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How Reef Credits deliver real, measurable, verifiable outcomes to the GBR

Panel speech by GreenCollar Chief Strategy Officer, Pierre Josset, at the 2024 Climate Investor Forum, MCG Melbourne

Good morning and welcome. I’d also like to acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are gathered today and their elders, past and present.

You may have not heard of GreenCollar.

GreenCollar is a profit for purpose company, formed in 2011 by our CEO James Schultz, and the late Lewis Tyndall, primarily to develop and drive private sector funding for conservation solutions in Australia, and to reward and incentivise farmers, graziers, traditional owners and other rural landholders for taking action that helps deliver positive impacts for both our environment and our climate. We achieve these outcomes through carefully devised scientifically-based land management projects that produce measurable and verifiable outcomes. 

So, with this in mind, let’s start by talking about deforestation. Because, when it comes to conservation and climate, deforestation caused by land clearing is one of the greatest threats to Australia’s diverse species and their habitats. In essence, the results and ongoing impacts of deforestation are one of the core issues each and every one of our projects is trying to address.

WWF has reported that forest destruction is a threat to more than 700 species of Australian animals.

Australia has lost over 50 percent of its forests since European settlement. In fact, New South Wales has just 36 per cent of its original forests left. 

This is important, and critical to appreciate, because Australia is the only OECD nation to sit among the 24 identified global deforestation hotspots. 

So keeping our trees in the ground and encouraging regrowth of native vegetation and forests has become an absolute priority. Aside from contributing to the extinction crisis, bulldozing our forests releases approximately 24 million tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere each year

And I haven’t even begun to provide statistics on erosion, and the amount of sediment and pollutants that run into our waterways and surrounding oceans and seas, including our iconic Great Barrier Reef.

So what does GreenCollar actually do? Well, we partner with landholders – small and large farming operations – to run projects that improve land management practices so these properties can run their farming operations in such a way that the vegetation we have been talking about is preserved, maintained and regenerated. 

Put simply, in the case of climate, trees that are not bulldozed, and native vegetation that is regenerated, act to – one) – prevent carbon emissions from happening by preventing the carbon stored in those trees from being released – and two) – remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in growing vegetation. 

These amounts of carbon are measurable. So GreenCollar spends significant resources to ensure we are at the absolute forefront of methodologies and technologies that deliver these outcomes and measure them as well. 

Evidence is crucial to achieving and demonstrating the integrity of the results. For, if we aren’t doing what we set out to do, there isn’t actually any climate or conservation gain. To this end, GreenCollar’s staff are accomplished, including a Chief Scientist, Head of Science, other scientific experts and dedicated technical teams.

We also work with esteemed scientists, engineers and other experts to develop methodologies and measurement processes. 

Independent third party verification of the measured outcomes is also absolutely crucial in this integrity scenario – because the highest levels of integrity possible are the hallmarks of the work that GreenCollar sets out to do.

This is where the reward-incentive aspect of these projects come into play for landholders and where we start to see the evolution of private investment in the environment. 

I have told you all of this because it is the model for a number of environmental markets in which GreenCollar operates. One tonne of carbon that is removed from the atmosphere, or prevented from being released into the atmosphere is the basis of one carbon credit.  One tonne of plastic collected and prevented from entering the environment equates to one plastic credit. 

A GreenCollar NaturePlus biodiversity credit represents a 1% improvement in one hectare of measured active restoration or conservation of habitat or species. These biodiversity outcomes are verified and certified by Accounting for Nature.

A similar measurement and verification approach is applied to Reef Credits which I am going to explain shortly.  

When these credits are sold on the relevant environmental markets, they provide direct income to the landholders that is not dependent on their usual agricultural cycles and pressures. They also act as an incentive to invest in further projects, producing more credits, a more dynamic and growing market, and – as these markets scale – growing and wider private investment in conservation outcomes.

This is extremely important because governments and landholders simply do not have the financial resources to spend on conservation at the scale required. Just under 10% of our country is made up of public protected area.  

GreenCollar works with the stewards of private land, farmers, graziers and traditional owners. So we know that by working directly with landholders – not through legislation, we have the best opportunity to make a difference to climate, biodiversity and the planet.

Australia has legislated to control land-clearing and conserve our species for well over a hundred years. It hasn’t worked. As I said at the beginning, our deforestation level is the worst it has ever been and among the worst in the world. The 700 animal species and multitude of plant species that are now endangered in this country do not live solely in national parks. 

Private land and private investment is therefore crucial if we are to have a chance at turning our joint extinction and climate crises around.

Which brings me to our World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef. It is the largest reef ecosystem on the planet, consisting of 25,000 differently sized individual reefs, 900 islands, spanning over 340 thousand square kilometres. It contains extensive cross-shelf diversity, stretching from the low water mark to 250 kms offshore.

Coral reefs are critical for the survival of life on earth, including us. 25 percent of marine life across 1 million species live on them. One billion people depend on coral reefs for their food and livelihoods. Reefs generate $36 billion in global tourism revenue, supporting millions of jobs in restaurants, hotels, tour operations, transportation and so on. Additionally, 200 million people rely on coral reefs to safeguard the coast from storms – if they vanish, sea wall replacements would cost trillions.

Yet our reefs are in grave danger. And our Great Barrier Reef is no different. Poor water quality flowing from rivers to the reef is considered the second most serious threat to its health after global warming. 

Agriculture is the largest industry, by land area, in the Great Barrier Reef catchment. It highlights the important role this industry plays, as land stewards, in reducing water pollution flowing to the Reef. Because, when it comes to the long-term survival of the Reef, reducing this pollutant source is the most manageable approach.  

This is achieved by improving land management practices to reduce the amount of fine sediment and nitrogen that run into the waters of the reef, threatening the myriad of life that exists in this gigantic ecosystem. Poor water quality directly impacts reef health  and also reduces its capacity to cope with and adapt to climate change impacts. 

In an effort to turn this picture around, the Australian and Queensland governments have jointly committed to the Reef 2050 Water Quality Improvement Plan which sets targets designed to improve the quality of the water flowing from the coastal catchment areas into the Reef. 

There are a number of approaches to achieving these goals. But improving land management practices in these catchments can make an enormous difference to the amount of sediment and nitrogen that washes into the reef. 

So GreenCollar develops projects that are specifically designed to achieve this. The result is Reef Credits, the mechanism by which a clean water market has been established for the reef. It’s a world first. 

One Reef Credit represents one kilogram of dissolved inorganic nitrogen or 538 kilograms of fine sediment that has been prevented from entering the waters of the Great Barrier Reef. These outcomes are independently third-party-verified by Eco-Markets Australia. 

And just as with other nature-based projects, like carbon, these credits can be purchased to make up for operational reductions a business has been unable to prevent or for ESG purposes. And with the advent of the Taskforce for Nature-related Financial Disclosures, Reef Credits, a nature market, becomes particularly relevant.

So how do we achieve real impact? To date, GreenCollar has worked with farmers to generate approximately 45,000 Reef Credits – which is 45 tonnes of nitrogen that has not entered the Reef. The most recent significant purchase  – a $10 million commitment – was made by the Queensland Government at the end of last year. 

Confidence in this new market is increasing. We must scale up to industrial levels if we are to reach the internationally recognised water quality targets. This will require an investment of at least $2 billion.

Being able to measure real outcomes that – at scale – start to deliver real solutions to environmental problems is what GreenCollar was conceived to deliver. When you are dealing with nature, which is increasingly struggling to combat large scale threats – like deforestation, pollution and human induced climate change – our solutions need to also take place on a large scale. 

Government protections and regulations are only one part of the response humanity must take. They have been shown to not be enough. The other part must come from the private sector. 

We understand that businesses are experiencing increasing pressure from a host of very influential stakeholders to demonstrate the ways in which you are minimising impacts and, indeed contributing to improvements, for nature. 

GreenCollar is a specialist in this area. Reef Credits is one approach that will deliver real, evidenced, verified improvements for one of the world’s most famous and loved wild places – one that is under immense threat. 

So, if you are looking to build an investment that will significantly contribute to a positive future for this internationally iconic ecosystem, we would be very pleased to partner with you. Please reach out. I’d love to discuss it with you.

 

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