INSIGHT

Offsetting carbon and saving the reef

As a certified carbon neutral organisation, we take steps to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and support carbon offset projects in partnership with the Qantas Future Planet program. One such project is underway in Babinda, located 20 kilometres upstream from the Great Barrier Reef.

Managing Associate (and diving enthusiast) Laura Hablous, participated in the Babinda Reef Experience to see first-hand how this offset project is playing a vital role in reviving the Reef and reducing the amount of greenhouse gas entering the atmosphere. We caught up with Laura to find out about her trip to far-north Queensland and how it brought to life the concept of carbon neutrality.

About the Babinda Project:
Babinda is a small sugar town located about an hour south of Cairns. Shadowed by Queensland's two highest mountains – Mt Bartle Frere and Mt Bellenden Kerr – its freshwater streams and water systems directly lead to the Great Barrier Reef.
In addition to promoting carbon sequestration, the Babinda Project specifically targets poor water quality associated with degradation of the landscape and agricultural runoff. By rebuilding wetlands and planting trees in the rainforest, nature is able to filter water before it reaches the Reef.
The Program aims to revegetate over 25 hectares of the region's rainforests to sequester carbon. Doing so will help reduce the amount of greenhouse gas entering the atmosphere, minimising the effects of climate change.

What is the Babinda Reef Experience?

The Babinda Reef Experience allows businesses to make a real and tangible contribution to the Project.

Together with a group of around 20 corporate volunteers, I was involved in three of the Project's core activities: water quality testing, tree planting and measuring the rate of reforestation. I also learnt about the rigorous, scientific process of measuring carbon credits and generally how the Australian carbon credit market operates.

How is the Babinda Project helping the Great Barrier Reef?

The challenges facing the Great Barrier Reef are enormous and require a strategic response. My time in Babinda made it clear that the process of regenerating coral and restoring the Reef's ecosystems needs to start upstream, on dry land.

Land in the Babinda area was historically cleared for sugarcane farming. The removal of vegetation has had a major environmental impact, not only in terms of the loss of carbon capture potential, but also loss of biodiversity and reduced water quality. By restoring native rainforests, the Project aims to reduce the amount of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (found in fertilisers) and sediments entering the water system upstream to avoid downstream damage to the Reef.

High levels of dissolved inorganic nitrogen, for example, are linked to increased outbreaks of coral-eating crown-of-thorns starfish, lower coral diversity and coral bleaching. By addressing the issue 20 kilometres inland, we're lessening the damaging effects on the Reef.

What was the highlight?

The extent of damage already inflicted on the Great Barrier Reef is staggering, and we risk losing it all if we don't act. For example, the mass coral bleaching of 2016 and 2017 alone caused the number of new corals to crash by almost 90%.

Despite the gloom, there's incredible work being done to address the problem. For me, that was the highlight.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to meet people who are truly passionate about tackling climate change and saving the Reef. Earlier this year, I went diving in the outer Reef (my love for the sport has also taken me to Mexico and Cuba), so from a personal standpoint it's reassuring to see organisations such Allens, Qantas, Earthwatch Institute, GreenCollar Jaragun NRM and James Cook University bring together likeminded people to help save this natural wonder.

How does being certified carbon neutral address climate change?

Allens has been carbon neutral since 2014 and was the first Australian law firm to achieve certification through the Australian Government's Carbon Neutral Program. We've been able to reduce our carbon footprint to zero by taking measures to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and, offsetting the emissions we can't avoid by purchasing carbon offsets through the Qantas Future Planet program.

An additional benefit of the firm's support for carbon offsetting programs is the opportunity it gives our people to contribute to projects – including Babinda – in a practical, hands-on way.