The Australia clause and REDD: a cautionary tale

Abstract

If a binding agreement can be reached on a post-2012 international climate regime, it is likely to include the phased introduction of a market-linked mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries (REDD). Under such a scheme, countries that reduce net REDD emissions below a pre-set baseline would receive credits that could be sold in carbon markets and used by purchasing nations to meet their international mitigation obligations. This paper draws on the Australian experience with deforestation to identify some of the issues that might obstruct progress on REDD. For the past 20 years, Australia has had the highest rate of deforestation in the developed world; ~416,000 ha of forests were cleared annually between 1990 and 2009, resulting in the emission of almost 80 MtCO2-e/yr. It is also the only developed country that will rely on reduced deforestation emissions as the primary way of meeting its quantified emissions target under the Kyoto Protocol. Australia’s approach to deforestation issues provides valuable insights into the difficulties an international REDD scheme might encounter.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Decision 1/CP.13 (FCCC/CP/2007/6/Add.1).

  2. 2.

    Decision 4/CP.15 (FCCC/CP/2009/11/Add.1); and Decision 1/CP.16 (FCCC/CP/2010/7/Add.1). See also the Copenhagen Accord, reproduced in Decision 2/CP.15 (FCCC/CP/2009/11/Add.1).

  3. 3.

    Deforestation emissions estimates are ‘net’ (they include removals from regrowth on deforested land units) unless otherwise stated.

  4. 4.

    This type of scenario is usually described as ‘business-as-usual’ (BAU). In the context of deforestation emission projections, the Australian Government defines BAU differently; as emissions in the absence of any policy measures (i.e. not only those motivated by climate concerns). To avoid confusion, the Australian Government’s definition of BAU has been adopted in this article.

  5. 5.

    Other countries employed similar tactics in relation to mitigation targets and the LULUCF accounting rules. See Löschel and Zhang 2002; Babiker et al. 2002; McKibbin and Wilcoxen 2002; Fry 2002; and Höhne et al. 2007.

  6. 6.

    Australian land law is based on the doctrine of tenure, under which the government (or Crown) is the ultimate owner of all land and grants interests to private citizens from this underlying ‘radical title’. These interests can be either freehold (typically assumed to be the equivalent of full ownership) or leasehold (usually time limited and requiring the payment of periodic rent) estates. In Queensland, leasehold dominates in western agricultural areas, while freehold is the primary form of tenure in eastern agricultural and urban areas.

  7. 7.

    The Australian Government’s line on this issue has not been consistent. In some instances, it has attributed the decline solely to government action, in others it has acknowledged the role of climatic and market forces (see AGO 2005a,22006a; ADCC 2008a,b,c; Wong 2008a,b; ADCCEE 2011a).

  8. 8.

    Eastern and southern Australia experienced drought conditions for much of the 2000s and 2006 was a particularly dry year in New South Wales (ABOM 2007a,b,2010).

  9. 9.

    BAU is defined for these purposes as emissions in the absence of any policy measures. ‘With measures’ refers to emissions taking into account any policies that have an impact on emissions trends.

  10. 10.

    The Government has not justified the different treatment of the pre- and post-2003 clearing laws in its projections. One possible explanation is that it does not believe the pre-2003 reforms had any impact on deforestation.

  11. 11.

    The 1990, 2008 and 2009 deforestation emissions estimates in Fig. S5 are from Australia’s Kyoto accounts. For the period 1991–2007, UNFCCC reported deforestation emissions were adjusted downward by 10% to account for the differences between UNFCCC and Kyoto accounting (ADCCEE 2011a,b).

  12. 12.

    NCAS was chosen by the Clinton Climate Initiative for its forest carbon measurement program and was awarded the 2008 Australian Museum Eureka Prize for Environmental Research and the 2008 CSIRO Partnerships Excellence Award.

  13. 13.

    Preliminary estimates (typically covering the most recent two years) have been removed to provide a more accurate picture of the variability in the published estimates.

  14. 14.

    The 2003 estimate was excluded because it is the same as the 2004 estimate. Preliminary estimates have been removed.

  15. 15.

    Transparency issues associated with NCAS have also been noted in reviews of Australia’s inventory submissions under the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol (UNFCCC Secretariat 2009a,b).

  16. 16.

    The sense of grievance felt by farmers over the land clearing laws was magnified by native title reforms of the 1990s and a water reform process initiated in 1994, both of which were perceived by farmers as eroding their interests in land and water resources.

  17. 17.

    Spencer v Commonwealth of Australia [2010] HCA 28.

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to Dr Phil Gibbons, Deb Wilkinson, Dr Richard Denniss and Leigh Thomas for their comments and feedback on an earlier draft of this paper. Any errors remain the responsibility of the author.

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Macintosh, A. The Australia clause and REDD: a cautionary tale. Climatic Change 112, 169–188 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-011-0210-x

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Keywords

  • Kyoto Protocol
  • Deforestation Rate
  • Crown Cover
  • Commitment Period
  • Australian Experience