SOUTHERN Rangelands and Goldfields pastoralists will soon join Eastern States carbon farmers accessing what is left of the Federal $2.55 billion Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) and $2b Climate Solutions Fund created in February.
After two and half years working though issues, the State government last week authorised Lands Minister Ben Wyatt to sign approvals on its behalf, as land owner, for specific carbon farming native vegetation regeneration projects, registered with the Clean Energy Regulator (CER), on pastoral leases.
The move clears the way for 43 Human Induced Regeneration (HIR) carbon farming projects already underway on Southern Rangelands and Goldfields pastoral leases - registered and provisionally contracted by the CER over the past 18 months to two years - to be issued with tradable Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs) accrued to date and into the future as they are earned.
Redeeming ACCUs for the nominated carbon abatement contract price with the ERF, or selling privately as offset credits for industrial businesses producing high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, could begin generating $150,000-$200,000 additional income a year within three months for pastoralists with large scale HIR projects already started, according to Select Carbon, an environmental services company which helped develop the projects.
The 43 rangelands HIR projects involve removing grazing livestock from degraded sensitive areas by fencing or defined stock management techniques and allowing those areas to regenerate, which sequesters carbon in vegetation and soil.
Pastoralists are required to demonstrate to the CER, as part of the assessment process, their pastoral lease was previously degraded by grazing and lack of environmentally sustainable land management practises.
As projects progress, with areas of leasehold destocked and regeneration starting to occur, pastoralists can now apply for ACCUs in line with the tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent greenhouse gases their projects are deemed to have mitigated.
The State government claimed Rangelands carbon farming projects Mr Wyatt can now sign off on have contracted more than five million tonnes of carbon abatement, which will provide about $70m via the ERF to pastoralists over the 25-year life of projects, based on current ACCU value.
A further 15mt of abatement is expected to be sold directly to major greenhouse gas emitters required to purchase carbon offsets under the ERF's safeguard mechanism, the government claimed.
Since the first carbon farming projects in Australia were contracted by the CER in 2015, the ERF has paid out $564m for ACCUs, mostly to Queensland pastoralists who have grabbed 43 per cent.
Western Australian leasehold pastoralists were eligible to register projects and sign provisional contracts with the CER, but up until last week were denied access to ACCUs because carbon abatement contracts required written approval for projects from all "interest holders" listed on the property title.
This included approval from mortgage holders and banks with a claim on a title and the State government as land owner.
Authority for Mr Wyatt to sign approvals for HIR projects on Southern Rangelands and Goldfields pastoral leases has removed that roadblock, allowing pastoralists in those regions access to Federal and industry funding for carbon farming via accumulating and selling ACCUs.
Mr Wyatt's project approval signature will be subject to State requirements beyond existing CER requirements.
The government claims its requirements are aimed at enabling growth of a "carbon farming industry", promoting co-existence with mining and protecting native title rights and interests.
A pastoralist seeking approval for a project must demonstrate engagement with registered native title body corporates, while mining leases, State agreement areas and pending mining, general purpose or miscellaneous licenced areas will be excluded from HIR project areas.
The State government will consider compensating mining companies for potential loss of access to areas being regenerated, but Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan indicated last week it considered the amount of compensation was likely to be "negligible".
Future State approval will also depend on results of a rolling five-year review of HIR carbon farming implementation, with input from stakeholders.
Ms MacTiernan said access to ACCUs could provide pastoralists "with a new revenue stream" while they allowed areas of leases to regenerate.
She said this was likely to encourage further participation, with the amount of carbon contracted to be sequestered in the Southern Rangelands and Goldfields expected to jump from 20 million tonnes to more than 100mt "in a very short period".
"This is very exciting, we will see over 800 million hectares of rangelands regenerated through this process," Ms MacTiernan said.
"While it regenerates land that since the 1930s has been going backwards, it also helps pastoralists deal with the consequences of a hotter and drier climate that has made it harder and harder for them to make ends meet.
"This is a game changer, it will allow the rangelands to have a solid pathway to recovery and help us all deal with some of these issues of climate change.
"The key is having the resources to be able to keep stock out of those areas to be regenerated.
"We know that many of these pastoralists are not the kings in grass castles - having been out to these stations, I can tell you it's a pretty tough life.
"We also know that business as usual on the Southern Rangelands is not going to cut the mustard.
"If we want sustainability, both economically and ecologically, we need some intervention," she said.
Ms MacTiernan said one of her particular areas of interest with HIR projects was to see how cell fencing to keep stock out of regenerating areas worked in conjunction with vermin-proof fencing already carried out or planned to keep wild dogs out of the Southern Rangelands and Goldfields.
Agricultural scientist and chief executive officer of Select Carbon, Dean Revell, described the government's move as a "win, win situation".
"It (carbon sequestration) doesn't have to displace what you did before (breeding and raising cattle), it's not what you do, so much as how you do it," Mr Revell said.
"For livestock managers, if they alter their management to become much more flexible, adaptive, innovative and creative, they can build a better livestock business and bring in a diversified income stream with Federal and State help.
"They (carbon sequestration and raising cattle) align beautifully when the management strategies are well designed.
"You are getting a more productive animal - animals that move in that way (rotational or controlled grazing where livestock move from water point to water point before areas around each water point are eaten out) have a better diet, they are getting a higher level of nutrition.
"So you get a better animal and a better landscape, they're not competing and the additional income (from selling ACCUs) is a reward for changed management," he said.
Debbie Dowden from Challa station, between Mt Magnet and Sandstone, said income from the sale of ACCUs would enable her and husband Ashley - a fifth-generation family pastoralist on Challa - to employ a person to help fence off areas set aside for regeneration and with other works like contour banking to slow surface run off so it can soak in when it does rain.
"Our property is rated for 20,000 sheep or 2000 cattle and we're running 100 breeders (Droughtmaster cattle) on the property, so that will help the environment as well," Ms Dowden said.
"We've made some changes to our watering points, we've taken out some windmills and destocked areas and put in new water points away from the carbon areas to encourage the stock to stay away, but in time we'll fence the carbon areas and the infrastructure will be improved significantly," she said.