Carbon Pricing, Part II
by Qamar Schuyler
You might remember last month, in response to all the talk of Harry and Meghan borrowing Elton John’s private jet a few too many times, we unpacked the Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) established in Australia as a successor to the controversial carbon tax.
Both are intended to help Australia meet its Kyoto commitment to reduce carbon levels, but approach the goal from different angles. The carbon tax required payments from companies emitting over 25,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, while the ERF is a project financed by the government which directly funds carbon reduction projects, and requires emitters of over 100,000 tonnes of CO2 per year to offset their carbon through a purchase of carbon credits.
While some questions have been raised as to the way the ERF scheme has been implemented, there are also practices at state and local levels that contribute to the nation’s abatement targets. Cara Stitzlein, postdoctoral fellow at CSIRO-Data61, is part of a team that has developed an application called “LOOC-C,” pronounced “look-see”. The app, which launches this month, allows land holders to identify whether their land might be suitable for an ERF project to supply carbon offsets. By using the app, they can quickly assess the ERF-approved possibilities for reducing atmospheric carbon at a specific location. Cara says, “LOOC-C is a great conversation starter that gives the landholder insight into what’s on offer within the ERF for their farm. These practices may provide not only potential carbon credits, but also other benefits for the farmer, for example improved soil stability. If they are interested in pursuing the option further, they can do so with information specific to their farm.” Most projects within the ERF scheme are over a large area, making it difficult for smaller (hobby) farmers to participate. However, the LOOC-C application can be used to understand how implementing small changes can contribute to more sustainable outcomes. Cara says that she’s encouraged at the positive response to this app so far and hopes that other sustainability-minded products can be developed.
Another exciting area emerging in this field is the concept of Blue Carbon. Narissa Bax, from the Antarctic Seabed Carbon Capture Change project, explained that Blue Carbon is the term for carbon captured by ocean and coastal organisms. Most research in this field focuses on seagrass, marshes, mangroves, or algae, but Narissa’s project attempts to understand the role of deep sea Antarctic organisms in the role of the carbon cycle. Deep sea corals and other organisms take up carbon from the ocean, and eventually become buried in the sediment, thus removing the carbon from circulation for hundreds of years, if not more. While there has been increasing interest in developing opportunities for blue carbon offsets, similar to what exists on land, the field of Blue Carbon is in its infancy. Scientists simply don’t know nearly as much about carbon fluctuations within coastal and ocean ecosystems as they do on land-based systems.
The promise of Blue Carbon, however, is vast; salt marshes reportedly have a carbon-capturing potential 10 times greater than that of undisturbed Amazonian rainforests. Carbon captured in sediments, both coastally and in deep sea Antarctic waters, may remain stored for much longer than on land, because ocean sediments contain much less oxygen than soil on land. And finally, just like on land, the co-benefits to blue carbon capture are many. Just as planting trees can stabilise and enrich soils, protecting mangroves provides shoreline protection and habitat for food fish. ■
This article is part of a series featuring early career researchers; scientists in the beginning phase of their careers.
Follow Qamar on Twitter @Qamarsky