Trade-offs between carbon farming and biodiversity

A CEED/NERP workshop (UWA November 2013)

Under the Carbon Farming Futures Programme, rural landholders have the potential to generate carbon credits through activities such as agro-forestry, re-vegetation of land or changed agricultural practices. Each of these activities may have positive or negative effects beyond their intended mitigation of climate change (externalities or co-benefits). For example, tree belts can have a positive impact on crop productivity in neighbouring fields, or native tree plantations can increase the availability of native habitat.

If carbon farming proposals are evaluated only on their carbon mitigation potential, there is a risk that management creates ‘perverse’ outcomes (eg, by supporting activities that have negative impacts on biodiversity). There are many, and often complex, costs and co-benefits that should be taken into account when assessing different carbon farming mitigation options. If we are looking to achieve multi-functional landscapes, we need to assess the carbon mitigation as well as the co-benefits of carbon farming. Unfortunately, there are still many gaps in our understanding about carbon sequestration, the co-benefits provided by carbon farming activities, and the tradeoffs between different impacts.

This workshop, set in the leafy grounds of the University of Western Australia, brought together various players working on this issue from around Australia. We aimed to create valuable collaborations and produce useful research outputs. The workshop drew together ecologists, economists, social scientists, modellers, foresters, policy officers and carbon consultants; all sharing their insights on how farming for carbon and farming for biodiversity can be understood, measured and traded off.

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David Freudenberger (left) discusses lessons learnt on mixing carbon with biodiversity plantings down on the Gondwana Link.

The two days involved brief research presentations and stimulating discussions between the participants. The main themes that emerged from the discussions included the spatial mapping of co-benefits; appropriate mechanisms to incentivise biodiverse carbon farming; an examination of what we’ve learned from the various multi-species planting experiments across Australia; drivers and barriers of participating in carbon farming; the willingness to pay for the multiple benefits of carbon farming practices; defining metrics for measuring biodiversity and carbon values; avoided deforestation as a method to meet national carbon sequestration goals; and the potential role of insurance providers as important players in the voluntary carbon offset market.

Mixed species plantings have been established in many parts of Australia. Some were set up as experimental plantings, some as environmental plantings and others as commercial plantings. The carbon/biodiversity workshop brought together several of the players working in this space. The hope is that their collaboration will fill many of the knowledge gaps identified during the workshop.

Mixed species plantings have been established in many parts of Australia. Some were set up as experimental plantings, some as environmental plantings and others as commercial plantings. The carbon/biodiversity workshop brought together several of the players working in this space. The hope is that their collaboration will fill many of the knowledge gaps identified during the workshop.

Responding to these themes is challenging, not least because they require inter-disciplinary collaboration. Workshops like these are helpful to increase mutual understanding, and can help to develop a shared language required to progress inter-disciplinary research. We formed a number of multi-disciplinary teams that will each work on a theme. Plans were drawn up on how each topic would be tackled over the coming months. In March 2014, there will be a follow-up workshop in Brisbane to further exchange ideas and enable the various projects to be written up.

More info: Marit Kragt marit.kragt@uwa.edu.au

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