Labor to reshape carbon credit committee as Coalition-appointed members resign

by Adam Morton
Climate change minister Chris Bowen has accepted the resignation of three members of the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee

Labor will make substantial changes to a committee responsible for ensuring the integrity of the national carbon credit system after the departure of three members appointed by the Coalition, including the chair.

A spokesperson for the climate change minister, Chris Bowen, confirmed he had accepted the resignation of three members of the Emissions Reduction Assurance Committee.

The departing members are the former mining executive David Byers, the economist Dr Brian Fisher and Margie Thomson, the chief executive of the Cement Industry Federation.

Carbon credits are bought by governments and businesses as an alternative to making emissions cuts. The committee’s role is to assess whether methods used to earn carbon credits meet offset integrity standards – effectively, that they represent real and new cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that would not have happened anyway.

Byers, who was the committee chair, and Fisher were appointed by the Coalition in 2020. Their addition to the committee was revealed the following January. Climate scientists and campaigners criticised Byers’ appointment given his previous links to fossil fuel industries. Some said they were surprised by Fisher’s appointment given his climate analysis work had been politically divisive.

External experts have called for a complete overhaul of the carbon credit scheme administered by the government and the Clean Energy Regulator. Prof Andrew Macintosh – Byers’ predecessor as chair of the committee – has published several papers arguing that most carbon credits do not represent real or new emissions cuts. The regulator has rejected this, saying both it and the committee had undertaken considerable work to test Macintosh’s assertions and found no evidence to support them.

Bowen has appointed the former chief scientist and senior academic, Prof Ian Chubb, to head a six-month review of the scheme.

On Thursday night, the minister’s spokesperson said: “The minister can confirm he has received and accepted resignations from three members of the [committee].

“The minister looks forward to appointing new committee members in due course.”

Byers is a former senior executive at the Minerals Council of Australia, BHP and the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association, and ran the CO2CRC, an industry and government-funded carbon capture and storage research body. He said he stood aside from some discussions as committee chair to manage any potential conflicts of interest while in the CO2CRC role.

The Chubb review of the carbon credit scheme fulfils a commitment made by Labor last year. Bowen promised a “short, but thorough” review after research from the Australian Conservation Foundation and progressive thinktank the Australia Institute estimated 20% of credits did not represent real cuts and were essentially “junk”.

Macintosh, an Australian National University environmental law professor, reinforced that conclusion in a series of papers published with colleagues this year. The criticisms were strongly rejected by the regulator, which has overarching responsibility for designing and regulating methods to create carbon credit methods, and the industry body the Carbon Market Institute.