Killing a camel to earn a carbon credit may seem a curious way to tackle climate change, but one country is poised to allow investors to do precisely that.
The camel culling plan is one of the first to arise under the Australian government’s new “carbon farming initiative”, a scheme that lets farmers or investors claim carbon credits if they can show they have cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Such emissions are plentiful in Australia’s desert centre thanks to the region’s large population of feral camels, a legacy of the herds introduced in the 19th century to help settle the continent’s interior.
More than 1m camels are now believed to be roaming across the Australian outback – one of the biggest camel populations in the world – and each emits methane, a greenhouse gas significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.
“It’s one of those ‘out of sight, out of mind’ problems,” said Tim Moore, managing director of Northwest Carbon, an Adelaide-based carbon project developer whose culling plan is one of only three proposals to have been accepted for official assessment by the carbon farming initiative so far.
Apart from their methane emissions, camels are also menacing remote Aboriginal populations, he said.
“If everyone knew what they were doing, people would be more concerned,” said Dr Moore, “especially when they start coming into town and kicking down your toilet.”
This is a reference to the hordes of thirsty camels who descended on the small town of Docker River, southwest of Alice Springs, in search of water during a drought in 2009.
Dr Moore’s company plans to earn carbon credits – tradable certificates that companies or individuals can use to cancel or “offset” their own emissions – by organising the controlled culling of camels.
In a written proposal that the government has just released for public comment, Northwest says it will shoot the animals from helicopters or four-wheel drives; muster them and send them to an abattoir; or process them for pet food in the field.
All “removals” will be humane, the company says, with shooting done by “animal welfare trained and accredited marksmen”.
Dr Moore said one camel emitted about one tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent a year, measured as 45kg of methane, plus they consume about one tonne of vegetation eaten.
He says each camel’s death will result in an “emissions avoidance benefit” of about 15 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.
Legislation for the carbon farming initiative, believed to be the first national government programme of its kind (as opposed to some state schemes), is still going through parliament but the government hopes to have it passed by 1 July, its intended start date. Ministerial approval will be required for proposals such as Northwest’s.
The value of any carbon credits earned under the scheme is likely to rise if it is linked to a contentious carbon pricing plan the Australian government is still negotiating.