Summary Results of Analysis of the Integrity Risk and Performance of Human-induced Regeneration (HIR) Projects using CEA data
This paper presents summary results from an analysis of 192 human-induced regeneration (HIR) projects, using recently released carbon estimation area (CEA) data and the Carbon Integrity Explorer. The results show that, across the 3.4 million hectares where forest is supposedly regenerating, forest cover only increased by 1.6%. There was no net increase in forest cover across more than 98% of the area included in the assessed CEAs. The results confirm that the vast majority of HIR projects that have been credited to date have resulted in very little (and often negative) tree cover change, and that most of the change that has occurred is likely to be attributable to seasonal variability rather than the project activities.
Response to Clean Energy Regulator and Department of Climate Change Energy Environment and Water (DCCEEW) Statement on the Analysis of the Integrity Risk and Performance of Human-induced Regeneration (HIR) Projects using CEA data
On 28 June 2023, the Clean Energy Regulator (CER) and Department of Climate Change Energy Environment and Water (DCCEEW) published the following statement in response to two papers by the ANU/UNSW ERF research team:
- Macintosh, A., Butler, D., Evans, M.C., Waschka, M., Ansell, D. (2023) Summary Results of Analysis of the Integrity Risk and Performance of Human-induced Regeneration (HIR) Projects using CEA data. The Australian National University, Canberra (paper 1); 1 and
- Macintosh, A., Butler, D., Larraondo, P., Waschka, M., Evans, M.C., Ansell, D. (2023) The under-performance of human-induced regeneration (HIR) projects: Analysis of misinformation disseminated by the Clean Energy Regulator. The Australian National University, Canberra (paper 2).
The under-performance of human-induced regeneration (HIR) projects: Analysis of misinformation disseminated by the Clean Energy Regulator
The Clean Energy Regulator has recently published several graphs, including Figure ES1 below, in response to concerns over the underperformance of human-induced regeneration (HIR) projects in regenerating native forests. Figure ES1 purports to show trends in woody cover (forest cover, or possibly forest and sparse woody cover combined) over the period 1988 to 2020 in the carbon estimation areas (CEAs) of projects whose project commencement dates were backdated to between 2010-11 and 2012-13, relative to the trends in the CEAs of projects that commenced over the period 2014-16 and an unspecified local government area (LGA).
Correcting the Record: Response to Professor Chubb’s Statement on Carbon Farming
On 17 March 2023, the Department of Climate Change, Energy, Environment and Water’s (DCCEEW) published a paper by Professor Ian Chubb, the former Chair of the Independent Review of Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs), titled, Carbon Farming: let’s get real and let’s get on with it.1 The paper focuses on the ACCU scheme and the recommendations the Review made to improve it. The essence of the argument put forward in the paper is that the ACCU scheme is robust and that the Review’s recommendations, and the scheme’s compliance and enforcement processes, will address any issues that exist with the integrity of projects and credits. Consistent with this, Professor Chubb argues ‘[w]e have to work at it, get real and get on with it’.
The green investment principles: from a nodal governance perspective
Author(s): Wenting Cheng
China’s Belt and Road Initiative is now the world’s largest infrastructure initiative, with long-term climate change effects, and the Green Investment Principles for Belt and Road (GIPs) have been promoted as a key instrument to green the Belt and Road. This article focuses on the question: What role do the GIPs play in building a green Belt and Road and addressing relevant regulatory challenges? Based on the theory of nodal governance, it is argued that the GIPs’ two-layered networks facilitate China to influence investment decisions over many countries along the Belt and Road indirectly through fund providers as key nodes to transition toward green investment. China also avoided direct interference with the domestic policies of host countries through the GIP network. As a framework agreement, the GIPs also provide opportunities for signatories to contribute to the design and negotiation of specific implementation standards, enhanced capacity building, and the prospect of more stringent and prescriptive environmental standards in the future.
Tortured recommendations, incomplete and unsubstantiated findings: an analysis of the report of the Independent Review of Australian Carbon Credit Units
Carbon offsets can play a critical role in climate policy by reducing the economy-wide costs of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and generating important social and environmental cobenefits. However, the benefits of offsets are contingent on integrity – the offsets must represent real and additional greenhouse gas abatement. There are serious integrity issues with Australia’s carbon offset scheme. Weak governance structures have resulted in deficiencies in the design and administration of the scheme. The problems with the scheme have been detailed in a series of papers published by the Australian National University (ANU) and University of New South Wales, Canberra (UNSW) Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) research team and other groups.
Implications of the Independent Review of Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs) and low integrity ACCUs for Australia’s Safeguard Mechanism
Under the Albanese Government’s climate policy, the Safeguard Mechanism is intended to be the primary mechanism for reducing Australia’s emissions and achieving its climate change mitigation targets (43% reduction by 2030 and net zero by 2050). To do this, the Government is making changes to the Safeguard Mechanism to convert it from a regulatory instrument that was originally designed to constrain emission increases into an emissions trading scheme that drives down emissions. Under the enhanced Safeguard Mechanisms, covered facilities will be subject to emission caps based on the emissions-intensity of their operations that will decline over time. These facilities will be able to meet their emission caps (called baselines) by cutting onsite emissions or buying and surrendering either ‘Safeguard Mechanism Credits’ (a form of emission permit issued to covered facilities if their emissions are below their caps) or Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs).
Trends in forest and sparse woody cover inside ERF HIR project areas relative to those in surrounding areas
The Emissions Reduction Fund’s (ERF) Human-induced Regeneration (HIR) method provides landholders with Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs) for regenerating native forests by changing land management practices. When it was originally made, the method was intended to incentivise the regeneration of native forests by allowing juvenile trees and shrubs to regrow in areas that were previously cleared. Offset projects involving the regeneration of native forests that would not have regenerated in the absence of the project, such as in previously cleared areas, are both legitimate and desirable. However, the vast majority of HIR projects are not in areas that have previously been cleared. Almost all of the current HIR projects are located in semi-arid and arid areas (less than 350 mm average annual rainfall) that have never been comprehensively cleared (Figure 1), meaning most proponents are trying to regenerate native forests in remnant native vegetation solely by reducing grazing pressure from livestock and feral animals
Integrity Problems with the ERF’s 2022 Plantation Forestry Method
Since 2014, the centrepiece of Australia’s climate policy has been the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), a $4.5 billion fund that incentivises emissions reduction activities across the economy and forms the basis of Australia’s carbon market. Under the ERF, projects that reduce emissions receive Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs)—a type of financial product—that can be sold to the Australian Government and private entities that are required to, or that voluntarily choose to, offset their emissions.
Integrity and the ERF’s Human-Induced Regeneration Method: The Additionality Problem Explained
Earlier this year, we went public with details of serious integrity issues in Australia’s carbon market, which forms part of the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF). One of our main concerns is with a carbon offset method known as Human-Induced Regeneration of a Permanent Even-Aged Native Forest (HIR). Our analysis suggests most of the credits issued under this method are not backed by real and additional carbon storage.
Integrity and the ERF’s Human-Induced Regeneration Method: The Measurement Problem Explained
The Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) is a $4.5 billion program that forms the basis of Australia’s carbon market. Under the ERF, projects that reduce emissions receive carbon credits that can be sold to the Australian Government and private entities that are required or voluntarily choose to offset their emissions.
Fixing the Integrity Problems with Australia’s Carbon Market
Since 2014, the centrepiece of Australia’s climate policy has been the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF), a $4.5 billion fund that incentivises emissions reduction activities across the economy and forms the basis of Australia’s carbon market. Under the ERF, projects that reduce emissions receive credits that can be sold to the Australian Government and private entities that are required to, or that voluntarily choose to, offset their emissions.
Earlier this year, we went public with details of serious integrity issues with the ERF, labelling it ‘environmental and taxpayer fraud’. While a number of long-held concerns with the scheme exist, we have initially focused on the ERF’s most popular carbon credit methods: human-induced regeneration (HIR); avoided deforestation; and landfill gas. Our analysis suggests up to 80% of the carbon credits issued to projects under these methods lack integrity. That is, they do not represent real (emissions have not been reduced) or additional (the reduction would have happened anyway) abatement.
The Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF): Problems and Solutions
The ERF’s carbon offset crediting scheme is an indispensable part of the policy framework required to ensure Australia achieves its net zero target in a cost-effective manner. Abandoning carbon offsets would substantially increase the cost of achieving the target and forego the many environmental and social co-benefits that can be generated from a well-functioning offset market. However, significant reform is needed to ensure the ERF generates real and additional abatement and performs its intended functions.
Research theme: Environmental Law
The ERF’s Human-induced Regeneration (HIR): What the Beare and Chambers Report Really Found and a Critique of its Method
Author(s): Andrew Macintosh, Don Butler, Megan C Evans, Pablo R Larraonda, Dean Ansell, Philip Gibbons
The Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) is the centre-piece of the Australian Government’s climate policy. It was first introduced in 2014 and is comprised of three main elements: a carbon offset crediting scheme, which issues Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs) to projects that abate emissions; a purchasing scheme, whereby the Clean Energy Regulator (on behalf of the Australian Government) voluntarily purchases ACCUs from eligible offset projects; and the ‘Safeguard Mechanism’, which imposes emission obligations on designated large facilities that can be met through the relinquishment of ACCUs.
Research theme: Environmental Law
Measurement Error in the Emissions Reduction Fund's Human-induced Regeneration (HIR) Method
Author(s): Andrew Macintosh, Don Butler, Dean Ansell
The Human-induced Regeneration (HIR) method is a centrepiece of the Australian Government’s Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF). Broadly, the method allows landholders to earn carbon credits, known as Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs), for the regeneration of native forests through changes in land management. At present, the HIR method accounts for the most project registrations of any method under the ERF, the most Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs) issued of any method, and more than 50% of all ACCUs contracted through the ERF purchasing scheme, worth approximately $1.5-$1.6 billion. HIR project areas now stretch across more than 20 million hectares of Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia and, in these areas, the method is having a material influence on property markets.
Research theme: Environmental Law
The Emissions Reduction Fund's Landfill Gas Method: An Assessment of its Integrity
Author(s): Andrew Macintosh
The available data provide compelling evidence that the majority of the abatement credited under the Emissions Reduction Fund’s (ERF) landfill gas methods has not been additional. It appears that in the order of two-thirds of the abatement credited under the methods would have occurred in the absence of the incentive provided by the issuance of ACCUs. The non-additional abatement credited under these methods equates to approximately 19.5 million Australian carbon credit units (ACCUs), or almost 20% of the total number of ACCUs issued under the ERF to the end of 2021. These credits are likely to have been worth more than $300 million.
Research theme: Environmental Law
Youth Activists, Climate Conscious Lawyering and Environmental Policy: Parliamentary Inquiry Submissions in Legal Education'
As legal practice adapts to the changing expectations lawyers face, law schools must also adapt to ensure they continue to engage their student populations. How law schools can teach the wider “climate-conscious” advocacy skills that future legal generations will require remains an underexplored area. In this article, we propose one novel approach law schools might take, namely, creating and implementing a parliamentary inquiry submission student writing program. We argue that such an approach
The Limits of the Natural State Doctrine: Rocks, Islands and Artificial Intervention in a Changing World
Author(s): Imogen Saunders
The natural state doctrine suggests that under UNCLOS, maritime features must be assessed in their ‘natural state’, before any artificial intervention. While this has been applied in the context of artificial island building, it could also apply to cases of artificial augmentation of features (such as, for example, desalination activities). This article examines the appropriateness of this doctrine in the context of islands, arguing an expansive application of the doctrine is both textually unsupported and practically infeasible in light of changes brought by climate change.
Research theme: Environmental Law
Comparing the Hydrogen Strategies of the EU, Germany, and Australia: Legal and Policy Issues
For hydrogen to assist in meeting ambitious decarbonisation goals, national law and policy has a central role. This article presents a critical analysis of Australian law and policy for hydrogen energy, by comparison with selected European jurisdictions. Existing energy policy literature describes divergent paradigms and pathways to hydrogen futures. Australia is a case study of policy conflict over competing methods of hydrogen production and their differing climate change implications.
Co-authors: J. Prest; J. Woodyatt; J.P.J. Pettit.