Carbon market confidence rises with the run on ACCUs

JB
By Jamie Brown
Updated January 18 2022 - 8:01am, first published 7:34am
Beef producer Chris Duncan, Swan Bay via Coraki on the Richmond, sees agricultural opportunity in carbon farming, provided the ACCU price rises above $80.

To enter a round of carbon farming, like a hand of cards, the player must stump up some cash and other than detailed base-line testing, the next greatest cost involves wire and water.

Regenerative rotational grazing techniques are at the heart of successful carbon farming and for most beef producers used to running livestock on big paddocks, this "entry fee" is enough to put people off the game.

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Richmond River beef producer and retired financial planner Chris Duncan, Swan Bay, is actually ahead of the game in the sense that he has created numerous 2.5 hectare paddocks, all with sound fencing, and has been rotationally grazing for 20 years. All that is lacking are baseline measurements. He believes he can increase carbon content on his floodplain country through direct drilling of pasture to encourage diversity of species.

"When the price of Australia Carbon Credit Units was around $15 a tonne, it wasn't worth investing in new equipment and ways of doing things," says Mr Duncan. "Now that it's up around $50/t it's getting closer but I still need more than $80/t before it's worth my while."

Right now the European market is bidding EU80/t while Canada is promising CAN$170/t by the end of the decade.

Selling on the international market can be more difficult but like any commodity, it makes sense that farmers will sell to the highest bidder - whether that is here or there.

As someone with 26 years experience in the finance industry, Mr Duncan says the carbon market is a generational opportunity for investors, similar in scope to the inauguration of the super fund scheme.

There are already some landmark carbon projects, like New England beef producer Wilmot's deal with Microsoft. Last week the West Australian government announced its funding for the Weelhamby Carbon Project, near the Wheat Belt locality of Perenjori where it is hoped to prove carbon sequestration can co-exist with profitable mixed-farming.

This month in Qld, the Land Restoration Fund is finalising their second round of projects to assist participating landholders with management payments on top of carbon credits.

I still need more than $80/t before it's worth my while.

- CHRIS DUNCAN

In Armidale, New England-based agronomy business Precision Pastures has benefitted from outside investment and will use that new money to hire agronomists, soil and pasture technicians who will help acquire new soil samples as the company accelerates its expansion strategy which already has 150 "first-mover" clients on its books.

Why all the excitement from investors?

According to Nick Stansbury, head of climate solutions at the London firms Legal and General Investment Management, the amount of money at risk of sizzling away from climate change equals $10 trillion with a minimum investment of $30 trillion to stop the warming going beyond two degrees by 2050.

"Climate crisis is an issue of the next 10 years alone."

The longer the delay is making change the more expensive the final tally and his sources estimate that every year of delay adds another $1 trillion - the current Australian deficit - to the cost of the final solution.

Make no mistake - trading carbon is not for the feint hearted.

"Same as with grain the agreement is like a forward contract. There is risk involved. It's no different to any other futures market; you still have to deliver," says natural systems project developer Natalie Hick, based at Rockhampton, Qld.

"In one fell swoop you go from being a regen farmer to a forward contract provider. It's really complex."

Cop26 put the carbon trading market on a firmer footing, with rules stipulating no "double dipping" - those words were often bandied about in Glasgow. When an Australian farmer sells carbon to Europe for double what Australia is offering, those credits will be entered under a global balance.

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Carbon project developer Natalie Hick, Rockhampton, Qld, argues for a carbon market exchange. "The sooner we get transparency the better," she says. Photo: Supplied

To immediately iron out discrepancies about who owns what, Ms Hick - a former Nuffield scholar who studied the global carbon market a decade ago, said there is now an urgent need for the federal government to establish a proper and transparent natural capital exchange.

To begin with there was a model enacted by the Chicago Board of Trade called Chicago Climate Exchange (CCX) which would suit the purpose, argues Ms Hick.

"Having closely observed the volatility of global carbon markets for the past decade, there are learnings from the demise of various exchanges, like CCX, which can be avoided this time around."

"The biggest constraint is that there is no exchange in Australia. The sooner we get transparency the better," she said. "The large corporates in Australia now have a governance obligation to manage their carbon emissions and Australian credits are high quality. The buyer respects our process. They want credits and this demand is forcing up the price.

"A carbon exchange model would encourage stake holder participation in wider markets. It would give this opportunity to more international buyers to purchase ACCUs and you would have a market mechanism that is true," she said.

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"Landholders are enticed by high international prices compared to the ACCU and they shouldn't be demonised for selling credits overseas. It's an economic decision."

Further reading:

JB

Jamie Brown

North Coast reporter

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