LETTER | Questions for Council about carbon offset plan

LETTER TO THE EDITOR

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Dear Editor,

I am questioning whether Council considered the following before agreeing to the Healthy Reef project:

1. What has Council done to ensure its current carbon footprint is minimised?
There is no analysis of this in the report to Council, just some brief reference to “Council’s proposed Corporate Plan for 2019-24” which “articulates a number of strategies”. In other words, there is no actual plan to reduce Council’s actual footprint, BEFORE buying carbon offsets, and no baseline from which to determine how well Council has done in reducing emissions over a period of time.

Q: Do you know what Council’s footprint is currently?

Q: Do you truly understand what Council activities create what level of carbon emissions, and have you been told IN DETAIL how Council is mitigating this?

Q: The report to Council makes brief reference to Risk Management Implications, yet doesn’t explain what it means by “If Council’s annual carbon footprint exceeds 6,400 tonnes of CO2-e in any given year under the partnership term” – do you know what makes up 6,400 tonnes of CO2-e? Do you know how this was derived? Do you actually know what this means?

Q: Does Council demonstrate integrity in its carbon footprint by paying money to someone else somewhere else to make it feel better about what it hasn’t done at home?


2. With reference to the National Carbon Offset Standard for Organisations, there are two “Core Principles” which underpin best practice:


a. Carbon accounting principles: “The carbon account of an organisation must be calculated according to these principles, if seeking to claim carbon neutrality against the Organisation Standard” – with descriptions on Relevance, Completeness, Consistency, Transparency, Accuracy.

b. Offset integrity principles: “organisations seeking to become carbon neutral can use eligible offset units to compensate for emissions that cannot be completely reduced through energy efficiency, the procurement of renewable energy or supply chain management.” There is a key point here – what has Council done to completely reduce its emissions already – if it hasn’t given its best effort to reducing its own emissions, there is a danger that it will rest on its laurels of buying offsets and not tackle the issues in its own back yard.

Q: Have you read the NCOS for Organisations and understand what the Standard means?

Q: Do you understand that the Standard must be applied consistently and fully to be able to claim carbon neutrality?

Q: Are you familiar with the commitment required to become truly carbon neutral?

Q: Have you fully understood that the Standard requires Council to Measure, Reduce, Offset, Report and Audit? Has Council set out a plan for this? For example: “Preparing a carbon account involves the following steps: Step 1: Establish the emissions boundary. Step 2: Catalogue emissions sources within the boundary. Step 3: Set a base year. Step 4: Collect data on identified emissions sources. Step 5: Calculate the total carbon account attributable to the organisation.”

Q: Section 2 of the NCOS is enlightening – have you read this? For your ease, here’s the link: http://www.environment.gov.au/system/files/resources/d24bb1e1-3c93-4a78-98b0-61a8e506821c/files/ncos-organisations.pdf

Q: Do you know what Council’s ‘Carbon Account’ consists of? Do you know that data needs to be collected and reported annually?

Q: Do you know what it is going to cost Council annually (time and resources) to achieve its goal of neutrality – with and/or without the Healthy Reef Project?


3. The Australian Consumer Law applies to any statements made by Council regarding any claim, or marketing, advertising and promotions about its carbon footprint.


Q: Do you realise that any statements Council makes regarding its carbon neutral claim must be mindful of its obligations under Australian Consumer Law?

Q: Do you believe Council can make claims about its footprint accurately and appropriately substantiated, if Council has not got a baseline report about its actual carbon footprint?

Q: Do you believe you have all the information before you to be able to make a truly informed decision about participating in the Healthy Reef Project?

Q: Do you believe that investors and customers (and tourist) would have confidence in Council’s claim for carbon neutrality purely on the basis of Council paying for offsets?

In summary, it seems on face value that Councillors do not have enough information before them to make a fully informed decision about spending ratepayers’ money on a carbon offset project.

To quote the NCOS for Organisations: “Transparency of information is important for maintaining consumer confidence in carbon neutral claims.”

Do you believe that what is before Council today upholds the principles of the Standard, let alone demonstrates that Council has a well-thought through plan for reducing its own emissions before paying someone else to do it for them?

Jeremy Blockey, Cape Tribulation

Editor’s note:
This letter was written in advance of Tuesday’s open session in Council Chambers, Mossman


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