NSW Biodiversity Conservation Trust seeks to enhance biodiversity benefits through partnerships with business

Brendan Bateman, Cloe Jolly
24 Jun 2022
Time to read: 2.5 minutes

The NSW Biodiversity Conservation Trust is actively seeking to enter co-investment partnerships with corporations, giving businesses the opportunity to secure high-quality offsets while generating positive conservation outcomes for NSW by increasing the BCT's private land holding.

The NSW Biodiversity Conservation Trust (BCT) has signalled, in the recently released BCT Co-Investment Partnerships Prospectus, its interest and intent to enter partnerships with landholders and co-investors to increase the impact of BCT investment in securing large-scale, high-value private land conservation outcomes for NSW.

Key to this, the BCT is inviting corporations to invest in the BCT’s conservation initiative as a way to offset their carbon emissions. The BCT has stated that “as demand increases from shareholders for environmentally responsible investments, our BCT Co-investment Partnerships program is a low risk, high impact opportunity to partner with Government, and importantly, with landholders who own and manage 70% of land in NSW”.

Focus on biodiversity plus carbon projects

In its Prospectus, the BCT is focusing on five main “co-investment opportunities”:

  • biodiversity plus carbon projects;
  • supporting Aboriginal landholders;
  • investing in real property and “revolving” these by selling to buyers willing to sign a conservation agreement;
  • large-scale conservation properties; and
  • protecting endangered species and ecosystems.

The BCT’s particular focus on biodiversity plus carbon credits is in response to increased scrutiny of the integrity of carbon credits and their impact on the environment, and recognises that the market for high integrity carbon offsets with co-benefits and strong biodiversity credentials is growing. The BCT’s objective is “to co-locate [BCT] investment in conservation areas with private sector investment in carbon projects”.

By stacking biodiversity and carbon payments, the BCT expects that the economic viability of conservation and restoration projects will be improved and, by entering into BCT conservation agreements, carbon project proponents have the opportunity to make high integrity biodiversity claims.

The Prospectus envisions that the investment from private sector partners could take the form of helping with the initial costs of carbon projects and/or making commitments to purchase the carbon credits that arise from them. The BCT says this would encourage participation and drive a larger volume of biodiversity conservation and carbon sequestration outcomes. Further, private sector partners may also consider investing in biodiversity management to contribute to corporate ESG-related targets and commitments.

The BCT's move makes NSW the fourth Australian jurisdiction to offer some incentive for carbon projects that have biodiversity benefits. In Queensland, the $500 million Land Restoration Fund (LRF) was established to reward carbon projects that have significant, measurable environmental, social or economic benefits, in addition to delivering greenhouse gas (GHG) abatement. The Queensland Government, via the LRF, buys up to 80% of the estimated abatement from participating projects at roughly twice the price that developers of Emissions Reduction Fund (ERF) projects can secure for their ACCUs. Meanwhile in Victoria, the Government established the BushBank program and has allocated $30.9 million towards a new program that aims to restore biodiversity and boost carbon sequestration on at least 20,000 hectares of private land. Similar to the NSW program, the Victorian Government is seeking delivery partners to co-invest and simultaneously earn carbon credits.

However, the NSW scheme is the first to bring in third parties, such as corporations and philanthropists, to help grow the amount of land under the protection of the BCT (which currently stands at 2.3 million hectares across NSW).

Next steps: Partnering with the BCT

In the Prospectus, the BCT invites the corporate as well as the philanthropic sectors and the Australian Government, to co-invest with the BCT in private land conservation and biodiverse carbon projects. Partnerships can be bilateral or multi-party and the BCT is seeking both one-off and long-term annual commitments.

Telstra has already signalled its interest in participating in the co-investment partnership program and has signed a memorandum of understanding with the BCT in relation to private land conservation in the Murray-Riverina region (though it does not commit the telco to providing any funding at this stage). Annually, Telstra buy more than two million carbon credits to maintain its Climate Active carbon neutral status. However, currently less than one percent of these are Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs), with cheaper international units comprising more than 99 percent. In April it was announced that, from FY24, all Climate Active scheme members that have annual GHG emissions greater than 1,000 tonnes must use at least 20% ACCUs in their mix of offsets to maintain their status. From FY25, this requirement will extend to all Climate Active members, irrespective of the amount of GHG they emit. Telstra’s investment will help to secure more private land for the BCT while also being able to offset some of its own carbon emissions through the BCT’s conservation work.

Businesses interested in entering into a co-investment partnership with the BCT are invited to contact the BCT CEO directly to start a conversation.

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Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.