Tourists drift on a bamboo raft in jinhu county, huai 'an city, east China's jiangsu province, April 13, 2019.
Floating forest Tourists drift on a bamboo raft in jinhu county, huai 'an city, east China's jiangsu province, April 13, 2019. © He Jinghua/TNC Photo Contest 2019

Newsroom

Our Commitment to Carbon Credits and the Path to Net Zero

Our planet faces dual crises: rapid climate change and biodiversity loss. We have years, not decades, to address these existential threats to our ways of life.

The climate emergency requires myriad solutions. We need to dramatically transform the global economy to reduce emissions from all sectors, including energy, transportation, manufacturing, construction, and land use. We need global and national policies and agreements to reduce emissions and remove harmful subsidies that slow progress. We need leaders around the world to act ambitiously and courageously. We need all parties to appreciate and value nature’s role so that restoration and improved management can maximize the contribution that nature makes to mitigating climate change. And, we must implement solutions transparently, inclusively, and equitably.

To avoid catastrophe, global leaders have agreed that net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is a planetary imperative. Science led by The Nature Conservancy (TNC) shows that Natural Climate Solutions (NCS) have the potential to contribute up to a third of the climate mitigation that the Paris Agreement indicates is needed by 2030 and are thus an essential component of the response to the climate crisis. Scaling up NCS includes multiple strategies, including new national policies, removing deforestation from supply chains, improving land-use practices, conserving mangroves and forests, and leveraging carbon offset markets to protect nature.

The rapidly evolving carbon marketplaces and the use of carbon offsets have the potential, in combination with other strategies, to meaningfully mitigate the impact of greenhouse gas emissions, as well as provide valuable conservation co-benefits for people and nature.

Offsetting provides one tool for difficult-to-decarbonize sectors to address their currently unavoidable emissions in the near-term. These sectors must simultaneously pursue the technological innovation, operational practices, and resource management needed for delivering longer-term transformations. A 2016 study by Forest Trends showed that companies who offset are more likely to have stronger climate targets and to invest more on internal decarbonization than companies who don’t offset.

A hardwood forest stand in Michigan's Two Hearted River Forest Reserve.
Forest/Climate Solutions A hardwood forest stand in Michigan's Two Hearted River Forest Reserve. © Drew Kelly

A Rigorous Review

Carbon markets are a fast-evolving solution that has seen rapid development and growth over recent years. Integrity of carbon finance is vital. As a global conservation leader, TNC helped to pioneer carbon mitigation and conservation finance strategies, and we’re continuing to test, monitor, and adapt carbon projects. And, like other land-owning conservation organizations, we have a particular role to play in carbon markets in that our ownership commits us to a higher standard of stewardship and conservation of land.

For carbon markets to achieve their promise, TNC is committed to continuous improvement in the carbon projects we develop. As part of that commitment, in Spring 2021, TNC convened a group of carbon experts to review projects we have under development.

The review looked at projects in which TNC was involved on lands that are either owned by TNC or are public/quasi-public lands. The level of protection of these lands varies by project, as do forestry management practices and future conversion risks.

The review focused on the establishment of baseline setting which assesses how the property would have been managed without the carbon generation activities, and whether projects established their baselines using a reasonable and good faith representation of what the landowner would have done in the absence of a carbon sequestration project.  For lands that did not have carbon sequestration as part of the original land acquisition strategy, the review assessed whether the baseline assumptions were consistent with how the landowner, including TNC, historically managed the property, or based on common management practices on similar properties.

Findings

Results of the review confirmed that all projects were being designed according to the approved methodologies and rules of carbon market standards.

Across carbon market stakeholders (buyers, carbon standard organizations, project developers, media), there is a spectrum of perception on what makes a “good” baseline scenario on which to evaluate the carbon benefits of a project.

Despite this variance, our review found opportunities to improve our approach to establishing baselines for carbon offset projects. TNC will use the findings of the review to reassess elements of some of the projects, including the establishment of baseline scenarios to ensure they are consistent with our ambitious climate goals. 

We will also use the findings to develop improved systems and guidance to meet the level of excellence we strive for in all our future carbon projects.  We are building an expert team to provide organizational guidance and best practices, and to support the development of projects. 

As a global conservation leader that has pioneered carbon mitigation and conservation finance strategies over the years, TNC has the experience, reach, and responsibility to forge new levels of excellence and help ensure all carbon markets continue to make real and significant contributions to the fight against the climate crisis. We are redoubling our efforts to engage in and contribute to improving science and offset methodologies by participating on advisory groups and other initiatives that guide carbon markets.

Through policy advocacy, corporate engagement, and public outreach, TNC and our environmental NGO partners will elevate appreciation of the value of nature, including substantiated valuations and realistic pricing of carbon. Nature has a greater value when it is intact and restored, than when it is converted and destroyed. Markets will not be able to reach their full potential in fighting climate change unless corporate buyers demand high integrity carbon credits and are willing to pay the necessary price to create them.

Aerial photograph of the Cumberland Gap in Kentucky. May 2019. The Cumberland Forest Project protects 253,000 acres of Appalachian forest and is one of TNC’s largest-ever conservation efforts in the eastern United States.
Cumberland Gap Aerial photograph of the Cumberland Gap in Kentucky. May 2019. The Cumberland Forest Project protects 253,000 acres of Appalachian forest and is one of TNC’s largest-ever conservation efforts in the eastern United States. © Cameron Davidson

Looking Ahead

We strongly embrace a global goal of net zero emissions. It is an ambitious goal but by identifying and supporting the necessary technologies, practices, and financing, we can get there.

Our institutional goal is to help to reduce emissions and increase sequestration by 3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year by 2030. To reach that, we will continue to pursue solutions that benefit biodiversity, sequester carbon, and reduce risks to people most vulnerable from a changing climate.

We appreciate the diverse perspectives, active debate, and collective efforts to make carbon markets an ever-improving climate mitigation strategy. These findings are a step in the ongoing process to strengthen TNC’s internal systems, continue to adapt projects to meet the highest bar for excellence, and produce additional and lasting carbon reductions as we leverage the power of carbon markets and other natural climate solutions to meet climate goals.  

The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries and territories: 38 by direct conservation impact and 34 through partners, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.