The market for voluntary carbon offsets is evolving quickly, with many organizations that offer carbon offsets holding themselves to different project standards. These variances have led to increased scrutiny and skepticism of the voluntary carbon market, and The Nature Conservancy agrees that there are serious challenges that can and must be addressed to produce credible and verifiable offsets.
When you contribute to The Nature Conservancy’s voluntary carbon offset program you help produce verifiable benefits to the atmosphere. This program is critically important as an example for carbon markets where conserved, sustainably managed and restored forests are valued for the carbon they store and the habitats and natural services — such as healthy watersheds — they provide.
Contributions to the voluntary carbon offset program help fund Conservancy forestry projects that are specifically designed to prevent the emissions of carbon dioxide or to capture and store carbon and thus, help reduce the buildup of carbon pollution that is causing climate change. Contributions will support projects that protect standing forests, improve forest management and plant trees where forests once existed, as well as measure and verify the amount of carbon that they store over time.
The Challenges of Carbon Offsets
The Conservancy’s voluntary carbon offset program has been designed and implemented by climate change experts and forest scientists with years of experience analyzing, measuring and verifying forest carbon projects. The projects comprising the voluntary carbon offsets program address the technical concerns that are raised about forest carbon projects, including:
- Permanence, which, simply stated, is the life of the project. It wouldn’t help to reduce climate change much if a tree were planted or saved one year only to be cut the next. The most desirable forest carbon projects are those where the restored and protected forests are likely to remain intact indefinitely.
- Additionality, which refers to the amount of carbon dioxide captured, stored or prevented from reaching the atmosphere compared to what would happen without the project. In other words, is this something that would have happened anyway?
- Leakage, which occurs when emissions avoided within a site are not eliminated, but rather displaced to another location, or when carbon capture and storage at a site leads to land clearing elsewhere.
- Measurement and monitoring, which entails periodic field measurements of forest growth and associated capture and storage of carbon, as well as, in some cases, analysis of satellite imagery and models of forest growth and deforestation.
- Verification of carbon offsets by an accredited independent third-party, which occurs periodically throughout the life of a project to ensure it meets its intended goals of carbon storage and that all additionality, measurement, leakage and permanence requirements are being met.
Meeting Challenges with High Standards
The projects in the Conservancy’s voluntary carbon offset program address these issues in the following ways:
- Permanence — The Conservancy utilizes various legal strategies to ensure projects are protected over the long term. One example of such a safeguard is the use of conservation easements (where such instruments exist and make sense) on project lands which restrict the property to forest land uses and require maintenance of strict conservation values. Another example is working with governments and local stakeholders to turn properties into legally protected areas or national parks. All strategies will ensure that the land will remain forested for future generations.
In addition, the Conservancy withholds a percentage of the carbon offsets from each project entered into the voluntary carbon offset program, and does not take contributions for these offsets. These withheld offsets are reserved in a buffer account, in order to compensate for any unanticipated loss of verified carbon benefits, due to natural hazards or human caused events down the road. For instance, if carbon emissions result from the damage or death of trees due to an ice storm, flood, fire, or other natural event, offsets in the buffer will replace those previously verified offsets whose benefits were negated due to the emissions returned to the atmosphere from damage.
- Additionality — The forest protection and restoration projects The Nature Conservancy carries out are not business-as-usual activities. In each project we calculate the carbon emissions or carbon storage that would have occurred without the project (known as the baseline or the business-as-usual scenario) and subtract that from the carbon emissions or carbon storage expected in the with-project scenario to determine the carbon benefits.
- Leakage — The Nature Conservancy tries to design projects so-as to minimize the likelihood of displacing carbon emissions. Where it is impossible to avoid displacement of carbon emissions, the Conservancy discounts the carbon benefits from forest carbon projects from the outset.
- Measurement and monitoring —Field measurements of forest growth and carbon stocks are undertaken on a periodic basis and are based upon well-established forest inventory and scientific principles.
- Verification — Local Conservancy stewardship staff ensure that the projects are being implemented successfully. Staff measure carbon storage for every project within the carbon offset program on a periodic basis for expected carbon sequestration performance goals. An accredited third party then verifies all calculations and methods used to determine the carbon benefits of the project.