Sequestration – meaning the capture, removal and storage of carbon – has played a role in reducing Australia’s net emissions and will play an even greater role in the journey towards net zero. For Australia to achieve its future targets, sequestration will need to scale up. Fortunately, Australia is endowed with a number of comparative advantages in sequestration.

According to experts who participated in a Climate Change Authority roundtable, broad consultation will be critical to community acceptance of the deployment of sequestration activities at the necessary scale. Participants noted the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s finding that large-scale removal of atmospheric carbon is needed to stabilise the world’s climate in line with the Paris Agreement goals.

Experts discussed the need to build understanding of the enabling and limiting factors for each approach to sequestration and what their feasible volumes of sequestration are. Doing so will enable Australia to strategically plan a dynamic portfolio of sequestration activities, with scaling and implementation targets that reinforce their benefits while managing risks and trade-offs.

The roundtable was held on 21 September with a small group of technical and industry experts, including from universities, industry organisations and government agencies. It was a solutions-based discussion of ideas to scale-up carbon sequestration in Australia, with a particular focus on the role of governments. These ideas will inform the Authority’s forthcoming Insights paper on Australia’s carbon sequestration potential, due for completion in the first quarter of 2023.

Key observations from the roundtable included:

  • Reducing emissions at their sources must remain the priority of climate policy.

  • Australia will need to both reduce emissions at their sources and permanently remove emissions from the atmosphere in order to achieve its national emissions reduction targets.

  • Global demand for sequestration is growing, in particular from removals. Understanding national sequestration potential will inform the role Australia can play in supporting global efforts.

  • The need to scale-up sequestration is urgent.

  • Investment into research, development and demonstration must increase to enable deployment of sequestration activities at the necessary scale and pace.

  • Australia’s comparative advantages include significant geological storage capacity, vast areas of non-arable land and abundant renewable energy potential.

  • Nature-based sequestration activities bring co-benefits (e.g. for biodiversity) but are vulnerable to natural disturbances, with risks of reversal likely to increase under climate change.

  • Community consultation is important to build understanding, and to ensure acceptance and support of sequestration activities. In particular, consultation with Indigenous Australians needs to improve.

  • Project developers and decision makers should take account of potential non-carbon benefits for, and adverse impacts on the environment, communities and the economy. For example, while many nature-based approaches can produce significant co-benefits (e.g. ecosystem restoration), poor management of trade-offs can produce negative impacts (e.g. water scarcity and reduced food production).

  • Opportunities exist for better regulatory alignment among jurisdictions where sequestration activities cross borders. For example, offshore geo-sequestration can cross Commonwealth and state marine boundaries.

  • Decision makers have a role in ensuring the benefits of sequestration activities are shared equitably, including with Indigenous Australians and regional communities.

  • The language of carbon sequestration is yet to settle. An agreed set of terms would help address misunderstandings and inconsistencies.

The roundtable forms part of the Authority’s self-initiated Carbon Sequestration Potential research project, to be completed in three phases:

Authority’s self-initiated Carbon Sequestration Potential research project phases

The Authority has partnered with the Clean Energy Regulator to commission the CSIRO to prepare a technical report on Australia’s sequestration potential and lead a series of expert workshops on selected sequestration technologies (due for completion in late 2022).

The Authority intends to publish an Insights policy paper in the first quarter of 2023 setting out its analysis and policy actions on how Australia can achieve its carbon sequestration potential.

Date: Thursday, 13 October 2022

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