Imagine a time when our region is a world leader in helping individuals, big businesses, and perhaps entire sectors to offset their carbon footprint. Where more jobs are created, trees are planted, wildlife habitats are restored, traditional Aboriginal land management practices are adopted and the highest standard of climate change projects are delivered, creating a sustainable future for all.

Our part of Tasmania has a chance to be a Gold Standard solution for climate security and sustainable development, by leveraging our unique competitive advantages and building our local capacity and capability.

The effects of climate change go beyond the immediate physical impact of natural disasters such as bushfires, drought, and floods – they greatly affect the functioning of our economy and society. We all know someone who has been directly affected by recent natural disasters, and the cost to society overall is huge, with scarce resources being diverted to rebuilding and recovery.

Offsetting carbon refers to the practice of reducing emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. It allows individuals and businesses to “make up for” their emissions, by supporting initiatives which capture carbon or reduce emissions which would otherwise have occurred. Planting trees and maintaining soil health can capture carbon, whereas converting from coal fired power to renewable energy or from petrol to electric vehicles, are examples of reducing future emissions.

Offsetting carbon can be relatively informal, such as supporting a local environmental project, or formal, such as when a company purchases carbon credits through a regulated scheme.

While only some corporations meeting specific thresholds are required by legislation to report their emissions and energy consumption, more and more businesses are looking to quantify and where necessary, offset their emissions voluntarily. Voluntary carbon accounting allows businesses to not only quantify and reduce emissions, but also provides them with opportunities to improve processes, reduce waste, and reduce cost. It can also increase profits, by allowing businesses to market their green credentials or in the case of carbon positive businesses, allowing them to offset the emissions of other businesses around the world and being paid to do so. Voluntary carbon accounting aims to deliver social benefits for local communities but also be as rigorous as regulated reporting guidelines without being as expensive or bureaucratic to set up, allowing a greater range of innovative small-scale projects we can support locally.

Our region’s existing reputation as a “clean, green” part of the world, a ready supply of soil and trees that can be cared for to store carbon and a ready supply of renewable, emissions free energy, sees us ideally placed to lead the world in this space.

The opportunity is real, and regional and rural Australia already plays a key role in reducing or offsetting emissions. The Australian Government’s Emissions Reduction Fund pays businesses to offset emissions, and most of the abatement under the scheme relates to vegetation projects. Last year, 50% of all abatement came from ten regions, however despite our large expanses of relatively unpopulated land, neither our region nor Tasmania as a whole, was among them.

Increasingly, governments and investors are setting strategies to align with net-zero emissions targets and we’ve never had a better chance to make a greener world. COVID-19 has delivered unusual environmental benefits including cleaner air, lower emissions, and reduced impacts of wildlife habitat. Now is the time for our region to capitalise on this moment.

Running a business is already busy enough and carbon accounting is a complex area. There is a lot of jargon, too many different websites, and no well-resourced coordinated state-wide framework or approach.

With expertise in natural resource management (NRM) and economic development as well as strong links to government and the University of Tasmania, CCA will continue to explore this further with our Member Councils and other partners. We will also walk the talk, by measuring our own carbon footprint. It is the private sector that really makes things happen though, so what we’re most interested in, is hearing about how they imagine the future, and what we can do to help.

A partnership between CCA and the University of Tasmania supporting a new PhD candidate, Samuel Hong, will be a useful first step. Working closely with our NRM and economic development staff, Samuel will spend the next three years developing a framework to help businesses adopt socially responsible and environmentally sustainable practices aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, aimed at addressing climate change and gaining a competitive advantage.

Claire Smith, CPA and Director Strategic Services at the Cradle Coast Authority