The recently-commenced project Coastal Carbon Opportunities: demonstrating additionality and potential for future offsets in South Australia will see a multidisciplinary research team working to determine the value of the state's coastal carbon ecosystem.
The Goyder Institute for Water Research project team, led by Professor Bronwyn Gillanders of the University of Adelaide, includes representatives of South Australian industry and government bodies, such as SA Water and the Environment Protection Authority, as well as both South Australian (University of Adelaide & CSIRO) and interstate research institutes (Edith Cowan University). The project is also receiving collaborative support from DEWNR.
Coastal carbon ecosystems (seagrass, mangrove and saltmarsh) have carbon sequestration rates and storage periods much greater than many terrestrial ecosystems. Degradation and loss of coastal carbon ecosystems decreases the carbon storage capacity of the coastal carbon ‘sink’ and results in emissions of CO2; whereas habitat rehabilitation, restoration and creation have the potential to increase carbon capture and storage into coastal ecosystems, mitigate climate change, support a carbon crediting system and provide numerous co-benefits (ecosystem services).
Although coastal carbon ecosystems are recognised as valuable for both carbon sequestration and provision of ecosystem services in South Australia, several key knowledge gaps and areas of uncertainty remain. There is a need for regionally-relevant data on carbon stocks and sequestration rates from different coastal carbon systems, which can then be used in carbon offsetting and crediting systems. Information on the impact of ecosystem health and restoration on carbon sequestration and storage into South Australian coastal carbon systems is also not available. This lack of data is currently a barrier to the adoption of a framework in South Australia that allows coastal carbon to contribute to Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) offsetting scheme.
"Our research focuses on demonstrating additionality, i.e. increased sequestration of carbon, and potential for future offsets from coastal ecosystems," Professor Gillanders said. "We will estimate baseline carbon stocks and carbon storage dynamics at case study sites within South Australian coastal carbon ecosystems - baseline information is essential for determining net gains and losses in carbon storage. The data we collect from South Australian systems can be used to test existing and new Emission Reduction Fund methodologies. It will also facilitate access to carbon credits through offsetting schemes by delivering regionally-relevant values for carbon sequestration and storage, which are not currently available for South Australian coastal carbon systems. As such, our research will help to enable future carbon offsets from coastal environments and provide scientific knowledge to support policy objectives around the State’s Carbon Neutral Adelaide (2020) and Net Zero Emissions by 2050 targets."
The research team will undertake three case studies in different coastal carbon ecosystems that will provide information on gains and losses of carbon associated with management, restoration and revegetation, as well as assessing the potential for co-benefits (ecosystem services) from healthy coastal carbon ecosystems. The regionally-relevant data that the Goyder Institute's research generates will contribute to a strategic approach for coastal carbon options across South Australia.
"We hope that this will then facilitate the South Australian Government and businesses to take advantage of future Emissions Reduction Funds to purchase coastal carbon credit units," Professor Gillanders said. "The results from our research project will be available for use in determining the optimal mix of carbon credits for the State, with coastal carbon likely to contribute significantly to targets for Carbon Neutral Adelaide and Net Zero Emissions by 2050."
This research project will provide evidence-based, robust estimates of the societal and financial value of South Australia's coastal carbon ecosystems. Through case studies, the researchers will demonstrate the suitability of coastal carbon ecosystem restoration activities in South Australia to fit within the policy context of Emission Reduction Funds.
Understanding the link between coastal management activities and their impact on carbon emissions will also help identify future high priority areas for restoration and conservation in South Australian coastal regions. The project outputs will support the development of methods for assessing coastal carbon stocks and their inclusion into financial models that can support South Australia’s carbon neutral initiatives; placing South Australia at the forefront of national efforts to incorporate coastal carbon into carbon trading schemes.
The outputs will also improve the business case for long-term climate change adaptation options, such as protection of infrastructure from sea level rise, by demonstrating short-term benefits of these actions through revenue streams associated with coastal ecosystem preservation or restoration.