22 Apr 2020

How carbon offsetting changes lives

Carbon offset projects can be a matter of life and death. About having a school to send your child to or not. About being employed or not knowing where your next income will come from. A long-term carbon offsetting strategy is increasingly important for companies looking to deliver on ambitious carbon targets at the same time as investing in other important ‘co-benefits’. Working with a trusted partner that has deep links to offset projects is critical.

The thought that a lightning strike could set off landscape-wide devastation was not something I truly appreciated until I flew over the Kimberley in WA last September. Following a stormy night, I saw dozens of spot fires dotting the savanna landscape.

But the impact could have been much worse. As was pointed out to me by one of the rangers packed into the tiny ten-seater plane, “Without the ‘cool burning’ we do, this whole landscape would be up in smoke from wildfire”.

Cool burning, or ‘right way fire’ employs ancient Indigenous burning techniques strategically across the landscape to minimise the risk of wildfire raging through fuel-loaded landscapes in dryer months. The emissions avoided from these hot fires count as carbon credits, and are a key part of Australia’s suite of carbon offset projects that are delivering immediate emissions reductions.

But for the rangers, it’s less about the carbon. Instead, these projects are vehicles for enabling people who have been disconnected from their Country for generations to return to their homelands, carry out other traditional ceremony and above all look after the Country that they are so deeply connected to.

Employment is also a major factor. As another ranger put it to me back in 2017, without a job as a ranger conducting right-way-fire, he’d likely be either dead or in jail, such was the predicament facing many people in his community.

For other communities across the world, carbon projects can be a matter of life or death in other ways.

Working through Cambodia and Vietnam, I was fortunate to see the benefits that clean cookstoves and biogas from animal waste can have directly on eliminating energy poverty and reducing respiratory health especially among women. These projects also have significant impacts on gender-based violence by reducing the threat many women face in the day-to-day process of collecting firewood.

In the beautiful remote Nepalese region of Jumla, I was told by apple farmers how important their annual crop was to supporting their children through primary education. Yet, in spending time with them I soon understood how the annual snowfall that was so critical to the maturation of their crop hadn’t fallen for over a decade.

The adaptive solution for these farmers lay in the form of a maturation ‘warehouse’ constructed on the banks of the freezing cold lake in the valley. But for him and his family, it was less about the solution, and more about the security of knowing that the farmer could continue to send his children to school the next term with the income from farming.

These handful of personal experiences point to the power of carbon projects and climate finance in delivering real impact. Coupled with robust accounting principles to ensure their carbon impact is real and additional, these projects are becoming critical to the long-term climate targets being set by the likes of Lion, Qantas, Lendlease and other clients of ours while delivering against other important company plans, including Reconciliation Action Plans or Sustainable Development Goals.

Choosing the right projects and ensuring their credibility, however, can be risky in an opaque market. It points to the need to work with a trusted partner like TEM who have ‘boots on the ground’, deep connections to projects, and decades of experience in validating these important benefits.

In achieving this, more and more companies will see the value of long-term carbon offset strategies, not just for the sake of their own carbon targets, but for improving the lives of the people behind the projects.

Adrian Enright is General Manager Corporate; passionate about surfing, family and the unrelenting quest for a healthier future planet.