Carbon trading cash cow

Emissions scheme may inject $109m into region's economy, scientists say.
Emissions scheme may inject $109m into region's economy, scientists say.

THE introduction of an emissions trading scheme would boost the Northern Rivers economy by at least $109 million, primarily through the agricultural, tourism and fishing industries, a group of Lismore scientists has said.

Dr Kevin Glencross and David Pont, who both contributed to areport by scientists working with the private company, Water and Carbon Group, said investingpublic funds generated through a carbon trading system would have a radical impact on the health of the Richmond River system.

“We calculate that using carbon funds to reinstate natural vegetation across 10,000ha of priority catchment lands could deliver net benefits worth at least $109 million over 25 years in carbon and commercial fisheries income, for aninitial investment of about $22 million,” Dr Glencross said.

The scientists said the investment would deliver dividends for local farmers, who could earn money by regenerating unproductive land on acid sulphate floodplains.

“Well-designed native forests can be extremely productive in these landscapes,” Dr Glencross said.

“We estimate that even with a moderate carbon price of $20 a tonne local farmers stand to earn $8300 a hectare over the 25 years from establishing a wetland forest ecosystem.”

Restoring those systems would put an end to post-flood fish kills – caused as de-oxygenated ‘blackwater’ runs from the acid sulphate soils of floodplains into the rivers, such as one in 2008 that killed about 300 tonnes of fish.

“In the past, higher water tables and wetland vegetation created a barrier between the acid sulphate soils and the floodwater, and kept the chemically reactive soils stable,” Mr Pont said.

“Restoring the function of wetland vegetation on the most affected land could reduce the risk not only of the huge fish kills, but also the lower level impacts from polluted groundwater leaching.”

The scientists said ending fish kills would make a big difference to the $15.2 million local commercial fishing industry and the recreational fishing industry. In the commercial sector alone, not taking intoaccount future price rises for fish, the change would be worth about $50 million over 25 years, they said.

Economist James Bentley praised the proposal.

“Environmental problems are usually viewed as costs,” he said. “Here is a great example how environmental restoration represents a substantial economic opportunity.”

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