The Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI) and Biodiversity Fund, two new Australian government initiatives, could help private landholders generate income while benefiting both climate change abatement and biodiversity management. However, there are important issues that need to be considered when designing programs to stimulate these initiatives.
Given that 60% of Australia is privately owned and managed, the practices that landholders implement will play a significant role in determining the sustainability of landscape management. To launch any successful land management activities, farmers and landholders need to be considered as the change agents; they are the ones who will set up conservation practices in their private properties, and go beyond “business as usual”.
Consider landholders' morals and values
We don’t know much about the social and cultural values that drive farmers to plant trees on private land, when they could potentially be using that land for agricultural purposes. By social and cultural values, we mean those that are not financially triggered, but that are preservation morals and aesthetics. This means that landowners are not just responding to the market signals to make more money. They also aim to pursue their moralistic and naturalistic values.
Social and cultural factors have the ability to influence these market approaches to emissions abatement and biodiversity management, yet they are often overlooked in the design of programs.
I believe studying such drivers can make bio-sequestration projects and biodiversity conservation programs more successful. It is essential to undertake a detailed study of the social and cultural drivers behind bio-sequestration projects on private land, as landholders’ attitudes will potentially affect the success of these projects. The allocated research budget in CFI could help conduct such studies and deliver enhanced outcomes.
Biodiversity Fund can provide additional incentives
Establishing new plantations or maintaining already planted ones takes both time and money. Water availability and cost, seedlings, labour and fencing are among the expenses to set up the carbon plantings. Undertaking the seven step CFI methodology process is time consuming for landowners, using time they could otherwise focus on the future of their farm businesses.
Considering a cost-benefit context, if the carbon credits issued under CFI are not traded, there is always a risk of such plantations being sold in a much more appealing timber market instead of the biodiverse carbon market. It’s in the interests of CFI to offset expenses so farmers don’t have to recoup their money this way.
The Biodiversity Fund can compensate farmers for some of the carbon forest establishment expenses. In addition, it can secure the plantings are kept as permanent carbon sinks. As an incentive, the Biodiversity Fund can help private landholders undertake biodiverse carbon plantings to add value to the carbon sink and restore their landscape.
According to my personal communication with Corey Watts from The Climate Institute, around 1,500 applicants submitted to the Biodiversity Fund. Around a third of them indicated they were interested in participating in the CFI as well. This shows there is a prospect to attract more people in environmental plantings if they are given more information about the existing opportunity of the Biodiversity Fund. We need to make sure farmers know their application for carbon planting will not affect their Biodiversity Fund approval.
Helping landholders deal with uncertainties
There are some uncertainties about the potential risks for the carbon plantations. As an example, Victoria is among the most bushfire prone areas of the world. There is the constant fear of carbon plantings being burnt down and the integrity of scheme being put at risk. Once the fire burns down plantations there is a re-establishment gap for the trees; this makes the situation even more uncertain for landowners.
Buying insurance for carbon plantations in addition to planting fire-adapted native trees can help. There are some insurance companies currently active in the field of forest carbon, offering various levels of cover, and reducing uncertainty about fire. Insurance is an extra cost, but the additional incentive from Biodiversity Fund can cover some of it.
Landholders need to be well informed that native biodiverse plantations are more fire resistant than monocultures¹. Furthermore, native trees that are well adapted to the fire regimes can survive better; that needs to be considered while choosing species for carbon plantations. The role of easily available information for landholders is crucial in effectiveness of such initiatives.
To date, most plans for getting farmers involved in the Carbon Farming Initiative have relied on the financial incentive of carbon credits. But when farmers decide what to do with their land, they think about many more things than money. Considering their values, and ways to reduce uncertainty, could make expanding the CFI far more successful.
- Kapambwe, M. and R. Keenan (2009). Biodiversity Outcomes from Carbon Biosequestration, Department of Sustainability & Environment.