Creating a Carbon Conservation Trust Movement
Steven J. Hollenhorst¹ and Howard L. Sharfstein²
We propose an institutional framework, organizational design, and financing system — based on current law and markets — to acquire and secure legal rights to subterranean and biogenic carbon reserves on behalf of the public, including future generations. A network of non-profit organizations called “carbon conservation trusts” will work with landholders to protect and enhance their carbon reserves and decarbonize their operations in exchange for financial compensation or a share of validated carbon credits.
Combining elements of (i) land trusts, (ii) workforce development programs, (iii) cooperative extension, and (iv) green finance, carbon trusts will secure non-possessory interests in carbon reserves and help landowners capture and sequester additional carbon through natural climate solutions such as tree planting, forest protection, regenerative agriculture, biochar production, and carbon-sinking construction biomaterials. Functioning through public/private partnerships, business sponsorships, and multi-stakeholder alliances, carbon trusts will credibly certify, verify, and legally safeguard carbon assets.
At the national level, an Association of Carbon Conservation Trusts (ACCT) will provide advocacy, guidance, best practices, and training materials for carbon trusts and their climatecare workforce. The ACCT will promote policies and processes that use carbon markets to transform forests, agricultural fields, the built environment, and fossil fuel reserves from carbon emission sources to protected carbon reserves.
Climate change results from humans moving vast quantities of carbon³ from the lithosphere (Earth’s crust), pedosphere (soil), and biosphere (living organisms) into the atmosphere (air) and hydrosphere (water)(Figure 1).
The extraordinary scale of this transfer has disrupted the relatively consistent natural carbon cycles of the Holocene epoch that enabled humanity to advance (Figure 2). Now, we face unparalleled threats to the ecological stability and the life support systems, economic activity, and social cohesion on which human civilization depends.
According to the first law of holes, “if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”⁴ Ideas abound on how to stop digging and refill the hole. While public sector action — most commonly in the form of policy and regulatory intervention — is critical to this effort, the private sector (both for-profit and non-profit) needs to play a significant role. Inspired by the seminal book Drawdown,⁵ we propose an institutional framework, organizational design, and financing system — based on current law and markets — to acquire and secure legal rights to subterranean and biogenic carbon reserves on behalf of the public, including future generations (Figure 3).
At the heart of the plan is a network of non-profit organizations called carbon conservation trusts (or carbon trusts) that will acquire and secure non-possessory property interests in carbon. These carbon interests will take two basic forms: restrictive covenants that secure existing carbon reserves, and affirmative covenants that sequester additional carbon through “natural climate solutions” (NCSs) such as regenerative agriculture, forest restoration and carbon-sinking construction practices (Figure 4).
Combining elements of (i) land trusts, (ii) workforce development , (iii) cooperative extension, and (iv) green finance, carbon trusts will develop and implement scalable NCSs suited to the bioregional assets and political climate of the areas in which they operate (Figure 5). In fossil fuel country, carbon trusts would focus on protecting lithospheric carbon reserves (LCRs). In regions rich in biogenic carbon⁶ reserves (BCRs), such as natural forests, wetlands, and grasslands, the emphasis will be conserving and restoring those landscapes as carbon refugia. In agricultural regions, attention shifts to farming and forestry practices that capture and sequester carbon to build measurable and meaningful BCRs.⁷ In urban built environments, focus would be on construction methods and materials that turn building and infrastructure into carbon sinks.
Imagine an expansive system of subterranean carbon protection zones, analogous to national parks and wildlife refuges, serving the critical function of climate stabilization. These underground carbon preserves might also serve in the future as sequestration and storage zones for carbon captured from emission sources or the atmosphere. On the Earth’s surface, imagine an ever-expanding landscape of cultivated areas and wildlands where trees, plants, and soil recapture carbon from the atmosphere. Imagine buildings and infrastructure that sequester enough carbon to offset some or all of their emissions (Figure 6).
Carbon trusts will connect carbon offset buyers with landowners through carbon markets in which carbon credits are validated, legally secured, and traded. Alliances will be formed that integrate patient capital, modern carbon measurement technology, understandable documentation, and transparent markets to protect carbon reserves while turning fields, forests and the built environment from carbon emission sources to vast carbon sinks.
Valuing Carbon as an Ecosystem Service
A key to climate action lies in attaching market value to carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases (GHGs),⁸ based on global warming potential.⁹ Generally, markets do not value environmental externalities¹⁰ and prices fail to credit ecosystem services such as sequestered carbon.¹¹ For example, when fossil mineral rights are sold or leased, the cost is determined solely by the energy value regardless of environmental externalities.
In reality, our lithospheric carbon inheritance — accumulated over several hundred million years — is an immense climate regulator that controls atmospheric carbon levels as part of a complex biogeochemical carbon cycle,¹² which constitutes a vital part of our planetary life support system. From this perspective, fossil carbon is exceedingly valuable in situ and merits the protection granted to other ecosystem services.
The same is true with biogenic carbon reserves held in the pedosphere and biosphere. We recognize that forests, wetlands, grasslands, and farmlands provide ecosystem services such as biodiversity, water, and food production. Various legal designations protect and preserve these values, including wilderness, public parks, national forests, wildlife refuges, nature reserves, monuments.¹³ We now face the challenge of extending these successful protective models to carbon conservation.
Indeed, carbon is beginning to receive such protection. Some carbon markets have been formed under GHG emission reduction regimens to implement the Kyoto Protocol, including the European Union Emissions Trading System (EU-ETS) and various regional and state cap and trade initiatives in the United States and elsewhere.¹⁴ Other carbon trading platforms have formed to promote voluntary emission reductions.¹⁵ Carbon offsets are typically allowed in both compliance and voluntary markets. Several economic and policy tools can drive an avoided conversion (AC) strategy to safeguard forests at risk of changing to non-forest use. When successful, AC efforts maintain or increase tree stocking levels.¹⁶ AC programs could also be expanded to other natural environments, as well as agricultural land and the built environment.
At their core, carbon trusts will obtain non-possessory interests in real property in the form of deed restrictions, or easements, enforced through covenants that run with the land. Such easements allow for carbon rights to be severed and secured, analogous to how extraction companies acquire mineral rights or land trusts acquire development rights to a property. Carefully crafted covenants will make the property eligible for carbon credits, which can then be monetized and traded (Figure 7).
Stop Digging, Secure Carbon
Subterranean LCR protection zones would be created by acquiring fossil carbon reserves at risk of exploitation. Carbon credits then induce mineral rights holders to make a binding AC commitment. Currently limited to BCRs like forests and rangelands,¹⁷ carbon markets for AC should expand to include fossil reserves at risk of extraction. Mineral rights acquired and protected in situ for climate stabilization purposes should be explored as an opportunity to avoid significant GHG emissions and arguably qualify for carbon credits.
Unfortunately, current economic/tax incentives and legal doctrines favor the rapid exploitation of fossil carbon. Remarkably, a landowner may not be able to stop adjoining mineral rights holders from removing oil or gas from beneath their property. Specifically, the rule of capture¹⁸ and compulsory pooling¹⁹ pose significant impediments to protecting fossil carbon reserves. Policy reforms are needed to overcome antiquated laws that drive extraction and discourage the conservation of LCRs.²⁰
Securing fossil fuels in place could create a virtuous cycle of reduced supply and increased prices that make renewables more competitive, and accelerate innovation.²¹ Further, as fossil fuel markets erode, energy companies may regard divestment and transferring carbon assets to a carbon trust as a desirable alternative to holding stranded assets. Thus, acquiring and retiring mineral rights could set a price floor that mitigates financial panic and assures a limit on future fossil fuel supplies.
Acquisition of carbon rights could also be applied to agriculture, particularly production practices that result in high GHG emissions. The approach could be modeled after the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), which essentially acquires the production rights to environmentally sensitive lands to protect ecosystem services such as water quality, soil stabilization, and wildlife habitat.²² To help fund the initiative, covenants that decarbonize high emission agricultural practices and products could result in carbon credits that could then be traded to produce a new revenue for farmers. As with the CRP program, such a strategy could serve as a price-support program by reducing supply and yielding higher prices for remaining growers.
Refill the Hole: Capturing and Sequestering Pedospheric and Biospheric Carbon
Even if we stop all the digging, it’s not enough. We also need to remove CO2 already in the atmosphere. with agriculture emitting an estimated 10.5% of total U.S., significant opportunity exists to not only reduce emissions, but also remove existing atmospheric carbon through carbon farming.²³ Using the legal and market mechanisms described above, carbon trusts will work with farmers to implement such practices,²⁴ including biochar,²⁵ silvopasture, regenerative agriculture,²⁶ agroforestry, and tree intercropping.
One particularly promising strategy is biochar, a scalable valorization method for converting residual biomass into a valuable soil amendment and carbon sequestration medium.²⁷ Biochar can be produced in a wide range of settings, from industrial systems to portable on-site kilns. Biochar avoids open burning in fire-prone areas, mitigates GHG emissions from decomposition or combustion of biomass, and sequesters carbon in the soil. In addition, off-gases from the pyrolysis process can be collected and used as a renewable fuel.
Other examples of carbon farming include no-till practices such as silvopasture, which integrate trees and pasture into a single system for raising livestock. Research shows that silvopasture can be more effective than grassland techniques alone for counteracting methane emissions from livestock and sequestering carbon. Pastures that include living trees sequester five to ten times as much carbon in both biomass and soil as similarly sized treeless grazing areas.²⁸ Agroforestry also entails growing trees and annual crops together.²⁹ ³⁰
Beyond carbon farming, carbon trusts in coastal areas could protect “blue carbon”³¹ and promote seaweed cultivation as a CCS strategy. Coastal wetlands represent an excellent opportunity to sequester significant amounts of carbon.³² ³³ Moreover, seaweed ameliorates ocean acidification, deoxygenation, and other marine impacts of global warming that threaten the biodiversity of the seas and the source of food for hundreds of millions of people. Blue carbon sequestration also does not conflict or compete with upland activities.³⁴
In urban environments, replacing cement and steel with biomaterials like cross-laminated timber (CLT) can have double benefits for climate stabilization. First, construction materials made from trees and plant can turn buildings into carbon sinks that store carbon for many decades. Second, it can avoid significant GHG emissions from cement and steel production.³⁵
Establishing a Carbon Conservation Trust System
While the technologies and methods described above are well understood, the social systems and institutions needed to bring them to scale are inadequate for the challenges ahead. In the following sections, we describe four foundational pillars upon which the carbon trust system will be established: (i) land trusts, (ii) workforce advancement, (iii) cooperative extension, and (iv) green financing.
Land Trusts: An Adaptable Organizational Model
The land trust movement offers a relevant model for a non-profit carbon conservation system. Land trusts safeguard various types of land for a range of conservation purposes.³⁶ As of 2015, over 1,600 U.S. land trusts had protected over 56 million acres.³⁷ Similarly, The Nature Conservancy, often referred to as the world’s largest land trust, has protected another 120 million acres globally. Together, these lands represent an area slightly larger than the state of Texas.³⁸
A core function of land trusts is the acquisition of real property interests to protect ecosystem service values from various types of development. Understanding that landowners hold a bundle of rights that they may sell or otherwise convey,³⁹ land trusts employ some of capitalism’s most powerful tools (e.g., real property interests, market pricing, tax preferences) to achieve their conservation goals.⁴⁰ The most commonly used are restrictive covenants — known as conservation easements — that run with the land (Figure 8).
Carbon trusts will apply similar strategies to carbon conservation by acquiring, either through sale or donation, the right to control carbon in, on, or under real property. While continuing to own the property, landowners and mineral rights holders receive recompense for accepting legally binding restrictions and affirmation obligations to protect and grow their carbon reserves. Compensation could take the form of upfront payments or revenue sharing from carbon credits. Functioning as trustees and utilizing property law, carbon trusts will assure that carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) commitments made by landowners qualify for additionality,⁴² permanence,⁴³ and ultimately as high-quality carbon offsets.
Workforce Advancement: Creating a Career Path for Carbon Protectors
The carbon trust system will require a workforce⁴⁴ of “carbon protectors” (CPs) trained to use different tools and implement strategies appropriate for the bioregion in which they work. In regions with significant LCRs, CPs will employ the methods of “landmen”⁴⁵ to acquire mineral rights, not for extraction, but to protect fossil carbon in situ.⁴⁶ In areas rich in BCRs, such as natural forests and wetlands, the emphasis will be on securing legal agreements that conserve and restore those landscapes as carbon preserves. In agricultural regions, CPs will focus on carbon farming: farming and grazing practices that capture and store carbon under the rubric of regenerative agriculture.
Initially, we expect that jobs programs such as Americorps⁴⁷ or the Civilian Climate Corps Initiative⁴⁸ will provide the funding needed to recruit people for CP jobs. Over time, three types of CPs would likely emerge: 1) in-house CPs who work directly for a carbon trust; 2) independent CPs who offer services under contract or on a fee basis; and 3) independent consultants who provide technical assistance to carbon trust stakeholders.
Cooperative Extension: Extending Landowner Assistance to Carbon Conservation
The USDA Cooperative Extension System (CES)⁴⁹ and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)⁵⁰ present possible models for disseminating carbon conservation innovation. Both services already offer some carbon management assistance to rural landowners. These organizations could expand their missions to emphasize natural climate solutions.
Carbon trusts will work closely with the CES, the NRCS, colleges and universities, and other trusted sources of expertise to develop, implement, measure, validate, certify, and monetize projects that capture, sequester and store carbon. Carbon trusts would support these USDA agencies and other experts by providing landowner outreach to promote carbon-oriented land management practices.
Green Financing: Making Markets to Fund Carbon Protection Strategies
The success of carbon trusts will ultimately depend on effective carbon portfolio management for climate protection. An important priority will be to promote robust carbon markets that mitigate speculation and enable investors to broaden their carbon asset holdings. The carbon trust system will ally with green investors to capitalize on carbon conservation projects and monetize BCRs into a form of currency or other financial instruments (e.g., certified carbon credits, carbon offsets, other carbon securities)(Figure 9).
Carbon credits take positive aspects from the two leading carbon pricing methods. Like a carbon tax or fee, marketable carbon credits set a price on GHG emissions as a harmful environmental externality. Aptly, carbon credits compensate for the ecosystem service of climate stabilization. Akin to cap and trade, carbon credits provide a policy vehicle for managing emissions within a carbon budget by restricting the amount of fossil fuels (i.e., LCRs) available for combustion.
By certifying carbon credits for the capture and sequestration of BCRs, carbon trusts can facilitate investment in natural climate solutions, including carbon farming at scale. In this way, a public agency or private company can pay forward its carbon reduction goals and fulfill other sustainability pledges by purchasing credits that fund land use changes leading to landscape-level climate action.
Strong verification systems and appropriate certification protocols are keys to successful carbon markets. Innovation in remote and direct sensing, artificial intelligence, blockchain, and other cutting-edge technologies has advanced the prospect of monetizing soil carbon and other biogenic carbon sequestration methods.⁵¹ The network of carbon trusts will seek to collaborate and build alliances with one or more leading firms that focus on validating the creditability and monetizing the value of biogenic CCS projects to assure that carbon credits are marketable.⁵²
Creating a Carbon Conservation Movement
This part of the paper presents a call to action and a roadmap for launching systemic carbon conservation. The carbon conservation trust movement will succeed when landowners can convey their mineral rights into a carbon trust for safekeeping and when carbon-friendly farming, ranching, forestry, and construction become the new normals.
The path forward starts by updating the way we value carbon. Fossil carbon can no longer be regarded as a natural resource destined for rapid exploitation. Well-designed markets combined with carbon easements can be an effective way to incentivize emission reductions and promote CCS.
Carbon trusts will also facilitate carbon farming with robust analytics that measure over time the carbon content of soils, fields, and forests and reward land stewardship with payments for ecosystem services. We envision carbon trusts as a bridge linking landholders with responsible businesses, green capital, and motivated workers.
Operating locally and scaling-up regionally, carbon trusts will combine tools, know-how, and sound processes that help landowners and mineral rights holders monetize and conserve their carbon assets. As part of this work, carbon trusts will publish best practices and conduct research to spread carbon-centric farming and forestry techniques across the landscape.
Organizational Design of the Carbon Conservation Trust Movement
The carbon trust network will function within a multi-level organizational framework to implement demonstrated methods of carbon conservation. At the highest level, a national Association of Carbon Conservation Trusts (ACCT) will provide the carbon trust community with expertise and training to fulfill the following purposes:
· Advocacy: Build awareness and support for carbon conservation and promote legal and policy reforms that accelerate the movement.
· Standard-setting: Formulate performance standards and best practices for the carbon trust community.
· Education & Training: Build capacity through skills training and leadership development for carbon protectors and educate carbon asset holders.
· Convening: Gather the carbon trust network and other allies in the carbon conservation community for mutual learning, movement building, and expanding shared interests.
· Governance: Enlist and accredit new carbon trusts, coordinate the carbon trust network, including accountability for performance standards and enforcement in the event of ethical lapses (Figure 10).
At the heart of the system will be independently chartered carbon trusts established and managed at the local and regional levels. These carbon trusts will operate as a network, sharing experiences and providing feedback to the ACCT regarding guiding principles, best practices, and training materials. Their primary mission will be to conserve carbon through acquiring and protecting a legal interest in carbon sinks (i.e., BCRs, LCRs). These carbon reserves will be acquired, held, and defended by individual carbon trusts with ACCT support.
Founders’ Conference and Process for Launching Model Carbon Trust
We propose that a founders’ conference be convened to establish the ACCT. Through engagement with a broad spectrum of stakeholders, a steering committee will prepare a draft ACCT charter for consideration, amendment, and approval at the conference. The charter documents will include a mission statement, articles of incorporation, bylaws, and the organization’s guiding principles.
The ACCT will serve as the accrediting body to charter local/regional carbon trusts. In this way, the system will likely reflect dual sovereignty between individual carbon trusts and the ACCT. The ACCT will provide a sturdy organizational design for policymaking, finance, administration, and dispute resolution. Following local conditions, carbon trusts will have considerable freedom to operate within the ACCT framework, subject to accountability for meeting ethical standards and for transparency when reporting results.
To launch the carbon trust movement, the authors have created an inaugural carbon trust in Whatcom and Skagit counties in northwestern Washington. Tentatively called the Kulshan Carbon Trust,⁵³ founded in Whatcom and Skagit counties, on the ancestral lands since time immemorial of the Lummi, Nooksack, Sauk-Suiattle, Samish, Swinomish, and Upper Skagit peoples. The region has a climate-engaged populace from which to draw leadership, public support, and financial assistance. Devoid of LCRs but rich in good farmland and extensive forests, the region provides fertile conditions for protecting woodlands, practicing tree planting, and installing biochar that increases soil carbon. In so doing, the pilot Kulshan Carbon Trust will develop the tools, techniques, and systems that can be adapted, adopted, and scaled to form carbon trusts in other bioregions.
Energy transitions have always occurred during periods of socio-economic turbulence. The ongoing shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy, magnified by the threat of an unfolding climate emergency, is no exception. In this paper, we offer an approach that unpacks complex institutions and blends public and private sector actors through the lens of ecosystem services and within the prevailing economic system. We propose a novel tool — carbon trusts acquiring a property interest in carbon assets — as a strategy to engage the private sector and marketplace in addressing the climate crisis. The land trust movement demonstrates that such agreements are a useful and scalable tool for environmental protection. Extending this proven method to include carbon is a logical and potentially powerful approach to climate protection.
Conservatives will appreciate the approach as an alternative to traditional government interventions, such as taxes and regulations. At the same time, progressives may see this as a way to multiply the impact of public sector programs. In either case, it does not require political consensus to be successful, just innovative, healthy, and stable carbon markets and a growing carbon trust network that can hold and protect carbon assets.
The organizational strength and resilience of individual carbon trusts, and the intelligence and resourcefulness of the overall carbon trust movement, will be essential for success. Protecting carbon from entering the atmosphere and oceans — along with sequestering existing atmospheric carbon — will be an intense and demanding effort that requires a multi-generational commitment. By acquiring carbon assets, carbon trusts are making a “promise of perpetuity.” Carbon credit buyers, philanthropic investors, and of course, the public will demand a dedicated and reliable carbon trust community that can steward carbon assets long into the future. By inspiring early action while building an effective and well-governed carbon trust system, we can help create a habitable climate for future generations.
Notes and Citations
¹ Steven J. Hollenhorst, Ph.D., Professor and Dean, Huxley College of the Environment, Western Washington University.
² Howard L. Sharfstein, J.D., Associate General Counsel for Environment, Energy, Safety, and Sustainability, Kimberly-Clark Corporation (Retired); Instructor of Environmental Law and Energy Policy, Huxley College and Institute for Energy Studies, Western Washington University.
³ Generally, we use the word “carbon” in the connection with the Earth’s carbon cycle, particularly its capture and storage by living organisms. In special instances, the term “carbon” will also appear in the context of human institutions (e.g., carbon markets, carbon trusts, carbon refugia, carbon credits, carbon offsets).
⁴ Quote is attributed to Dennis Healy, Molly Ivans, Will Rogers and many others.
⁵ Drawdown — The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming (2017) includes 80 specific strategies for managing the climate crisis. Edited by Paul Hawken, updated as The Drawdown Review — Climate Solutions for a New Decade.
⁶ Biogenic carbon refers to substances made by or comprised of life forms. It includes constituents, secretions, and metabolites of plants or animals, which over time can create fossil fuels (e.g. coal, petroleum) or geologic formations, such as chalk and limestone. As used by environmental scientists, biogenic carbon identifies the natural carbon cycle, particularly in connection with air emissions resulting from the combustion, harvest, digestion, fermentation, decomposition or processing of biologically based materials. UC Davis on-line Science & Climate journal. Link to Science & Climate definition of biogenic carbon.
⁷ We use the term biogenic carbon reserves as a measure of carbon stored in forests and other ecosystems to identify the opportunity that protection and sequestration of biogenic carbon offers as a climate solution.
⁸ We generally use the term “greenhouse gases” or GHGs to refer to all air emissions that trap heat and result in climate change (i.e., CO2, methane, nitrous oxide). Fluorinated gases are also strong GHGs but are outside the scope of this paper.
⁹ The global warming potential (GWP) of air emissions is expressed as carbon dioxide equivalent or CO2e. The calculation of CO2e treats CO2 as setting a benchmark of one (1). For this paper, the other relevant GHGs are methane and nitrous oxide. These compounds have the capacity to trap heat at a rate many times that of CO2. After 20 years in the atmosphere, the 2013 IPCC AR5 Fifth Assessment Report rated methane as having a GWP between 84–86 times greater than CO2 and nitrous oxide (N2O) is estimated to be 264 to 268 more impactful.
¹⁰ The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) describes an environmental externality as the uncompensated environmental effect of production and consumption that affect consumer utility and enterprise cost outside the market mechanism.
¹¹ Ecosystem services are the benefits nature bestows that enable and sustain life. The United Nations Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (as reported on the National Wildlife Federation website) describes four broad categories of ecosystem services: Provisioning — natural production of food, drinking water, medicinal plants, timber, etc.; Regulating — natural functions such as pollination, decomposition, water purification, flood management, and hydrologic control; Supporting — natural processes such as photosynthesis, oxygen production, nutrient cycling, soil creation, and the water cycle; and Cultural — natural interactions yielding non-material benefits for humankind such as spirituality, creativity, recreation, and advancement.
¹² For information on the functions and sizes of the five carbon sinks on planet Earth and their relation to climate change, see article in World Agriculture by Dr. David Frape September 25, 2016: Link to article on carbon sinks. See also, University of New Hampshire: An Introduction to the Global Carbon Cycle. Link to UNH paper on carbon cycle.
¹³ Most of these protections are government driven. However, environmental organizations, including land trusts, often step in and take action to protect critical areas. “Governance of protected areas: from understanding to action.” Best practice protected area guidelines series, (20). Borrini, G., Dudley, N., Jaeger, T., Lassen, B., Neema, P., Phillips, A., & Sandwith, T. (2013). Link to IUCN Guidelines.
¹⁴ The value of global carbon emissions trading in 2019 hit a record high of $214 billion, up 34% from a year earlier. The EU-ETS makes up almost 80% of traded volume. The average price of carbon permits in the EU-ETS scheme rose by $10 last year to $28 per metric ton. At least 46 nations and over 30 cities, states and regions now have a price on carbon dioxide emissions, covering just over 20% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions. Reuters, January 24, 2020.
¹⁵ In the voluntary market, individuals, companies, or governments purchase carbon offsets to mitigate GHG emissions from transportation, electricity use, etc. An example is the purchase of carbon offsets to compensate for air travel. Voluntary carbon markets tend to be smaller, more flexible, and innovative than compliance markets, particularly with regard to standards and registries. Forest Trends’ Ecosystem Marketplace (EM) tracked transactions of voluntary carbon offsets for 2018 representing emission reductions equivalent to 98.4 MtCO2e with a market value of $295.7 million. This represents a 52.6% increase in volume and a 48.5% increase in value over 2016. Cumulative volume has now exceeded 1.2 billion metric tons (GtCO2e) transacted since Ecosystem Marketplace began tracking voluntary markets in 2006. Link to Forest Trends Ecosystem Marketplace report. The Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets recently published a roadmap to build the market infrastructure for a well-functioning voluntary carbon market. The report emphasizes that while offsetting is an important decarbonization tool, it does not substitute for direct emissions reductions. In order to accelerate climate action, offsets must be done through high integrity projects that demonstrate measureable carbon avoidance, reduction and removal/sequestration. Link to strategy document for carbon markets.
¹⁶ Many NGOs are working in this area. For a discussion of avoided forest conversion see the Nature4Climate website. Link to page on AC. See also United States Forest Service (ed.). “Chapter 9 — Timber Stocking Guides and Growth Predictions”. FSH 2409.17 Silvicultural Practices Handbook. United States Department of Agriculture.
¹⁷ Carbon credits for forest protection are traded and the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) reports protocols are being developed for agricultural products. Link to EDF on carbon markets Keeping rangelands intact and sequestering carbon can earn ranchers income. Link to EDF on protocols for AC of rangelands.
¹⁸ The rule of capture is a fundamental concept in oil and gas law that allows a landowner or mineral rights holder to drain oil and gas from under adjoining lands without liability, so long as there is no trespass onto the neighbor’s land and the drilling complies with applicable regulations. Childers, John. Landman Lease and Title Manual.
¹⁹ Also known as forced, statutory or mandatory pooling, compulsory pooling forces landowners — even if they do not wish the mineral resources underneath their land to be extracted — to become part of a drilling unit. Although this process does not permit extraction companies surface access to the non-consenting landowner’s property, it does allow removal of fossil fuel reserves from underneath their land.
²⁰ As the movement to sequester unburned fossil fuel grows, policy changes will be needed to prevent neighboring mineral rights holders from using archaic law to usurp efforts by carbon trusts to conserve LCRs and protect the supporting ecosystem services that this important carbon sink provides.
²¹ For a discussion of the impact of higher oil prices on renewables, see Shah, I. H., Hiles, C., & Morley, B. (2018). How do oil prices, macroeconomic factors and policies affect the market for renewable energy? Applied Energy, 215, 87–97.
²³ Economic Research Service (ERS), United States Department of Agriculture; Summary of research on climate change. Link to USDA ERS statement on climate change.
²⁴ Common agricultural practices, including driving a tractor, tilling the soil, overgrazing, clearing forests and degrading water sources, result in carbon emissions into the air. Carbon farming involves implementing practices known to improve the rate CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and converted to plant material and soil organic matter. Carbon farming is successful when carbon gains resulting from enhanced land management or conservation practices exceed carbon losses.
²⁵ Biochar is a kind of charcoal produced by burning biomass (organic material) in a low-oxygen environment. This process, known as pyrolysis, converts the carbon in biomass to a form that resists decay. When buried or added to soils, under the right conditions most of the carbon remains in the charcoal or soil for decades or even centuries. The process of growing plants or collecting waste biomass, converting that biomass to biochar, and adding the biochar to soils removes CO2 from the atmosphere. American University. School of International Service, Institute for Carbon Removal Law & Policy. Fact Sheet Biochar; June 24, 2020 Link to American University carbon removal fact sheet. As a climate solution, Drawdown estimates the potential of biochar sequestration as 2.22–4.39 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (GT CO2e) by 2050. Link to Drawdown solution on biochar.
²⁶ Regenerative agriculture is based on minimal tilling and includes practices such as cover crops, crop rotation, compost application, green manure, and organic production. Together these farming methods protect soils, increase soil organic matter, reduce emissions, and sequester carbon. Link to Regeneration International.
²⁷ Within a circular bio-based economy, a key component is to reuse or recycle biomass wastes into valuable products like sequestered carbon. Examples of residual biomass feedstocks include agricultural crop residues, forestry residues, algae, wood processing residues, municipal solid waste, urban wood waste, and food waste). Link to residual biomass resources.
²⁸ Drawdown estimates that by scaling silvopasture, between 26.58–42.31 gigatons of CO2e can be mitigated or sequestered between now and 2050. Link to Drawdown Solution on silvopasture.
²⁹ USDA supports agroforestry through its conservation programs. Link to USDA agroforestry framework
³⁰ Drawdown estimates that 15.03–24.4 gigatons of CO2e can be mitigated or sequestered between now and 2050 by adopting tree intercropping at scale. https://Link to Drawdown solution on tree-intercropping.
³¹ Blue carbon refers to CO2 removed from the atmosphere by coastal and ocean ecosystems primarily through the accumulation and burial of organic matter in the soils of coastal wetlands or on the seafloor. Plant growth in the form of mangroves, seagrasses, and macroalgae can restore biodiversity and deliver other ecosystem services, particularly that of highly efficient carbon sinks.
³² If an additional 17.4–22.1 million hectares are protected by 2050, the resulting avoided emissions and continued sequestration could a total of 0.99–1.5 gigatons of CO2e.
³³ Restoring mangroves, salt marshes, and seagrasses can help address climate disruption. Project Drawdown forecasts that protecting 6.1–7.2 million hectares of currently degraded coastal wetlands by 2050 and allowing natural regrowth to occur would sequester 0.99–1.1 gigatons of CO2e by 2050.
³⁴ Seaweed ‘Forests’ Can Help Fight Climate Change by Todd Woody, National Geographic August 29, 2019.
³⁵ This material transition could result in an estimated 700 million tons of carbon sequestration, while cutting emissions of greenhouse gases from steel and cement manufacturing at least by half. Buildings as a global carbon sink. Nature Sustainability,2020, 3 269–276.
³⁶ Land trusts often multiply the ecological value of their acquisitions by targeting wetlands that filter stormwater, natural forests that provide habitat for flora and fauna, and open space for agriculture and outdoor recreation. Land trusts can also protect cultural resources (e.g., indigenous lands, archaeological sites, historic properties or battlefields).
³⁷ The area protected by land trusts across the U.S. is double the size of all land in the national parks across the lower 48 states. Link to National Land Trust Alliance Census, 2016.
³⁸ Nature.org. Retrieved October 15, 2020. Link to The Nature Conservancy.
³⁹ A person may separate the legal interests they hold in a property (e.g., ownership, possession, mineral rights) and convey a portion of their interest to another party using a legally binding written agreement.
⁴⁰ Land trusts typically have several ways to acquire property rights necessary to protect ecological values: i) tax-deductible donation; ii) fee-simple acquisition; iii) bargain sale acquisition that combines donation and fee-simple acquisition; or iv) sale and leaseback with conditions.
⁴¹ Miskowiak, D., and L. Stoll. 2006. Planning Implementation Tools: Conservation Easements. University of Wisconsin Stevens Point, Center for Land Use Education.
⁴² Additionality is essential for the quality of carbon offset credits. Carbon emission reductions are additional if they would not have occurred in the absence of a market for offset credits. If the reductions would have happened anyway (even without carbon credits), then they are not additional. For an activity or project to be additional, the possibility to sell carbon offset credits must play a decisive role in the implementation decision. Carbon Offset Guide GHG Management Institute, Stockholm Environment Institute. Link to Offset Guide on Additionality.
⁴³ Because CO2 emissions remain in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years, carbon offset credits must be associated with greenhouse gas emission reductions that are similarly permanent. If a GHG reduction or removal is reversed, then it no longer serves a compensatory function. Carbon Offset Guide GHG Management Institute, Stockholm Environment Institute. Link to Offset Guide on Permanence.
⁴⁴ The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) is often invoked as a model environmental jobs program. The CCC operated from 1933 until 1942 and hired unemployed American men from age 18 to 25 for public works projects, including construction of roads and parks, flood control, reforestation, and soil erosion prevention. The ranks of the CCC reached 500,000 people at one time and totaled nearly 3,000,000 by the end of the program. In January 2021, President Biden issued an Executive Order establishing a Civilian Climate Corps Initiative modeled after the Depression era CCC. Grist article comparing Civilian Climate Corps to New Deal CCC
⁴⁵ Landmen are the public facing side of the fossil fuel industry, interacting directly with landowners to acquire oil and gas drilling leases on behalf of oil and gas companies. There are three types of landmen: in-house (company) landmen, independent field landmen and independent land consultants. Link to Landmen.org.
⁴⁶ Like land trusts that protect surface properties, carbon trusts will have a fiduciary duty to hold carbon assets in trust for its beneficiaries (i.e., general public, including future generations), by ensuring they are protected from exploitation.
⁴⁷ In March 2021, Americorps has received an additional $1.0 billion of funding the American Rescue Plan. Americorps.gov
⁴⁸ In January 2021, President Biden directed the Departments of Interior and Agriculture to develop the Civilian Climate Corps to put Americans to work conserving and restoring public lands and waters, increasing reforestation, increasing carbon sequestration in the agricultural sector, and addressing the changing climate — Guardian Article on Civilian Climate Corps.
⁴⁹ The Cooperative Extension System is a non-formal educational program to help people use research-based knowledge to improve their lives. Based in the USDA’s, the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service works with each state’s designated land-grant universities. Link to Cooperative Extension System website
⁵⁰ The National Association of Conservation Districts (NACD) and its member network of soil and water conservation districts promotes farming practices that build soil health using crop rotation, cover crops and no- or minimum tillage systems to increase the organic (carbon) content in topsoil, which in turn reduces the need for fertilizers and mitigates the effects of drought, excessive heat and extreme weather patterns on crops. NACD website, What We Do — Soil; Link to National Association of Conservation Districts website on soil.
⁵¹ For example, the Regen Network provides tools to track land cover, carbon sequestration, and other soil health changes using ecological monitoring, verification, distributed computing, and technology development to track specific changes of land, oceans, and watersheds. Link to Regen Network. Similarly, Pachama describes itself as a diverse group of engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs that seeks to improve transparency and accountability for carbon credits by employing technology (e.g., satellite imaging, artificial intelligence) to measure and monitor carbon capture data. Link to Pacama.com. Moreover, Bluesource has been working since 2001 to develop carbon offsets from a variety of sources, including turnkey forest carbon development. Link to Bluesource.com.
⁵² SilviaTerra is active in baseline mapping of forests and provides access to the Natural Capital Exchange marketplace for forest carbon. Link to SilviaTerra’s NCAPX webpage.
⁵³ Koma Kulshan, or simply Kulshan, is the indigenous name for Mt. Baker, a 10,781 ft (3,286 m) peak located about 30 miles (50 km) due east of Bellingham, Washington in Whatcom County. Kulshan has the second heaviest glacier cover among the Cascade Range volcanoes and represents how much is at stake in abating global warming trends.