The Green Files: Ben Stuart on the rise of carbon markets
The Green Files is a unique CEFC series where we talk to the people making a difference in the race to net zero emissions.
As the world’s largest environmental commodity marketplace, Xpansiv has been at the forefront of carbon offset trading for more than a decade. With exposure to as much as 40 per cent of the global trade, the company is providing a platform for an increasingly vital piece of the decarbonisation puzzle.
The flexibility that carbon markets offer investors at managing risk and liquidity is something that they are already familiar with from other commodity markets. As we move towards meeting ambitious net zero targets, carbon markets offer a clear path for market participants to meet their goals.Ben StuartXpansiv Chief Commercial Officer
Co-founder of Xpansiv market CBL, the world's largest spot exchange, Ben has seen firsthand the rapid development of carbon markets globally. Merging with San Francisco-based Xpansiv in 2019, the two market leaders now form a unique platform that connects buyers and sellers of environmental commodities, including carbon offsets – critical in the advance towards global decarbonisation.
Where carbon credits fit
Renewable energy and economy-wide electrification, deeper energy efficiency and rapid carbon sequestration are where the biggest decarbonisation gains can and will be made.
Carbon credits are there to address what is left – offsetting emissions from those critical hard to abate sectors that play an important role in our economy and where low emission solutions are not yet sufficiently robust. Heavy industry is most often cited here, with encouraging albeit early work in the production of green steel, green aluminium and green hydrogen.
Carbon offset projects can result in either carbon removal or avoidance. These projects can be categorised as nature-based, such as afforestation and reforestation, or technology-based, including energy efficiency and renewable energy initiatives. For Australian landowners, with some 55 per cent of our land mass devoted to agriculture, nature-based carbon offset projects can provide long-term benefits as an alternative income stream.
An early innovator in the carbon markets space, the Xpansiv platform now provides more than 1,000 major Australian and global companies with access to some $10 billion in registered assets, including carbon offsets, renewable energy certificates and differentiated fuels. It has more than 300 employees and offices in Sydney, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Vancouver, London, Milan, and even regional Victoria’s Bendigo.
The Xpansiv software platform brings together global environmental registries, giving traders access to a broad portfolio of carbon offsets, using price transparency and standardised contracts.
In addition to a robust customer base, Xpansiv also boasts a blue-ribbon investor register. Australian backers include Aware Super, Macquarie Group, CBA and the CEFC. The global roster features Blackstone Energy Partners, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, BP Ventures, S&P Global Ventures, Atlas Merchant Capital and Vitruvian Partners.
Australia’s evolving carbon markets
The demand for carbon credits in Australia is expected to grow in the coming years with companies seeking to meet their net zero targets, and changes in government policy such as the Safeguard Mechanism reforms coming into effect.
In 2022, Xpansiv added Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs) to their trade offering, a strong sign of support for the developing Australian commodity. Ben says differentiation remains an important part of the Xpansiv offering. “When we first launched, we had a variety of product options from the very first day of trading,” he says. “We have products with Indigenous co-benefits that are traded at a premium to more generic projects. There is certainly demand for these kinds of high-level products as investors increasingly seek additional impact beyond mitigating carbon emissions. With Xpansiv we have built a platform that has the flexibility to support this type of diversity.”
Alongside backing the Xpansiv platform, the CEFC is investing in projects which generate ACCUs to further strengthen the emerging carbon market. Drawing on CEFC capital, manufacturer Orica has made groundbreaking upgrades to three of its nitric acid processing plants, reducing their greenhouse gas emissions by 98 per cent, and the project has been approved as eligible to generate ACCUs. In the agricultural sector, the Wyuna Regenerative Agriculture Investment Fund is embarking on large-scale land regeneration to deliver ACCUs alongside enhanced biodiversity protection and sustainable grazing strategies.
On the opposite end of the ACCU demand-supply chain, major Australian corporations such as Qantas are diligently working to secure high-quality offsets, striving for social co-benefits where feasible^1. They have been proactive in establishing a carbon offset portfolio however, the need to source from the market will inevitably arise.
Where to from here for the Australian market
Ben sees ACCUs as an increasingly key element of net zero strategies for Australian corporates and investors. And the fact that ACCUs are certified by the Australian Government Clean Energy Regulator adds credibility. While Xpansiv provides the infrastructure to trade carbon credits, the registration and crediting of projects is carried out by the Clean Energy Regulator, which independently issues the credits. Last year’s independent, government-led review into the credit system found that the scheme was essentially sound, incorporating mechanisms for regular review and improvement to further enhance market confidence.
Work to strengthen ACCU methodologies, including reforms to the Safeguard Mechanism, reflect improvements to carbon market systems worldwide. “We see these changes bringing a step change in the market for credible carbon credits,” says Ben. “There are already signs major service providers and large banks are anticipating some of these policy outcomes, demonstrating growing confidence in market mechanisms.”
The move to climate risk reporting, bringing Australia into alignment with international standards, will also ramp up participation in the Australian carbon offset market.
“Consistent climate risk reporting will make it easier for investors and stakeholders to benchmark companies against a standardised format and this will support increased activity in both the domestic and global carbon and renewable energy markets,” observes Ben.
Continued innovation is a strong indicator for ongoing potential demand. Australia and California recently signed a new memorandum of understanding to cooperate on climate action and to further develop clean energy supply chains, and technologies and support green finance and investment. There is a lot of positive policy development that is happening out there that will drive towards a positive outcome for the ACCU market and drive towards a more sustainable future.Ben StuartXpansiv Chief Commercial Officer
In 2021, the CEFC invested $20 million as a part of a US$100 million capital raise by Xpansiv to strengthen the Australian ESG commodities market. Read more about how the CEFC investment to support the evolution of Australia’s carbon markets to achieve net zero emissions.
Want to learn more? Watch our Green Room webinar with Qantas and CSIRO, discussing the role of carbon markets in closing the emissions gap.