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Norfolk Island to trial world first Personal Carbon Trading program


Jane Munro
27 October 2010
Southern Cross University is set to lead a project testing the world’s first Personal Carbon Trading program conducted in a ‘closed system’ island environment on Norfolk Island commencing early next year.

This follows the announcement this week of a Linkage Projects grant by the Australian Research Council valued at $390,000.

Leading chief investigator Professor Garry Egger, a Professor of Lifestyle Medicine and Applied Health Promotion at Southern Cross University, said the main goals of the project were to test the effectiveness of a Personal Carbon Trading scheme over a three year period; reduce per capita carbon emissions and reduce obesity and obesity related behaviours.

“The funding is fantastic, not just from my own or the teams point of view but the fact that the Australian Research Council recognises the importance of bringing together the whole aspect of climate change and health and this is the first project of its kind in the world to do that,” said Professor Egger.

“This is a project for looking at reducing climate change and obesity in the one hit. It is recognising that both obesity and climate change have similar drivers so we are tackling two of the world’s biggest problems at the moment with the one project with a system that is quite unique.

“The idea of a Personal Carbon Trading scheme was first developed in England at Oxford University but they had not been able to develop a successful methodology for testing the idea. That’s where myself, and Australian project team, have been able to move the idea forward by identifying Norfolk Island as a great location to test the scheme.

“The reason it is so suitable is you have an isolated community with a small population living a similar lifestyle to people on mainland Australia. So now we have an island that it is 1700km off the mainland, it is fully self-contained and you can measure everything that goes in and out. Plus, the really good thing about it is the Norfolk Island Government and the community are delighted about the idea.

“The way the system will work is basically it will involve giving everyone on the island a carbon card, like a credit or debit card, and they will get carbon units on that card. Then every time they go and pay for their petrol or their power - and from the second year their food - it will not only be paid for in money but it will also come off the carbon units that they are given for free at the start of the program.

“If they’re frugal and don’t buy a lot of petrol or power or fatty foods, then they can actually have units to spare at the end of a set time period so that they can cash those in at the bank and make money from them.

“If they aren’t frugal and they are very wasteful and they produce a lot of carbon and consume unhealthy foods then every year they will have to buy extra units. Also over time - as we target lower carbon emissions and increasing health goals - the number of carbon units they are given will go down and therefore the price for the individual will go up to sustain that lifestyle they are not prepared to forego.

“The island receives around 30,000 tourists or visitors each year and they will also be included in the project. When they get to the island they will be given a carbon card with a certain number of units depending on how long their stay is. They will be able to recover the money that is left on their cards if they are frugal with it or they will have to pay extra if they go over. It’s quite fun because they can actually make a bit of money while they are out there if they do the right thing.

“The project will be run over a three-year period and in that time-frame we will have an indication of whether the Personal Carbon Trading system will work. Another big question that we need to answer will be ‘is it acceptable to the public’? We will know in that time whether the people on the island think it is a good idea or not.

“Then we can take it to the Australian Government and say, look, these people tested it and they do or don’t think it is a good idea. If they have problems then hopefully we can sort those problems out. If they are in favour of it then it would justify scaling it up to a country level and ultimately to a world level.

“We don’t have a lot of time on this, obesity is rising rapidly. In Australia we have two-thirds of males and over half of all females who are either overweight or obese. Also, the amount of carbon in the atmosphere is way up at about 380 parts per million from 250 parts per million just 50 years ago and it is rising at about 2 parts per million every year.

“The general feeling is that once it gets to 450 parts per million then it is ‘shut the gate’ because that is the threshold level beyond which it is going to be difficult to reverse things.”

The Norfolk Island Government were partners in the Australian Research Council submission and The Hon Andre Nobbs MLA, Minister for Tourism Industry and Development, said he was delighted the project had been given the go ahead.

“The good thing that Norfolk Island has going for it is the population has strong ideals and beliefs about the environment. We are a remote island community so in terms of how everyone would grab hold of this at an operational level, that is where Norfolk shines.” Mr Nobbs said.

“As far as tourism is concerned I think it will be another welcome experience for people arriving on Norfolk Island. Most tourists already know we are pretty genuine about our quality of life here and in this day and age, to arrive and be given a card that is going to map their carbon usage while they are on holiday, I think will be seen as a very proactive step. We are excited to be part of another innovative pilot scheme with positive outcomes for the environment.”

The project has in principle agreement with Southern Cross University, the University of South Australia and Deakin University for collaboration on research and evaluation. There is also an in principal agreement with the Legislative Assembly of Norfolk Island and ’Sustainable Norfolk‘, a voluntary non-profit association dedicated to achieving sustainability on Norfolk Island.

The principal researchers of the Norfolk island Carbon/Health Evaluation study trialling a Personal carbon Trading program are: leading chief investigator, Professor Garry Egger, a Professor of Lifestyle Medicine and Applied Health Promotion at Southern Cross University; chief investigator, Professor Boyd Swinburn, Alfred Deakin Professor and director of the World Health Organisation Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention at Deakin University; chief investigator, Professor Robyn McDermott is a public health physician and professor of Public Health at the University of South Australia; and Professor Kerin O’Dea, director of the Sansom Institute for Health Research at the University of South Australia.

Photo: Leading chief investigator for the Personal Carbon Trading program, Professor Garry Egger.