Carbon property rights in context

Cambridge University Press
Publication Type:
Journal Article
Environmental Practice, 2009, 11 (2), pp. 105 - 114
Issue Date:
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This commentary offers a background to the carbon challenge, carbon offsets, and emissions trading from an Australian perspective. It sets the scene for a more detailed discussion about carbon sequestration rights, which are defined explicitly by some Australian states and territories but not by others. We highlight that the term carbon sequestration right is poorly defined and relies, inappropriately we suggest, on the borrowed term profit à prendre. This terminology is at odds with the notion of a carbon property right, which has yet to be conceptualized fully by the marketplace and the existing legal framework, given the need to fully engage the sociological and ecological dimensions of carbon and climate change. We find that current policy intent, together with evolving public will and corporate responsibility, is ahead of the science and the legal framework for managing property rights in carbon (used broadly to represent the six greenhouse gasses). The Australian Property Institute has taken the lead in its 2007 policy paper Conceiving Property Rights in Carbon and more recently in Sheehan and Kanas's investigation of "Property Rights in Soil." This article takes the discussion to the next stage by offering a framework for property rights in carbon and asking whether such rights should be vested in the state or the nation, rather than merely creating a commodity that can be efficiently allocated and thus speculated upon.
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