Frequently Asked Questions
What is carbon sequestration?
What are carbon credits (ACCUs)?
What is TreeChange?
What’s happening at Carriage Range (Bindi)?
Is this legitimate?
How is my carbon cancelled?
How many trees need to be planted to cancel my carbon?
Are all the trees planted expected to survive?
Am I actually purchasing something (i.e. an asset, carbon credit, etc.)?
Are the trees planted protected?
What happens if there is a fire?
Is my sponsorship tax deductible?
Will I receive anything?
Can I visit the project?
Can I volunteer?
How can I ask another question?
In order to explain how carbon sequestration works, and how it applies to cancelling your carbon, we need to revise a little bit of high school chemistry, physics and biology. To kick off our discussion, let’s start with something we all use everyday: water.
A Little Bit Of Chemistry
Here are two observations:
Observation #1: Water, as you’re no doubt aware, exists in liquid form (that you drink and swim in), solid form (ice that you pop in drinks to keep them cool), and also as a gas (steam in the sauna).
Observation #2: A water molecule, (H2O) is made up of two hydrogen atoms, and one oxygen atom.
Putting both observations together, we can say that the molecules of water, hydrogen and oxygen, can exist in three different states: as a liquid (water), as a solid (ice) and as a gas (steam).
Carbon is the same! It can exist in a solid state (most life forms on Earth have a carbon base), in gas form (like in carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, etc.), and in rare instances, it can also exist in a liquid state.
A Little Bit Of Physics
Physics explains that it is possible for a molecule’s state to change, usually when they are heated or cooled. For example, when you boil water it turns to steam, or when you put water in the freezer, it turns to ice.
Once again, carbon is the same. Let’s use a camp fire to illustrate the point.
The wood of a tree is carbon in a solid state. When you burn it in a campfire heat is released, which is great for toasting marshmallows and keeping you nice and warm, but from a scientific point of view, what’s happening is a chemical reaction as the molecules that make up the wood (carbon, hydrogen and oxygen) combust and change state into gases (principally carbon dioxide).
Carbon dioxide is called a greenhouse gas because it rises into the atmosphere where it absorbs and re-emits infrared radiation (i.e. trapping in heat kind of like a cloudy night after a hot day) and contributes to making the planet warmer.
A Little Bit Of Biology
So far we’ve covered how carbon can change from a solid (e.g. wood) into a gas (e.g. carbon dioxide), but can carbon also change state from a gas to a solid? Yes, it can!
Nature has provided us with an amazing natural ‘air purifier’ called photosynthesis where plants ‘breathe in’ carbon dioxide, ‘breathe out’ oxygen, and ‘store’ carbon as sugar to enable future growth, and also as part of the plant’s structure.
The bigger the plant, the more carbon it has stored, which is why trees are sometimes called ‘carbon batteries’.
Sequestration means to remove or exile, so carbon sequestration is the process of removing (i.e. taking) carbon from the air, and exiling (i.e. storing) it in solid form.
One way that carbon can be sequestered is by planting trees. How? Well, as trees photosynthesise they take (i.e. sequester) carbon dioxide from the air, then store the carbon and release the oxygen. In other words, trees are like carbon batteries. The more trees that are planted, the more carbon is sequestered, especially during the early life of a tree when it is in ‘max growth’ phase.
A brief history of climate policy in Australia is needed to understand how carbon credits came to be.
The Politics of Climate Change
Australia has a bit of a messy history when it comes to how we’ve tackled the issue of climate change. This is because it’s difficult to navigate the medium to long-term needs of the environment and future generations, with the immediate needs of people, particularly those who rely on industries that emit a lot of carbon dioxide for their livelihood, politicians who want to stay in power, and those who think climate change is a sham.
Historically, emitting carbon was free, which meant there was a consequence (i.e. climate change), but no direct financial cost (i.e. price to emit), and no incentive to reduce the amount of carbon that is consumed, other than those seeking to ‘do the right thing’. Perhaps think of it this way: if electricity was free, how much more of it would you consume, and why would you bother turning the lights off if you didn’t have to?
Put simply, the challenge to be solved is this: what (if any) price do we put on carbon, and if we do introduce a cost, who should pay?
Perhaps you’re wondering, ‘Why not put a price on carbon, kind of like a GST, so that those who use more, end up paying more, with the revenue raised going to environmental projects, and with the cost being an incentive to emit less?’
Good idea! Unfortunately, Liberal and Labor tried and failed in this space, and the Greens voted against it, because putting a price on carbon will increase the cost of just about everything, while also causing people’s jobs to become uncertain as some industries become less viable.
With no agreement on how to price carbon, and who should pay, the Federal government has come at the problem from a different angle – carbon offsets.
Rather than have a user-pays system (like we have with GST), the Federal (Liberal) Government of the day initiated a taxpayer-pays carbon offset scheme, the ‘currency’ of which is Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs).
Via a giant pool of taxpayer money (called the Emissions Reduction Fund), the Federal Government buys ACCUs from producers, and then retires those ACCUs on behalf of the citizens of Australia as part of its climate change endeavours. Alternatively (and more and more so), organisations are voluntarily buying ACCUs from producers as part of their ‘green credentials’ and to demonstrate their good corporate status.
(If you’re wondering if people seem to be still paying for carbon emissions – not just their own but industry’s too – indirectly, and in a not-very-transparent manner, while also allowing inefficient industries to persist rather than changing or evolving, you’re right, but that’s politics for you.)
How are ACCUs produced? There are a number of different methods permitted by specially designed legislation, including changing land management practices and reforestation. To receive an ACCU the project must be registered with the government’s watchdog: the Clean Energy Regulator, and be audited to ensure legitimacy.
The project at Bindi is registered with the Clean Energy Regulator (ERF124014).
Like humans, eucalyptus trees (like we plant at Bindi) don’t grow at a constant rate. They enjoy growth spurts when they’re young (years 1 to 10), steady growth as they enter adolescence mature (years 11 to 20), and slow growth thereafter as they mature.
Using Full Carbon Accounting Modelling (FullCAM), the growth rate of trees can be estimated, which is how we’ve estimated we’d need to purchase and plant fifty trees, and nurture them for 10 years, to offset one year of an average Aussie adult’s carbon emissions.
And even if your backyard was big enough to plant fifty trees (every year!), the cost associated with initially registering the project, and then being periodically audited to calculate the number of ACCUs to be issued means that most private individuals won’t be able to independently offset their own carbon emissions by planting their own trees.
However, concerned citizens can still ‘in effect’ cancel their carbon by sponsoring tree-planting projects that are registered with the Clean Energy Regulator (like what TreeChange Australia is doing at Bindi).
Back in 2018, TreeChange Australia (TreeChange) founder Steve McKnight wanted to make a meaningful contribution to land restoration and carbon sequestration.
After researching the matter in depth, McKnight discovered that while there was a mechanism for carbon offsets from forest revegetation, few projects were underway because of the uncertainty associated with the endlessly shifting climate change policies out of Canberra.
Believing that we could no longer wait for politicians to fix the problem, McKnight sought to pioneer a financially and environmentally sustainable model for reforestation projects.
The premise was to acquire land that had been previously cleared, but was not suitable (or no longer suitable) for grazing, cropping or forestry, and to rehabilitate that land via reforestation that would qualify for ACCUs. Those ACCUs could then be sold to pay for the land and tree-establishment costs, and once the trees were established, the land could be sold as ‘tree change’ blocks with the trees protected from being cleared or damaged. Profits would then be directed to purchasing more land, and to pay for more forests to be planted, so the process could be repeated.
The site chosen for TreeChange’s pilot project was ‘Carriage Range’, located in Bindi in north-east Victoria. Bindi is not a town, but rather a hamlet named after the local cattle station (Bindi Station).
Purchased in mid-2018, Carriage Range comprised a total of 572 hectares (1,413 acres), of land, with approximately 330 hectares (815 acres) of land suitable for reforestation. For scale, that is about 11,440 standard house blocks, of which 6,600 house blocks would be reforested.
Planting at the rate of 800 stems per hectare, we ordered 185,000 trees for our inaugural planting, which began in mid 2018 (see below).
Provided at least 60% of the trees planted survived, modelling done by experts predicted that twenty-five years on from planting, the new forest planted at Bindi would have sequestered 174,896 tonnes of carbon, resulting in the issuing of 158,895 ACCUs. Although 1 tonne of carbon sequested = 1 ACCU, the expected carbon abated and expected number of ACCUs TreeChange will receive aren’t exactly the same because of the nuances of the methodology used by the Clean Energy Regulator.
From mid 2018 to mid 2019 there was a lot of pre-planting preparation work that needed to be done. Many hectares had to be ‘ripped’ with a bulldozer so the stems could be planted in soft ground. More than ten kilometres of electrified deer-proof fence had to be constructed. And the weeds on the property, of which there were many, had to be sprayed.
Between August and October 2019, 185,040 trees, being a mix of sixteen different species of eucalypts and acacias, were planted. This was a big task, with a professional planting crew engaged to do the job properly.
Unfortunately, re-establishing a native forest has proven to be much harder than just planting baby trees and letting nature work its magic. Fires, drought, deer, hares, rabbits, weeds, thistles and difficult ground have all impacted the survival of those stems initially planted.
We did a count at approximately nine months after planting, and our survival rates were estimated as follows:
|40 – 65%
Our survival results made for gloomy reflection, however for context we were later told by another organisation with experience in revegetation projects in north east Victoria that they achieved a 10% to 30% survival rate, so given nearly half of our initial planting had survival of 40% or better, our results were not quite as poor as first thought, plus we had one of the worst droughts and fires in memory to contend with.
After making modifications to the timing of the planting, and our planting techniques, 9,880 stems (nine species) were infill planted, primarily in locations with poor survival that could be more easily monitored. Twelve months after planting the survival rates of those areas being closely monitored was an impressive 83%.
Learning from our experiences in 2019 and 2020, we infill planted 34,160 stems across approximately 60 hectares of land initially planted in 2019 that had an estimated survival of <65%. We planted eleven species of eucalypt, and one species of acacia.
Survival estimates to date are encouraging, with growing conditions reported as good.
We have set up a mechanism where you can sponsor us in our reforestation efforts, and in return we’ll allocate a portion of the ACCUs the Bindi site receives to cancel your carbon. Here’s how it works:
- We’ve assumed that the average Aussie adult privately emits 18 tonnes of carbon dioxide each year (living, driving, holidaying, etc.). We’ve assumed a child emits half an adult or 9 tonnes.
- We’ve estimated that to cancel one year of that carbon footprint in full, we would have to purchase and plant 50 trees, and nurture them ten years.
- We’ve estimated that our price to purchase, plant and nurture those 50 trees for ten years equates to a total of $990, which averages out to $1.98 per annum, per tree planted. After ten years the trees will be established and the cost of maintaining them will be met from the ACCUs they produce after year 10 (see below).
- We expect to abate 174,896 tonnes of carbon during the first twenty-five years after planting is completed. This is forecast to result in 158,895 ACCUs being issued over that period. Once received, the first 125,000 ACCUs will be sold to recoup the cost of purchasing land and equipment, establishing and maintaining the project, and to provide capital for future projects and endeavours. Thereafter the balance of ACCUs, if any, from the first twenty-five years (“Surplus ACCUs”), plus any carbon estimated to be sequestered that did not result in an ACCU, will be allocated to cancelling the carbon of sponsors. TreeChange undertakes to cancel or retire any Surplus ACCUs it receives.
- Using the estimated included above, TreeChange understands it has 49,896 tonnes of carbon available (that is, the excess ACCUs above 125,000 and carbon sequestered by the project that will not result in ACCUs) to allocate to offsetting User’s carbon.
- TreeChange will keep an internal register including the names of its Users who sponsor trees, and the equivalent amount of carbon they offset, on the basis that an adult emits 18 tonnes or carbon dioxide, and a child 9 tonnes of carbon dioxide, annually. The register will be kept and updated using on the basis that non-ACCU carbon abatement will be cancelled first, and Surplus ACCUs second.
Yes. The project is registered with the Clean Energy Regulator and to date more than 200,000 trees have been planted. This project is literally ‘in the ground’, with further plantings scheduled for 2022 and 2023 as we open up more country that can be planted, and infill plant in areas where survival has been lower than expected.
The project is expected to qualify for 119,019 ACCUs in the first ten years after planting is completed. While the first 50,000 ACCUs will be sold to recoup land and set up costs, the balance of ACCUs received will be allocated to cancelling the carbon of our sponsors.
We do this by estimating that each adult sponsor emits 18 tonnes of carbon each year, so that means we have a maximum of 3,837 (i.e. 119,019 – 50,000 = 69,019 / 18) years of adult equivalent carbon emissions we can offset.
Assuming a ten year time period, and survival rate of at least 60%, we’ve estimated that fifty trees would need to be initially planted to cancel 100% of one year of an adult’s carbon emissions (estimated to be 18 tonnes per adult per year).
Unfortunately not. The hardiness and vigour of the stem, soil quality, aspect, exposure to sun and wind, etc. are all variables that impact survival. So too is the impact of rainfall, possibility of disease and browser attack, and simply that nature is unpredictable.
Not every tree planted is expected to survive, which is why we overplant in anticipation of some attrition. If we end up with a survival rate higher than expected, we don’t receive any more carbon credits, as the theory is that nature will trim the forest over time to what she can sustain.
No. You are sponsoring us to purchase, plant and nurture trees on your behalf, but not in your name. You will not receive a share of a tree, carbon credit etc.
Yes. There is ‘on-title’ protection of the trees, meaning that future owners of the land will inherit the obligation to care for the trees and not chop them down or damage them.
It’s certainly always a risk in Australia, and if it happened within the first five years of planting, it could be catastrophic to the trees surviving.
Of course, we have a fire management plan in place to do what is humanly possible to protect and minimise the threat and impact of fire.
Please talk to your accountant to confirm whether this is tax deductible for you, however, regardless of the answer, we sincerely hope that you’d choose to play your part and cancel your carbon.
Yes. We will send you a tax invoice recording your sponsorship, and also a certificate of appreciation. We will also add your name to our register of sponsors so we can keep count of how many ACCUs we have available for sponsors (and how many we need to cancel).
Sure! We have dedicated visitor and sponsor days. Please email us and we’ll let you know when the next one is scheduled (weather permitting).
Yes, you can. Please register your interest by clicking this link and completing the form.
If you have a question not answered here then please email it to us.