Carbon Trading and Biodiversity Credits

Conservation biology began life as a crisis discipline, its central tenet to understand and help reverse losses of biodiversity and habitat (Armsworth et al 2007) . Those losses of biodiversity and habitat continue today, implying that conservation biology is not achieving its central aim. New tools for protecting habitat and biodiversity are urgently required if these losses are to be halted.

Carbon trading is an administrative approach used to control carbon emissions by providing economic incentives for achieving reductions in the emissions of carbon. Carbon trading was introduced as part of the Kyoto Protocol's goal to reduce industrial nations' greenhouse gas emissions to below 1990 levels by 2012. The idea was that countries whose emissions fall under the emissions cap - the permitted level of CO2 equivalent emissions per year - could then sell those carbon credits to countries who are not able to meet their own caps.

An article in the June 2008 issue of Conservation Biology - Using Carbon Investment to Grow the Biodiversity Bank (Bekesy and Wintle 2008) - contains a novel and exciting proposal for halting biodiversity losses through a capped carbon trading regime. The authors propose simply that:

...investors should be allowed to reap the dual benefits of carbon and biodiversity credits from one parcel of land and those credits could later be traded on the relevant markets.

This is proposed as a response to the current approaches to carbon emissions offsetting which rely largely on investment in monoculture plantations. The authors go on to say that:
[the proposed scheme is] ...more robust to uncertainty about carbon sequestration and is guaranteed to have broad environmental benefits, including restoration of degraded natural systems and endangered species habitats. The proposed scheme provides a mechanism for investing in the world's most threatened ecosystems that makes carbon, biodiversity, and financial sense.

This is topical at the moment due to a convergence of a number of powerful factors: In 2007 Rupert Murdoch declared that News Corporation would be carbon neutral across all of its businesses by 2010, committing to reducing and offsetting its greenhouse gas emissions. This follows commitments by the World Bank Group, Formula One, and VirginBlue, among other large economic interests. On 30 April 2007 Australia's Commonwealth, State and Territory Governments commissioned an independent study by Professor Ross Garnaut into the impacts of climate change on the Australian economy. The Garnaut Review's Final Report is due on 30 September 2008, with a Draft Report due by 30 June 2008. The review will recommend medium to long-term policies and policy frameworks to improve the prospects for sustainable prosperity. The New Zealand Government currently has a bill for emissions trading schemes before a select committee. Various reports by a range of groups support the scheme but differ in opinion as to how it should be implemented, and the proposed bill appears to currently be stalled in parliament without sufficient votes to pass in it's current form.

The Garnaut Climate Change Review's approach to climate change mitigation was initially set out in the Interim Report released in February 2008. That report stated that:

Australia must now put in place effective policies to achieve major reductions in emissions. The emissions trading scheme (ETS) is the centre-piece of a domestic mitigation strategy.
That proposed ETS was described in a discussion paper released in March 2008. Public forums on the Draft Report will be held in a number of capital cities across Australia from 7 to 11 July 2008. This presents an valuable opportunity for ecological practitioners and concerned persons to make their voices heard in these important discussions. These public forums appear to be an ideal place for the powerful idea of biodiversity credits tied to carbon trading to be raised and debated in public. EIANZ members are encouraged to use their voices and expertise to shape these pieces of legislation with the potential to reverse some of the sustained environmental damage that has occurred over the last few decades.

References:

Armsworth PR, Chan KMA, Daily GC, Ehrlich PR, Kremen C, Ricketts TH, Sanjayan MA (2007) Ecosystem-Service Science and the Way Forward for Conservation Conservation Biology 21 (6), 1383-1384.

Bekesy and Wintle (2008) Using Carbon Investment to Grow the Biodiversity Bank Conservation Biology 22 (3), 510-513

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