Oxygen for Sale


As governments shrink and damage to the environment grows, who will save the Earth? Drew Turney investigates an unlikely candidate.

While you’re lazing on the beach or barbecuing up a storm in the sort of weather that makes Australia famous, the last thing you’ll be asking yourself is what we should do about the environment.

Sure, everyone from Al Gore to NSW fire brigade commissioner Phil Koperberg are spraying the latest round of dire warnings and the issue’s reaching fever pitch again, but they’ve been arguing about it for 20 years. Didn’t we fix all that when we took CFCs out of aerosol cans?

Unfortunately no, and with 2005 the hottest year on record and everything from killer cyclones to fires growing more frequent around the globe, it might be more than hot air from scientists.

So while the angst over what we’re going to do about global warming is nothing new, the idea of letting capitalism bring it under control is — especially if you blame the profit motive for getting us into this sorry mess.

But in an era of small government and nudge-wink regulation where everything from water provision to garbage collection is privately owned, industry might have the only clout left to act.

Behold the emission entrepreneurs. The market’s answer to saving the world by doing what it does best — making money.

With Australia and the US shamefully alone in rejecting the Kyoto Protocols, Europe has become the carbon-trading universe. But the spurring of international consensus by Bush and Howard hasn’t stopped smaller governments launching their own initiatives.

California Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed an agreement with UK Prime Minister Tony Blair to terminate emissions, and back home the NSW government’s Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme is the second largest of its kind in the world.

So how do you make money from pollution, aside from the method oil companies have used for a century? Companies or individuals, we all leave a carbon footprint on the earth — the fancy term for how much we pollute. Under a framework like Kyoto, pollution levels are imposed on companies based on their size and activities. If they go over it, they pay a penalty. If they come in under, they get credits they can sell to someone else who pollutes more than their standard.

Think of it as buying the right to pollute – or the incentive not to, by investing in planet-friendly practices to conduct your business.

Where the carbon entrepreneurs come in is the ability to generate carbon credits to sell on a carbon exchange, often by simply planting a tree. Wagga-based CO2 Australia plants and maintains mallee trees, super efficient carbon dioxide processors that can save up to 600 tons of emissions per hectare.

The mallee generate carbon credits in CO2 Australia’s name that it can sell under the NSW Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme to the highest bidder no differently shares on the stock exchange. As director Andrew Grant recently told ABC; ‘Current policies aren’t enough to deal with this problem so you need business solutions.’

With only 1.5% of carbon emissions generated by Australia, we’re small potatoes on the world stage. But that hasn’t stopped some big players hedging their bets early, even without a Kyoto-style scheme.

Property giant Mirvac has spent $450m in forestry assets, preparing for a time in the near future when emission controls are imposed. When they are, Mirvac will be ready, forests full of carbon credits ready to pluck and sell on a carbon exchange or use to offset emissions generated from their business activities.

Averting an environmental crisis by putting emissions control in the hands of the free market?

That’s so crazy it just might work!

The Players

When Australia adopts a set of controls such as Kyoto, the companies and groups listed here will have built up carbon credits — even if unwittingly — which will be saleable commodities in an emissions trading market. Soon they’ll be the hottest ticket on the ethically-aware stock market for investors from all walks of life.

Greenhouse Gas Abatement Scheme

Run by the NSW government, this emissions trading framework aims to reduce emissions by the electricity retailers.


Pacific Hydro

With hydroelectric and wind farm projects around the world, this company can’t be too vocal about being Australian-based. While multinationals like BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto are free to trade in carbon in local overseas markets, companies in non Kyoto countries (Australia and the US) aren’t really supposed to take part.


Australasian Emissions Trading Forum

Established in 1998, a meeting point and information resource for businesses who want to get in on the emissions trading action.



An example from the big end of town, when HSBC Australia went completely carbon three months before their initial goal in October 2005, by investing in green technology and projects to neutralise their carbon footprint.



A non?profit which has planted 2 million trees since 1997 to offset carbon emissions from the transport sector. It’s open to the public, and just $40 gets you started.


The Facts

100 years

The length of time the human race has taken to quadruple it’s number.


Period in which more greenhouse gases were produced than during the entire course of human history previously, through increased industrialisation.

The year the global economy will be four times its current size.


The year the global economy will be 16 times its current size.


Degrees centigrade of the average rise in temperature worldwide since the 1950s.


The warmest year in over a century (NASA).

35 years

The number of years over which the number of category 4 and 5 hurricanes has doubled (National Center for Atmospheric Research).


Rise in the percentage of CO2 in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution (EPA – US)


Percentage of CO2 emissions from the US caused by human activity, as opposed to naturally (EPA – US)


Area in square kilometres of the Larsen B ice shelf, which collapsed and broke up during the early months of 2002 (Canberra is a little over 2,300 square kms)