February 22, 2024

Australia’s first water quality environmental market sets leading example

The Reef Credit Scheme is a pioneering example of what can be achieved in environmental markets. One of the key drivers of its success is the focus on the design and maintenance of the Scheme’s integrity and governance.

Committed to maintaining world-leading standards in scheme integrity is Eco-Markets Australia CEO Maree Adshead, whose Secretariat team oversees the administration of the voluntary water quality Scheme.

“Integrity is essential for market confidence. For the Reef Credit Scheme to achieve its full potential and deliver genuine nature impact and financial returns, our job is to deliver transparency, trust and certainty that the outcomes are measurable and real,’ Maree said.

What is the Reef Credit Scheme?

Operating in the Great Barrier Reef catchment since 2017, the Reef Credit Scheme is Australia’s first voluntary environmental market for water quality. The innovative Scheme attracts landholders, environmental project developers and investors with a common purpose to deliver lasting water quality improvements to the Reef catchment.

By undertaking land practice changes, landholders have so far prevented more than 44 tonnes of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) from entering the Reef catchment. Converting this defined effort into tradable units, landholders have produced more than 44,500 Reef Credits and generated more than $2.7 million in returns.

Why is integrity so important?

Scheme integrity equals market confidence. To attract strong participation and investment the Reef Credit Scheme must continually meet best practice administration, governance, and value for money environmental outcomes.

“To gauge how we’re tracking against other major markets, we turned to the Australian Government’s independent review of the Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCU) Scheme, a central pillar of Australia’s climate change strategy.

“Benchmarking the recommendations of the review, we conducted an internal audit of the Reef Credit Scheme. We saw the ACCU review as providing important integrity guidelines and safeguards we could apply.

“We considered the recommendations and lessons learnt, as they relate to the Reef Credit Scheme,” Maree said.

The Australian Government commissioned the independent review of the ACCU Scheme in 2022, which concluded the Scheme was fundamentally well-designed but made 16 recommendations to support its ongoing integrity.

When evaluated against these 16 recommendations, the Reef Credit Scheme’s rules and requirements substantially addressed the issues and concerns identified by the ACCU review. However, EMA took the opportunity to adopt actions to further enhance the Reef Credit Scheme. Most of these have been incorporated into the upcoming public consultation ahead of the scheduled Reef Credit Scheme review. Some of the improvements include introducing simple ‘how to’ guides to promote better uptake of methods, claims guidance, and a guide on minimum standards of conduct in project development.

Overall, the audit confirmed EMA and the Reef Credit Scheme meets the governance, transparency, and integrity required.

“The success of the Reef Credit Scheme to date shows we’re moving in the right direction with water quality improvements and delivering transparent channels for nature capital investment,” Maree said.

For more information about Eco-Markets Australia and participating in the Reef Credit Scheme, please explore our website.