Carbon and Koalas Collide

The Science of Trees, Mapping and the Carbon Economy


If you look at the proposals currently on the table for Copenhagen and presumably in meetings to follow, the system is merely providing opportunities for those who have already destroyed their natural resources and environment.

CDM legislation will provide carbon credits for restoring land cleared prior to 1990. It’s like rewarding a child that has broken his toy.

REDD mechanisms will allow countries to seek financial incentives for promising not to clear forests. The child who has started to destroy history and who is now threatening to break it further, will also get rewarded.

But the person who has kept their toy/land in pristine condition gets nothing. Why is this?

Sadly this story is the basis of most restorative landcare funding in Australia and elsewhere in the world. Those that have preserved and protected are ignored and those lands are becoming more and more important.

The Parties to the Kyoto Protocol, and the Copenhagen talks themselves, have forgotten about those landowners who have protected and managed their land. The world at large has failed to recognise their enormous importance for the future of the planet. There are a growing number of ‘good’ landholders who wish to protect their trees. Carbon incentives, if offered, will be snapped up by those wishing to do so.

Why should the importance of regenerating cleared, barren, or degraded land be recognised as a priority under the agreements reached at Copenhagen while the protection of pristine forests in the first world be forgotten? Our research has shown that new plantations will not and cannot offset the current trends in Australia and presumably elsewhere. We must recognise the value of the carbon.

1. Money in the Bank

Existing forests are our ‘carbon vault’ – money in the bank so to speak. What is the point of attempting to reduce our carbon emissions if the carbon already locked up, the carbon ‘in the bank,’ is not protected?

As these forests continue to grow and thrive, we can be assured of a good rate of return; these forests will sequester and store significant stocks of carbon and augment other climate change prevention measures.

2. Mapping with integrity leads to good solutions

Mapping biodiversity is easy, and knowing each and every tree on the Australian landscape is not actually impossible. In fact the AKF’s current data comes close to doing just that. The next logical step from that is to use those maps to broker relationships between companies around the world who want to voluntarily offset their emissions, and landholders wanting to protect their biodiversity. We believe that high quality mapping can bring much needed credability to carbon offsets.

3. Investing in our wild places

It is critical that we are able to attract the necessary funds to provide proper management of our existing forests and landscapes. We believe there is a voluntary market ready to provide funds for the protection of the forests of Australia, and the world.

The AKF wants to broker partnerships with the landowners of Australia and responsible businesses. Bringing these people together will provide a strong investment in our future, and the future of the planet.


Giving a carbon value to the trees means rewarding the Earth, and the people living on it too.

An old tree in the suburbs of Brisbane, Australia, a Eucalyptus tereticornis, was measured. This tree, named after a character from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Treebeard, is immense. We estimate he is more than 200 years old and holds 180 tonnes of carbon.

This carbon has taken hundreds of years to sequester. On a global carbon market, this tree could be worth at least $AU 6,000 (at $AU35 per tonne).

A much younger nearby tree, a Corymbia maculata, was known to have been planted on 1st February, 1988. To continue with the literary reference, we called him Quickbeam. The AKF measured this tree, and we estimate it contains 0.7 tonnes of carbon, equivalent to $AU24.50.

Quickbeam has been growing for more than 20 years, yet still does not even hold 1% of the carbon contained in Treebeard. Similarly, a new plantation sapling does not contain even 0.1% of the carbon held in Quickbeam.

The older the tree, the more valuable it is in the fight against climate change. We should be seeking to protect trees such as Quickbeam, so that one day they can be imposing as Treebeard.

The Australian Koala Foundation wants the urgent protection of existing koala forests and recognition of an appropriate economic value on them. At Copenhagen, AKF will argue two things:

  1. Protecting the koala forests of Australia is an imperative step towards reducing greenhouse emissions in Australia and,
  2. AKF science shows it will be impossible to replace the carbon in those forests if they are destroyed.


Since 1788, nearly 65% of the koala forests of Australia have been cleared – over 116 million hectares.

The remaining 35% (41 million hectares) remains under threat from land clearing for agriculture, urban development and unsustainable forestry.

Existing forests play a vital role in carbon sequestration and storage; eucalypt forests are some of the most valuable carbon sinks in the world. Australian landholders could lead the world by protecting these forests for their immense carbon value.

If the remaining koala forests of Australia were to be cleared, we would need to plant 22 trillion saplings to remain carbon neutral. These saplings would cover three times the area of Australia.


The AKF brings world-famous mapping expertise and more than twenty years of working to protect the eucalypt forests of Australia to show both developed and developing countries simple solutions to global climate change.

The Australian Koala Foundation’s mapping is underpinned by data from 2000 field sites and individual measurements from more than 80,000 trees. The organisation now has one of the richest data sets in the world to guide the protection of existing forests for their carbon value.

The Australian Koala Foundation argues that the simple solution lies in rewarding the landholder who protects their trees. Once this logic has been adopted, voluntary markets will move into place to ensure the carbon savings are safe in the bank of trees.