When considering a carbon project on your property, one of the most obvious questions is: What should I be looking for to help me undertake that first step?
There are many obvious things to be considered, such as property location and size, the nature of the current land use, existing vegetation and management plans. But the most critical elements to encourage progression are not what you might first think.
According to GreenCollar’s project development team, an inquiring mindset and a willingness to consider adapting land management practices are two of the most crucial elements to successfully get a project up and running.
Unfortunately, there isn’t a simple checklist for land managers to tell if their land is suitable. The reason for that lies in the complexity of the pathways that can be used to generate carbon credits.
Some properties and locations ultimately do not lend themselves to current eligible project activity, but a GreenCollar WA Business Development Manager says what constitutes a “good” property is different in every state and territory.
“If you look at what constitutes a good potential project, I first look for a property with strong evidence of suppression. That is, a property where something has suppressed the native vegetation from growing or performing as it should – it could be feral animals, grazing cattle or sheep, or introduced weeds.”
If the land manager is open to considering change, it comes down to having the ability to do things at scale, which can only be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
“From a land manager perspective, it comes back to the methodologies that can be applied to a property or location. Once you understand the potential approach, you need to assess whether you have enough scale to make it work.”
“In Western Australia, for example, you may be able to apply environmental planting or soil carbon in the southwest land division, while in the rest of the state, which is largely pastoral, you may be looking at human-induced regeneration. There is no simple, one size fits all solution or approach.”
The lack of an easy project template is a sentiment shared by others.
A GreenCollar’s Queensland Business Manager said there are a variety of pathways to generate credits, and each project requires a thorough assessment to determine the most appropriate way forward.
Queensland is probably the most diverse state regarding various methods that could be followed.
“When considering a project, the stand-out feature is eligible vegetation, along with the size of the property and how particular country is classified.”
“The type of vegetation that qualifies is essentially that which allows you to undertake some adaptation to the current management approach of the land. For example, a property may have a history of being cleared by scrub pulling or chemical treatment and is due for treatment again. The land manager can consider the cost benefit of not clearing that land and gaining a carbon income stream under an avoided clearing project instead.”
An important aspect was recognising that the land could be managed differently and still be economically viable.
“Carbon farming is a chance for people to do things differently. For some land managers, this is about spelling country to build long-term sustainability and working to determine what exactly is eligible vegetation that can be used to claim carbon credits.”
“The things that stand out as having project potential will vary across the state. For example, in southwestern Queensland, 100,000 hectares of eligible country would be exciting, while in central Queensland, in softwood scrub country, you may be able to go down to 180 hectares. What you need is eligible vegetation, suitable for that region, assessed against the opportunity for change under the Queensland Vegetation Management Act.”
Other elements, such as existing property management, the rainfall zone, and fire history, all factor into the ability of the landscape to undertake a successful project.
“I would say to land managers that, under the right circumstances, you could look at carbon projects through the lens of improving your dollar per hectare returns by being paid to look after your country and still produce healthy animals.”
What is suitable?
GreenCollar Queensland Business Manager warned, however, that not all country was suitable.
“The scale and type of country has to tick the boxes. If you have thousands of hectares of virgin scrub that has never been touched, or you have rainforest country that has been left alone for decades, that country will not work for a project. Which doesn’t mean you should go and clear it, then claim the regrowth as a project – there are protections against that!
“In some instances, you can have properties in the same region, where one is suitable for a project, and the other is not. It comes down to the type of land use, the land use history, the existing vegetation and the ability to make worthwhile changes in management of the land.
“Land managers must consider what areas can be managed differently, yet still fit in and complement their existing management systems. It is a case-by-case prospect.”
The assessment aspect is reinforced by GreenCollar Head of Monitoring, Reporting and Verification Louise Nott.
“For land managers, it is not as simple as having a certain mix of existing vegetation. One of the first things we need to understand to assess eligibility is how the land has been historically managed.”
“We need to understand the characteristics of the property in terms of land management. Is it used for grazing, cropping or forestry for example, and also, what the fire history has been. For vegetation projects, we typically look at whether there are existing stands of forests that are at risk of being cleared, or why areas of land may not currently have forest cover.”
She explained that the initial assessment focused on determining the level of suppression in that land area.
“For a regeneration-style project, suppression is one of the key eligibility requirements, so to establish a project we look at what can be done to remove some of that pressure on the vegetation. If the property has livestock, we can examine stock numbers and look at whether we need to reduce stock or introduce rotational grazing to run things more sustainably. We are not talking about a complete destock, it’s about understanding the levels of grazing pressure that are sustainable within a regenerating landscape.”
Ms Nott said one of the biggest things that people struggle to understand is additionality.
“When we are talking about creating a carbon credit unit that can be sold and used as an offset, additionality is essential. That means you have to take additional actions that would not have been done under usual business practices.”
“To get things started, we work with land managers to identify changes they could make which will result in additional carbon abatement. We make suggestions and recommendations, but ultimately the land managers decide which actions they want to undertake for their project.”
For vegetation-based projects, Ms Nott explained that another core component was the type of existing vegetation on the property.
“To consider a regeneration project, there needs to be an area with species that have the potential to grow into forest cover. Under the current methodology, the plants need to grow to two metres or more in height and provide 20% canopy cover of the land during the course of the project.”
“This means there might be areas on a property that are not eligible, or suitable under the current method, such as chenopod plains as the plants won’t grow tall enough to fit in existing methodologies.”
Ms Nott said another barrier could be the size of the property.
“Historically, the commercial viability of projects has tended to lend itself to larger properties. The project needs to produce enough credits to outweigh the of the costs of changing practices or installing infrastructure to implement the project.”
“However, environmental market projects on smaller properties are becoming increasingly more viable as a result of new carbon methodologies like method stacking, that will enable more carbon pools to be accounted for, as well as new markets that value other ecosystem services and are based on outcomes such as improved biodiversity.”
“Fundamentally, land managers need to consider not only the land and its environmental assets, but also whether changes can be made to the operation, and whether it is commercially viable to make those changes.”
For land managers, particularly those with little knowledge or experience of what a project may involve, it simply makes sense to ask questions and establish a workable partnership with a third party. A high level of experience and understanding of compliance and technical design is initially required to set the parameters for land management changes that can then be implemented using the land managers expertise.
Some tips from the experts
The next time someone asks what they should consider in establishing a carbon project, take some tips from the experts:
- In an environment where methodologies are changing and there is no simple “one size fits all” solution, communication and information are the keys.
- Talk to people in your production network or regional area and find what worked for them. Ask them for names of people to contact for further advice and engage with experts you trust to come and evaluate your property.
- Talk to your legal and financial advisers and carefully consider your reasons for getting involved, whether financial, environmental, or a combination of both.
- Above all, keep an open mind to the possibilities and examine the impact of changes on the overall operations of the enterprise.
Given that sequestration projects are established for a minimum of 25 years, it makes sense to make the right decisions and understand how to take the next steps confidently.