remote northern Queensland has been described by its developer as one of the most developed in the world, however it is being held up by a lack of market infrastructure while also wanting to ensure it is scientifically rigorous enough to avoid the stigma of carbon credit schemes.

A crediting project looking to protect tropical rainforests in remote northern Queensland has been described by its developer as one of the most developed in the world, however it is being held up by a lack of market infrastructure while also wanting to ensure it is scientifically rigorous enough to avoid the stigma of carbon credit schemes.

Terrain Natural Resource Management (TNRM) is in the process of creating a cassowary credit scheme developed to increase investment in habitat restoration in the tropical rainforests of Queensland – home to the large, dangerous bird the credits are named after.

The scheme would see governments, philanthropists, and corporates paying land holders and land managers to restore habitats, and has received funding from the Queensland government’s Land Restoration Fund.

It targets land unsuitable for agriculture, and is designed to create economic benefits for regional communities, including First Nations people, and to create biodiversity outcomes, according to the company.

Cassowary credits – which TNRM have ruled out using for offsetting purposes – are earned through outcomes-based improvements, centred on rainforest reinstatement, repair, threat mitigation, or enhanced protection.

Bronwyn Robertson, project coordinator for TNRM, told Carbon Pulse that a draft methodology for the scheme as well as its broader design had been completed, describing it as one of the more advanced projects of its kind globally.

However, she said a lack of market infrastructure meant it was impossible to give timelines on when projects could begin being developed, let alone when the first credits would be generated.

“The piece of work that’s still needed is establishing the credit mechanism, and the registry that will be needed to track and record, and provide that transparency to credit generation and issuance,” she said.

Robertson said they were looking to align with Australia’s nature repair market, which is currently going through consultation, but said the scheme would seek out other environmental markets and financial instruments that could be linked to biodiversity outcomes.

“The potential is there for significant growth, and the global initiatives that are happening at the moment around biodiversity, particularly after the UN conference in Montreal last year,” she said.

“The sense is that there’s likely to be significant global impetus to disclose biodiversity impacts from companies, and then also to take action to invest in biodiversity outcomes, through commerce and finance and other companies,” she said.

Robertson noted that internationally, there are only a few administrators just starting to establish biodiversity market standards.

TRNM’s website states that key concepts of the scheme may be transferable to other locations if relevant science and data is available for those regions,

The scheme would reward cumulative progress towards an end goal, according to the company.

Rather than being paid once a hectare of functional rainforest is produced, the scheme pays according to the rate of conditions improvement from the starting baseline.

This enables a steady income stream in the first few years after the projects are established, which gradually levels off until the crediting limit of the scheme – 25 years – is reached.

The organisation said the system aligns with high inputs during site preparation, planting, and maintenance requirements in the first few years, and ongoing but gradually reduced maintenance and monitoring.

The scheme would be administered by Eco-Markets Australia – the country’s first independent voluntary environmental markets administrator, which also oversees GreenCollar’s Reef Credit Scheme.

The organisation has identified some 50,000 hectares of land, based on GIS analysis, that is unsuitable for agriculture, based on soil type, slope, or closeness to watercourses, which could be used as part of the scheme.

NASCENT NATURE

While the organisation finalised its draft methodology last year, Robertson emphasised the final method would go through a rigorous peer-reviewed research process to ensure the scheme’s integrity.

“We’re incredibly focussed on the scientific integrity and rigour of any of the approaches that we’re proposing,” she said.

“[The scheme is] very advanced, but we also realise that we’re really keen to get this right, and not put anything out there that we’re not 100% confident with delivering the outcomes … It’s something that really needs to be beyond doubt from anybody who’s involved in the scheme.”

Robertson said TNRM was “keenly watching” the developments of the carbon market, in an effort to avoid its recent controversies and subsequent bad press.

“We’ve made really significant efforts to incorporate some of those considerations and potential pitfalls that are coming out in the carbon market in recent times, to make sure they’re considered and will not be part of any of these new schemes around biodiversity outcomes,” she said.

Robertson added that the company had constructive conversations with federal, state, and local governments about the scheme’s development, but emphasised a massive scale up in investment was needed from both public and private sources to halt or reverse declines in biodiversity.

Australia is quickly emerging as a key region for the emerging voluntary biodiversity market, as in addition to the national government plans to set up a nature repair market, developer GreenCollar Group last year also launched a biodiversity credit, NaturePlus.

By Mark Tilly – mark@carbon-pulse.com

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