Experts have challenged the integrity of Australia's Carbon Credit scheme.

A recent study has raised significant concerns about the efficacy of Australia's emission abatement, suggesting that forest regeneration projects, which are supposed to generate carbon credits for large polluters, may not be delivering the promised environmental benefits. 

Research led by Professor Andrew Macintosh from the Australian National University, points to a systemic issue within the ‘Human Induced Regeneration’ (HIR) projects.

It finds that a significant portion of these initiatives have failed to produce any substantial reduction in emissions.

The study scrutinised 182 HIR projects, accounting for about 30 per cent of all Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCU). 

These projects, which have collectively cost taxpayers nearly $300 million, were found to have little to no impact on emissions, contradicting the fundamental principle of the carbon credit scheme. 

In fact, 80 per cent of these projects did not result in any appreciable increase in tree cover, despite the issuance of nearly 23 million credits.

Macintosh, who had previously criticised the carbon market as “largely a sham”, suggests the new findings offer more proof that the ACCU scheme lacks integrity. 

“The data is telling us very clearly that the credits that are being issued are in no way shape or form being matched by the abatement that these projects are actually generating,” he told reporters.

This revelation casts a shadow over the government's safeguard mechanism, designed to cap emissions from heavy polluters by requiring them to reduce their emissions or purchase carbon credits. 

Macintosh argues that the integrity of this mechanism is jeopardised if the credits do not reflect real and substantial emissions reduction.

The government has taken steps to prohibit the registration of new HIR projects as of October 2023, although existing projects continue to operate. 

In response to Macintosh's initial warnings, a review led by former national chief scientist Ian Chubb was commissioned, which ultimately dismissed the claims of integrity issues within the scheme.

Professor Macintosh, despite acknowledging the potential conflict of interest due to his non-executive director role at Paraway Pastoral Company, which utilises Australia's offset scheme, stands by his research. 

He criticises the Chubb review for not thoroughly analysing individual projects to inform its conclusions, thereby missing the underlying issues plaguing the scheme.

Climate Change and Energy Minister Chris Bowen has acknowledged Macintosh's concerns but maintains that the findings were not supported by the Chubb review.