Australian government shakes up voluntary offset features to encourage use

Published 11:27 on September 4, 2015  /  Last updated at 14:12 on September 4, 2015  /  Asia Pacific, Australia, Voluntary Market  /  No Comments

Australia will reform its National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS) and the Carbon Neutral Program, it announced Friday, in a bid to boost participation in the scheme, which has only attracted 31 companies since it launched five years ago.

Australia will reform its National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS) and the Carbon Neutral Program, it announced Friday, in a bid to boost participation in the scheme, which has only attracted 31 companies since it launched five years ago.

The NCOS, introduced in July 2010, lists offset types available in the voluntary market, while the Carbon Neutral Program lets companies that offset their emissions use a government-certified logo on its products.

But even though participants in the programme include major companies such as Australian Paper, National Australia Bank, Qantas and Westpac, only 31 of many thousand domestic companies have signed up in the five years since the scheme began.

“Reforms to the scheme will make it easier for organisations to become carbon neutral, with the aim of significantly increasing the number of participants and emissions savings,” a statement by Environment Minister Greg Hunt said Friday.

The statement said the government will work with a company from the private sector to finalise the reforms before year-end but did not say which company or give details on how one would be chosen.

The changes will include streamlining of reporting and auditing procedures, improved guidance on emissions reporting and a revision of the list of eligible offsets.

ELIGIBLE UNITS

A government website lists three types of government-issued offsets eligible under the scheme:

  • the Greenhouse Friendly programme, the NCOS’ predecessor that closed in 2010
  • the carbon pricing mechanism, which the government abolished in July
  • ACCUs from the Carbon Farming Initiative

The scheme also allows most UN-issued offsets, as well as carbon credits certified under the Gold Standard and the Verified Carbon Standard.

“The list of available offsets … needs updating,” Chris Wilson with carbon auditing firm Pangolin Associates told Carbon Pulse.

“There is also a need to provide more specific guidance on methodologies for calculating emissions as these are currently quite broad and open to interpretation. This leads to a diversity of findings when organizations are audited. Having a panel of verifiers who meet specific criteria could help alleviate this,” he said.

Wilson also said the government’s plan to raise the programme’s profile might add value for participants.

The lingering regulatory uncertainty over climate policy in Australia has choked much of the activity in the voluntary market, after it temporarily blossomed around 2007-2010.

But although the nation’s future climate policy remains as unpredictable and election-dependent as ever, some players are still optimistic the voluntary market will manage to stay afloat.

Project developer Carbon Neutral earlier this week became the first Australian company to get a project certified under the Gold Standard.

By Stian Reklev – stian@carbon-pulse.com

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