A review of Australia’s controversial carbon credit system has recommended significant changes to how it is managed, while dismissing claims the scheme lacks integrity and is not delivering real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

The review, headed by former chief scientist Ian Chubb, rejected a team of academics’ allegations that the nation’s carbon offsets scheme is “largely a sham”.

Last July, the government appointed an independent panel to review the integrity of Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs).

The panel concluded that the ACCU scheme arrangements are “essentially sound”, incorporating mechanisms for regular review and improvement.

However, it recommended a number of changes to clarify governance, improve transparency, facilitate positive project outcomes and co-benefits, and enhance confidence in the integrity and effectiveness of the scheme.

Dubbed the Chubb review, the panel’s report released on Monday called for government agency, the Clean Energy Regulator, to be stripped of some of its roles managing and overseeing the system to “enhance confidence and transparency”.

It also recommended the abolition of the emissions reduction assurance committee, the integrity body responsible for approving the methods used to create carbon credits, The Guardian reported.

The panel noted it should be replaced with a new body — it proposed a carbon abatement integrity committee — that would have increased responsibility and independence.

However, the report rejected allegations from academics that shortcomings in the Emissions Reduction Fund mean more than 70% of carbon credits approved for three popular schemes — avoiding deforestation, human-induced regeneration of native forests and combusting methane from landfills — do not represent genuine emissions abatement.

Elephant in the room

Meanwhile, the Climate Council, Australia’s leading climate change communications non-profit organisation, claimed the review “misses the emissions elephant in the room”.

“To tackle climate change, Australia must genuinely cut emissions… too many major emitters are buying ACCUs so that they can continue to pollute as usual,” the council said.

“Carbon offsets are supposed to be used as a last resort, and only for the small share of emissions that cannot be avoided through process, technology and other operational changes.”

Jennifer Rayner, head of advocacy at the Climate Council, said that companies being able to use “cheap and easy” offsets to write off their emissions simply incentivises Australia’s heavy industry to engage in “tricky carbon accounting” to cover up pollution instead of investing in genuine transformation.

“If this issue is not fixed, big industrial polluters like Woodside, Santos and Chevron will continue to rake in eye-watering profits while worsening climate change, which is supercharging the floods and fires that have ravaged communities across Australia and the world in recent years,” Rayner added.

The Australian Federal Government said it welcomed the final report of the independent review of the ACCUs.

“The government accepts all of the panel’s [16] recommendations in principle. Recognising that these reforms will have implications for a wide range of market participants, government agencies and other stakeholders. We will now work with stakeholders on implementation, including any associated legislative amendments,” the government said in a statement.

Carbon credits are issued for projects that use government-approved methods to sequester or avoid greenhouse gas emissions, with one carbon credit representing a tonne of CO2.

Australia’s Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen, who had pledged to review the ACCU system before last year’s general election, this week said there was “absolutely” a link between the warming planet and the recent record floods in several states.

The Chubb Review found the ACCU scheme launched 12 years ago was “fundamentally well-designed when introduced”.

“However, in recent times, the integrity of the scheme has been called into question — it has been argued that the level of abatement has been overstated, that ACCUs are therefore not what they are meant to be, so that the policy is not effective,” the report said.

The nation’s Labor government has pledged to reduce national greenhouse gas emissions by 43% by 2030 and to achieve net zero by 2050.

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