Tropical Savannas CRC > Research > Tropical Savannas CRC - CRC Research 2008-09 > Carbon accounting and environmental services

Carbon accounting and environmental services

The aim of this project was to enable informed discussion by members of the northern Australian community on the potential benefits of being involved in carbon trading ventures. A scoping document will summarise the current status of the global carbon trading market and associated concepts such as biodiversity credits and social credits. Implications and opportunities for landholders and leaseholders, including Indigenous people, to implement carbon sequestering regimes in different areas will be assessed. From this, key research questions will be identified in order to provide the information needed to underpin the developing market.

Project objectives

  • Review the present situation with regard to global carbon markets and the developing national market.
  • Review the present situation with regard to biodiversity credits, potential environmental issues related to sequestration/biodiversity trade-offs, and our current understanding of carbon storage in different ecosystems and management regimes.
  • Produce a scoping document on carbon trading and carbon/social/biodiversity credits.
  • Identify the key research questions for establishing carbon trading ventures in northern Australia.

There has been considerable discussion and speculation about the carbon trading market and how this might apply to changed land management practices in northern Australia.

Many people are familiar with terms such as ‘greenhouse gas’, ‘carbon trading’ and ‘carbon credits’ but are very unclear about what it all means and how it may apply to them individually, as companies interested in trading, or as a community. New concepts such as social credits and biodiversity credits are also emerging, with the links between carbon/social/biodiversity credits and trade-offs not yet clear.

There is significant speculation that global (and local) trading may provide a new economic base for property holders in northern Australia. For example, the Northern Territory’s West Arnhem Land Fire Abatement (WALFA) project is providing a model for Indigenous communities to access global markets through changes to burning practices.

The WALFA project has demonstrated that emissions are significantly lessened by early fire-season burning compared to late fire-season wildfires. Changed burning practices lead to potential carbon savings which can be traded. Where burning is undertaken by Traditional Owners, there is a social value-adding component, allowing such carbon to be traded at a premium. Industries and communities in other areas are keen to investigate similar links and it is important that the concepts are clearly understood.

Regarding biodiversity credits, accounting methods are being developed for rainforests but monitoring systems for rangelands are not as well developed.

It is also unclear how the different credit systems interconnect. For example, removing fire from the landscape may sequester carbon, but there may be biodiversity changes as a result.

The relationship between soil carbon and grazing practices also needs to be considered.  In short, there are potential ecological and economic gains to be made by successfully managing payment for environmental services.

A simple, clear and precise discussion of the global carbon trading market, how it works, the issues involved, and what this might mean for landholders and leaseholders in northern Australia is required.

A scoping document that considers the global carbon market, the requirements of potential buyers, and current environmental information and issues, will enable informed discussion by members of the northern Australian community. It will also allow identification of the key research questions to address in order to implement carbon sequestering regimes in different areas.


Dr David Garnett
Tropical Savannas CRC
Tel: 08 8946 7101

Fax: 08 8946 7107

Charles Darwin University