Clearing the air



1 February 2023

Forest based carbon credits have recently been shrouded in controversy over allegations of overestimation and miscalculation. The growing global conversation has now called attention to the need to take a closer look at creating a verifiable and transparent system for the validation of greenhouse gas removals. In the United States, where ranchers, foresters and farmers form the core of a strong and resilient natural landscape, there is a need to clarify how best credits can be made to serve the nationwide goal of net zero carbon emissions.

One important element of a future solution is to turn to the potential of improved agricultural land management practices, which not only have immediate benefits for the production matrix but also foster a long-term philosophy of sustainability. In our work as an organization focused on exploring precisely this type of solution, we have found it immensely useful to target specific agroforestry practices focused on the improvement of waste management. Landowners already have a strong understanding of the need for regenerative agricultural and forestry practices and have embraced the planting of native species and the in-site production of materials like biochar with enthusiasm.

Traditional knowledge about the restoration of forests is cognizant of the immensity of sequestration currently required – upwards of 700 billion tons by 2100. The attention of farmers and foresters has rightly homed in on a lasting issue – what do we do with agricultural waste like wood chips if decomposition is no longer an option?

Unlike processes of carbon removal that make it challenging to arrive at the precise geographical location and calculation of sequestration actions, a process focused on a network of agricultural and forest landscapes across the United States can constitute a credible alternative to actors seeking to purchase credits. The transparency of the system is such that it not only reduces barriers to entry for producers but also helps them function as sellers of carbon credits whose awareness of the area can significantly boost the validity of purchased credits

The key benefits to the environment from this approach include the protection of biodiversity and the creation of diverse and resilient ecosystems through mixed cropping mechanisms that seek to maximize yield while minimizing externalities. The persistence of the biomass question is essentially one that can prove to be a prominent element of the global debate surrounding the validity of credits.

For companies who are located in the United States and seek to establish their environmental credentials to an international audience, there is no better opportunity than by helping to strengthen the agricultural economy. The two-way advantages of the system include an increasingly competitive pricing mechanism for biomass-related carbon credits such as those obtained from the production of biochar. The availability of data specific to forest carbon hotspots across the country could prompt more targeted actions where concerned companies could plan their future growth and offsets accordingly.

The controversy around offsets is really not the end of the road. There are better ways to participate in the carbon removals market. All it takes is a willingness to reach for newer solutions and act with a sense of responsibility and creativity.

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