Councillor speaks out against carbon offset proposal


Howard Salkow

Senior Journalist

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Douglas Shire Councillor Michael Kerr
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At Tuesday’s open session of Council, a proposal to participate in a carbon off-setting partnership with Qantas Future Planet, GreenCollar and Tourism Port Douglas Daintree (TPDD) will be presented to Councillors.

But before being tabled, it has already raised the ire of Councillor Michael Kerr who said in a statement online today that he did not believe this is the appropriate time to be mitigating carbon/reef offsets at ratepayer expense in the financial climate we are in.

A carbon offset is a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases made in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. Offsets are measured in tonnes of carbon dioxide-equivalent.

According to Council’s report, the partnership enables Council to become carbon neutral by purchasing premium carbon offsets located in Rawbelle, Queensland.

“Once this is achieved the partnership will encourage local businesses, particularly tourism operators, to join the partnership and offset their carbon footprint through the scheme.

“This is a carbon offset and marketing opportunity aimed at promoting the Douglas Shire as a sustainable tourism destination.”

In arguing against this, which would allow council to spend a non-declared sum of ratepayer money to “brand” themselves in this joint venture, Cr Kerr questioned the timing.

“Tourism is down; employment is down; the future of the Mossman Mill is unknown; around 20 per cent of our residential properties are on the market; and the Shire is still rebuilding from amalgamation and de-amalgamation,” he said.

Cr Kerr said these ratepayer funds would then feed through these companies to be offset in a location 15,00km away from Douglas, Rawbelle in the North Burnett Regional Council, about 450km inland of Bundaberg.

“It will enhance their economy and improve their actual environmental position. All we will receive is the goodwill branding for tourism on a website funded and maintained by Tourism Port Douglas Daintree, our tourism body, which ratepayers also contribute to,” he said.

The proposal, which will be presented to the Councillors, involves:

  • Joining the Healthy Reef Partnership for a three-year term
  • Bringing Council’s carbon footprint up to a standard in line with the National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS)
  • Committing to carbon mitigation projects which will reduce Council’s carbon footprint; and
  • Investigating carbon offset projects located within the Douglas Shire.

The Council report says for it to credibly claim it is carbon neutral; it will need to bring its footprint up to a standard in line with the National Carbon Offset Standard (NCOS).

“This process will increase Council’s existing carbon footprint due to the addition of components such as paper use and employee commute.

“The NCOS standard also stipulates that the carbon footprint should be reduced as much as possible, which involves investing in carbon mitigation projects, e.g. solar projects.”

But Cr Kerr says while it’s admirable to go green where ever possible, he questions whether it should not start in our own back yard first by reducing our carbon outputs to as low as we actually physically can.

He raises the following:

  • Have we reduced our actual carbon output to as low as we can before going into offsetting …no we have not?
  • Has the community been consulted in entering this three-year contract? … no, they have not.
  • Is this a transparent transaction so that the community is aware of costs involved? … no, they are not.
  • Is this what the community want spent with their rates or would they rather see more local projects to better our shire which can also benefit our reef?

“We can be clean and green, but it and other projects need to be in an appropriate location and at the appropriate cost to our ratepayer,” he says.

In their report Council lists a number of sustainability implications:

  • Economic: The partnership will be the first of its kind in Australia and will provide marketing and branding opportunities for our tourism industry.
  • Environmental: The Colodan Reef carbon offsets will encourage natural regrowth, habitat regeneration, sequester carbon emissions and improve the water quality in the Burnett catchment area.
  • Social: The partnership opportunity has the potential to increase the Douglas Shire’s sustainable tourism credentials and build positive relationships with local businesses and tourism operators.

The report also states that the Colodan Reef Credits are located in the Burrnett Mary catchment area, at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef.

“The Burnett Catchment flows directly through Bundaberg before joining the Coral Sea. Given that water quality benefits are localised, the credits will not improve the condition of the GBR off the coast of Douglas Shire.”

Cr Kerr says the report mentions that the credits that they are buying: 6400 tonnes of Co2 worth, should be sufficient to cover council’s carbon footprint.

“But a full audit will still be required and if we are using more than estimated; there will be additional charges.

“I think it’s worth mentioning that Australia as a whole generates an estimated 420 million tonnes of Co2; Indonesia 487 million tonnes; China 9839 million tonnes, etc.

“So we are not talking an immaculate difference to the world’s carbon outputs, or as the report states, it will not improve the condition of the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Douglas Shire, not so ‘healthy reef partnership’ after all,” says Cr Kerr.

Cr Kerr added that as a Councillor, “every now and then something comes before you in Council that perplexes you and makes you unsure what way you should respond to the matter in front of you due to conflicting beliefs.

“In this case ‘I personally’ don’t believe that this is the appropriate time for this action.”

Read the Council report here

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