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Respira in Pakistan: Mangrove restoration on an immense scale

By News

Neatly planted mangroves stretch hundreds of thousands of hectares – a growing beacon of climate mitigation within a sea of containerships and fishing vessels. Bright green and full of life, these mangrove forests pose a striking juxtaposition to the industrialisation of Karachi’s port located at the far north of the project.

At the beginning of March, two members of our team were fortunate enough to visit Karachi – a sprawling microcosm of Pakistan and home to more than 20 million people. This was no tourist trip; CEO Ana Haurie and Director of Portfolio Management, Chris Villiers, were touching base with one of our flagship portfolio projects: Delta Blue Carbon.

Blue carbon refers to marine and coastal ecosystems – such as mangroves, seagrass meadows and tidal marshes – which can remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. We have recently published an article explaining the term and these ecosystems’ roles in climate mitigation if you would like to learn more.

A brown dirt track leads to a dark green mangrove plantation. Arranged in neat rectangular patches, two people tend to the saplings.

Delta Blue Carbon currently holds an impressive record. As the world’s largest blue carbon project, it is working to conserve and restore mangrove forests across 350,000 hectares of tidal river channels off the southeast coast of the Province of Sindh. Reflecting on her first impressions of the project, Ana said:

“The scale of the project was massive and monumental. When you read or see a PowerPoint, it’s hard to get the full impact of the work these projects are doing. But when you visit a project first-hand, it becomes even more meaningful.”

Chris was also struck by the scale of the project:

“It’s hard to process the extent of the restoration,” he said, “Even spending two days on a boat, we touched only a tiny corner of it.”

The scale of mangrove operations

Such is the scale of operations in Karachi that Delta Blue Carbon has planned mangrove planting schedules stretching to 2029. These plans are ambitious – in 2023 alone, the team hopes to have planted an additional 20,000 hectares of land. Ana remarked on the sheer logistics of these plans:

“When you see the project up close, you realise it’s such a feat to actually get it done! That was another thing which dawned on me was the determination that you have to have to make something like this a reality – it’s so impressive,” she said.

This large-scale project is the result of a pioneering public private partnership between the government of Sindh and a private project developer, Indus Delta Capital. Both Ana and Chris observed that local governments participation has been instrumental to the project’s success.

With over 20 years of planting experience, the Government of Sindh’s Forestry Department has shared valuable knowledge on the most appropriate tree species for the region to ensure resilience and biodiversity benefit. Although four mangrove species are planted in the project area, Rhizophora and Evercinia are most common due to the prevalent local conditions. This highlights the importance of working with local experts who can ensure that reforestation is truly context specific and appropriate for the ecosystem in question.

A man in a pink shirt holds two green mangrove saplings. One is the species Rhizophora and the other is Evercinia.

Rhizophora and Evercinia mangrove saplings.

 

Community participation

An estimated 42,000 people live in the project area and the team are confident that at least 20,000 have, in a variety of ways, benefited from its existence. Chris and Ana explained the four main ways in which people can participate:

  • The planting season brings with it ample temporary employment opportunities. In teams of 20 to 30, people set out to plant mangrove saplings. They are not immune from competition – the team proudly declared that they hold the Guinness World Record for the most planting in a single day!
  • Others gain temporary employment as re-stockers. These teams sail out to areas planted 10 months previously to replace any trees which have failed to grow. From here, the mangroves move to a state of self-sufficiency as they are fantastic self-seeders. With the right conditions, each area can become densely populated within 5 years of planting.
  • Local families or other members of the community can also take their own initiative to supply propagules (mangrove seeds) to the project developer for future planting in return for payments. Paid by the bag load, propagule collecting has become rather popular in the area. Ana and Chris recount how they saw a group of men building a high bank on the mud flats that would act as a collection point for seeds they planned to gather in the coming weeks.
  • The community also puts forwards certain individuals to act as stewards of specific areas of the project through the Mangrove Stewardship Program. . These individuals sign an agreement to protect the planted areas from harm and receive a salary in exchange for their labour. To date, 136 people have signed up to the program.

Considering these opportunities for community participation, Ana remarked on a palpable feeling of ‘collective buy-in’ from many local people. Chris voiced his agreement:

“We heard directly from people that they saw tangible value in the project. It feels like it is making a real difference to their lives.”

“That’s what the carbon markets can do,” Ana added. “It’s for the climate; it’s for biodiversity and it’s for the communities,” she paused for thought. “And that almost becomes more important.”

 

A blue landscape picture showing the calm waters off of Karachi, Pakistan and the cloudless blue sky above.

A group of 11 people, dressed predominantly in shirts, trousers and sun hats, stand by the side of the water.

A blue, decorated boat is mored in shallow waters in Karachi, Pakistan. Two men are on board, tending to mangrove saplings ready to be planted.

Picture credit: Ana Haurie & Chris Villiers

International Women’s Day: Climate solutions need female voices

By News

Evelyne Ligoberth Kapaya is a carbon champion. From her home in Katuma Village, Tanzania, she spends much of her time discussing deforestation and climate change. She sits down with local residents to raise awareness, not only of the impacts of tree felling, but also of solutions to the crisis. She is one of the many women around the world working to safeguard the future of our environment and is very much deserving of our celebration this International Women’s Day.

Every year on the 8th of March, we have an opportunity to acknowledge female achievements around the globe. However, at the same time, International Women’s Day is also a call to action. We need to better recognise women from history; we need more women in leadership positions and we urgently need more female voices, like Evelyne’s, in climate solutions.

Women are disproportionately affected by climate change

While the impacts of climate change undeniably touch the whole community, 68% of the 130 studies reviewed by Carbon Brief found that women and girls face more climate-related health risks than men and boys. Indeed, the article reports how women and girls are more likely to be adversely affected by harvest loss and are often the ones walking further to collect water during times of scarcity. Overall, the report concludes that existing gender inequalities tend to be exacerbated by changes to the climate and although women are not always experiencing the worst health outcomes of climate change, they are disproportionately affected.

Climate mitigation will be stronger with women

Given this disproportionate impact, women must be actively involved in the development and implementation of climate solutions for they have lived experience of the unique risks climate change presents for them in their area. This is especially important when the allocation of carbon revenue is decided.

Faraja Oswald Alberto works as a Finance Officer for Carbon Tanzania’s Ntakata Mountains project. Developing short and long term accounting plans with her local community, she has seen first hand how carbon finance has changed the area:

“Before the start of the Ntakata Mountains forest protection project, there was an invasion and massive clearing of forest areas. Our lands were badly damaged. After that, the community decided to make a plan for the best use of land and implemented a forest carbon project. Gradually, the environment began to improve as the community received carbon finance to support sustainable projects and forest conservation.”

This forest conservation has been supported by the growing number of female Village Game Scouts trained in Tanzania. Faraja continues:

“Village Game Scouts are now fully employed by their respective villages to protect the forests and are paid a monthly salary from the carbon credit revenue. Groups of entrepreneurs benefit from small loans made possible by carbon finance from Cocoba (Community Conservation Banks) to run their various wealth-producing activities. This is improving the local, community economy.”

Tatu Amani Mwita is a female entrepreneur who has benefitted from Cocoba finance. She owns a small restaurant in Kapanga Village which received loans from Cocoba to purchase equipment and expand the size of her restaurant. Now, Tatu employs six other women and her restaurant can run independently of loans. 

Equity is essential

This year, the  theme of IWD is equity. It was chosen to show how offering equal opportunities can still be exclusionary. On the face of it, an equality of resources and opportunities seems positive. Such a state is, afterall, an improvement when compared to much of the inequality we see today. However, equality does not allow for difference – everyone receives the same regardless of circumstance. Equity, on the other hand, recognises differing situations and allocates resources and opportunities accordingly. Understanding these differences is an essential first step to building, and facilitating, effective, equitable, climate solutions.

Equality-based solutions and equity-based solutions

What do these differences look like in practice? Well, equality-based solutions tend to be founded in impartiality whereas equity-based solutions consider the diverse and varying experiences of individuals and tailor solutions to account for these differences. As a result, equity-based solutions are more long-term for they address issues on a deeper level than those founded on equality. For women, this distinction is key. For instance, the women affected by climate-induced floods in California will have a radically different experience to women facing extreme flooding in Pakistan. Therefore, solutions must be context-specific if they are to be effective.

For climate, we must ensure that nature-based solutions are also equity-based solutions which actively involve and seek the participation of women. And this need not be confined to one day a year. Every day you can consciously amplify the voices of women, share their work with your networks and celebrate the achievements of your female colleagues. See our flagship portfolio projects to find out how carbon finance supports women.

 

Picture credit: Carbon Tanzania and Roshni Lodhi.

Carbon Credit

Nature-based carbon credits explained

By News

From the dense forests of Brazil to the deep Pacific ocean, our planet has an innate ability to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. For hundreds of years nature has acted as a shield, protecting us from the worst impacts of our own, ever-increasing emissions. Yet, there is a limit – nature cannot continually mitigate without receiving care and investment. While many are waking up to the power of nature in our global climate crisis, it’s still fair to say that its true value is not yet reflected economically. 

However, we have tools at our disposal to help rectify this imbalance. Nature-based solutions (NBS) are one way to drive finance to conservation and restoration. These solutions involve working with natural ecosystems – such as forests or oceans – to address global challenges. The IUCN Global Standard expects NBS to provide a net positive impact on biodiversity, while simultaneously empowering stakeholders.

A similarly named subset of NBS is natural climate solutions (NCS). These are nature-based solutions that specifically address the climate crisis. They can be divided into two categories: those which avoid emissions from being released, for instance through the prevention of logging degradation or burning or existing forests, and those which remove carbon from the atmosphere via the creation of new, natural carbon sinks. Unlike NBS, the minimum requirement for NCS – as stated by The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) –  is that they result in zero net loss for biodiversity. But regardless of whether a project is NBC or NCS, it should be high quality – its benefits should be real, measurable, additional and permanent.

 

The need for nature 

To keep 1.5°C in reach, the IPCC states that we must achieve net zero by 2050. Meeting this target requires rapid decarbonisation and extensive climate mitigation which is a huge challenge. But there is hope. It is widely agreed that the natural world can deliver up to one third of the climate mitigation required by 2030 (see picture below). Indeed, it has been calculated that if nature-based solutions are effectively deployed, it could be possible to reduce and remove at least 5 – and potentially 11.7 – gigatons of CO2e from the atmosphere every year.

Therefore to hold open the rapidly closing door on 1.5°C, we need to tap into this potential. But this requires sustained, financial commitment from global, national and corporate actors. At present, nature-based solutions receive approximately $133 billion of public and private funding every year. While this sounds substantial, it is, in fact, only a conservative 25% of the level needed if we are to reach our 2050 climate target.

 

Respira Portfolio

 

The grave, green problem

Deforestation poses a massive threat to the world’s green carbon sinks. Currently most prevalent in the tropics, trees are felled at scale to make way for cattle ranches, soybean plantations and to meet global demand for timber.

Deforestation places the world’s future in jeopardy. Not only is deforestation a major threat to global biodiversity, but it also reduces the capacity of the world’s forests to capture carbon. Trees naturally take in CO2 when they photosynthesise and, without them, we would have significantly more carbon in the atmosphere than we do today. But when trees are cut and burned, they release carbon. Tragically, the volume of carbon currently emitted from global deforestation and degradation is second only to fossil fuel combustion. Without action to halt deforestation, our greatest carbon sink will remain a significant carbon source.

The world’s forests are also critical for global temperature and rainfall regulation. Water evaporating from the leaves of trees creates a cooling effect on the surrounding environment, while the unevenness of forest canopy’s alter wind speeds, further dispersing rising heat. This ability of trees to cool the planet means that tropical deforestation actually contributes 50% more to global warming than straight up carbon accounting suggests. 

 

The great, green solutions

To prevent deforestation and safeguard our natural carbon sinks, we must take action. It is estimated that 62% of the reductions and removals facilitated through NBS will come from forests and we know that these solutions are here now and ready to scale. 

Conservation

It doesn’t make sense to be losing forests faster than we are planting them, in the same way as it makes no sense to leave the taps running when trying to drain a bath. Moreover, newly planted trees take many years to achieve the same carbon storage capacity as existing, mature forest. Indeed, some Amazonian trees are hundreds of years old so are completely irreplaceable in the window left available to us to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

Forest conservation, or REDD+, is a well-known method through which to generate nature-based carbon credits based on emission reduction. Independent assessors verify how many tonnes of carbon are stored in a particular landscape’s trees. By measuring the area of trees that has been protected from being cut down, the amount of carbon that has been stored due to a project developer’s conservation can be calculated. From here, a conservatively corresponding volume of carbon credits can be sold via the voluntary carbon market. 

Amid recent critiques, recognising high-quality forest carbon credits is of utmost importance. This means that the conservation would not have been possible without the finance generated through the sale of carbon credits and that the project is, as far as possible, permanent. High quality REDD+ projects typically withhold 10-20% of credits as a leakage and non-permanence ‘buffer pool’ – insurance – in case of fires, pests, or other potential factors that reduce net carbon storage. The revenue from the credits is shared equitably with project communities who decide how to spend it.

Reforestation & Afforestation 

While we should prioritise conserving our existing trees, there are occasions when planting is a very appropriate course of action. 

Reforestation is when trees are planted in an area from which they have recently been felled. It aims to restore forests to their previous state following degradation. Afforestation, on the other hand, refers to the planting of trees on land where none previously existed. It’s important not to be too literal here – don’t think never, think land which has not been recently deforested.

Unlike forest conservation, reforestation and afforestation both remove additional carbon from the atmosphere. As such, these projects generate removal credits and, if done well, can be extremely beneficial to local biodiversity. 

Planting trees in urban environments can also be extremely positive. A recent study of 93 European cities found that raising tree cover by up to 30% (depending on existing levels), can reduce the average temperature by 0.4°C. This may sound minimal, but is enough to reduce heat-related deaths.

 

The big, blue problem

Spanning 72% of the earth’s surface, it is common knowledge that our oceans regulate the climate. Since 1850, the oceans and coastal ecosystems have absorbed a staggering 40% of anthropogenic emissions. Yet, as with forests, this ability to slow climate change is being undermined by human activity. Pollution, marine warming and overfishing all contribute to ocean and coastal degradation. 

The brilliant, blue solutions

To fund the protection of these ecosystems, it is vital we invest in NbS generating blue carbon credits. Mangrove restoration projects – such as Delta Blue Carbon – are already sequestering carbon from the atmosphere, while seagrass has recently received attention for its enormous potential for capture. Indeed, McKinsey reports that even if we just used the currently established blue carbon solutions, they could remove between 0.4 and 1.2 metric gigatons of CO2 from the atmosphere every year (see graph below).

 

(Source: McKinsey Blue Carbon report, 2022)

 

NBS ‘done right’

If implemented with integrity, NbS can help us to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, protect natural ecosystems and support the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. However, purchasing nature-based carbon credits is not a substitute for direct decarbonisation of the corporate value chain. Rather, investing in these solutions is a way for a company to faster meet, and eventually exceed, its emission reduction targets. 

Indeed, prior to purchasing nature-based carbon credits, an organisation should already have set science-based climate targets and be implementing emission reduction in line with the mitigation hierarchy (see picture below). These principles are also outlined in the NCS for Corporates Guidance.

 

 

Now is a pivotal moment for NBS. Either we enter a negative feedback loop in which deforestation and ocean degradation become key drivers of climate change. Or, we engage in a positive cycle of capacity building and climate change mitigation. The second option is in reach – NBS are here now and readily available to scale – but urgently require funding. Buying carbon credits through the voluntary carbon market helps to channel this much-needed finance to high-quality NBS projects. Contact us to find out more about our portfolio of these high-impact, high-integrity climate mitigation solutions.

6 questions to resolve in order for carbon markets to deliver more for nature

By News

By Ed Hewitt, Director of Natural Climate Solutions. First published by Carbon Pulse, 7th February 2023.

The latest debate arising from the Guardian’s recent article criticising ‘rainforest carbon offsets’ has brought the topic firmly to the forefront of public attention again. My position remains that carbon markets can be an incredibly important tool to finance nature-based solutions (NBS) at the scale required to be meaningful on a global scale [1]. However, there are some serious questions which must be resolved as soon as possible if verified (not just voluntary) carbon markets are to deliver their full potential for nature.

Context

Despite accounting for what seems like 99% of the conversations about financing nature, carbon markets still account for less than 1% of total global spend on NBS [2]. However, carbon markets are heralded by many (myself included) as a much-needed way to bring significantly more private finance to the sector. Estimates range as to precisely how much [3], but assuming Mark Carney’s projection of $100 billion per year by 2030 is a reasonable figure, directing half of that to nature could provide 12.5% of the total NBS financing required by 2030 [4] (i.e. not the panacea, but a very material contribution).

Unlocking this potential is hard though. The last 12 months have presented what many would observe to be a perfect storm of challenges for the market – notably a global economic downturn, continued debate over claims and quality (which has resulted in continued negative publicity in mainstream media) and uncertainty about the specific implications of Article 6 for nature-based projects. Demand in 2022 for retirements from nature-based credits in the voluntary carbon market dropped by 30% (53 mln in 2022 vs. 76.7m in 2021 according to AlliedOffsets’ data) and prices for the benchmark nature-based traded contract (the Xpansiv CBL N-GEO) fell by two thirds from over $14/tonne in December 2021 to below $5/tonne in December 2022.

We shouldn’t lose hope despite these concerning headlines. There are some specific technical reasons [5] accounting for the price falls in the N-GEO and, in contrast, there were a number of promising signs for the longer term in 2022. Despite the tough macro conditions, OTC sale prices for ‘high-quality’ NBS projects held up relatively well. Respira had first-hand experience of the Delta Blue Carbon project in our portfolio achieve a price of $27.80 for 250,000 tonnes in the auction conducted with CIX. This is at last a meaningful price for a meaningful volume. Market infrastructure and guidance further advanced; the first drafts were published of the Integrity Council on Voluntary Carbon Market’s (IC-VCM) Core Carbon Principles (CCPs) and the Voluntary Carbon Market Integrity’s (VCMI) corporate claims code of practice, and there was progress on Article 6 which could prove a huge market stimulant for nature-based projects. Further, a recent Abatable report showed that although nature-based credit retirements decreased in 2022, investment into ‘upstream’ (i.e. future supply of) nature-based carbon projects and developers reached record levels [6]. These represent some encouraging signs, but what specifically remains to be resolved in order to truly unlock the potential?

I believe there should be 6 questions at the top of everyone’s mind for the VCM in 2023:

1) Will there be agreement about what nature-based carbon credit ‘quality’ looks like and will this build widespread trust?

As highlighted by the recent Guardian article and the following debate which has ensued, ‘trust’ in the climate (and social + biodiversity) integrity of nature-based credits is not as high as it needs to be. Some of this criticism is justified whilst some is based on a misunderstanding of the methodologies and on the ground realities of the projects. Either way, many people are confused, which is never good for scaling a market. The recent rise of carbon ratings agencies (such as Sylvera, Be Zero and Calyx) are useful attempts to make sense of ‘quality’ (although should be viewed as risk assessment tools rather than the ‘unquestionable truth’) and the IC-VCM’s attempt to develop CCPs is a needed attempt to address these concerns and ensure an underlying and consistent benchmark of ‘quality’. My hope is that the CCPs can be accepted by communities, developers, buyers and financiers alike in 2023. However – the principles do need to also be workable in practice – especially for nature-based projects – and that was one of the biggest areas of pushback with last year’s draft guidance which will need to be resolved in 2023.

This topic of trust is particularly an issue for forest conservation projects which were the specific subject of the Guardian article which called into question their ‘baseline’ integrity (the amount of deforestation which would have occurred in the absence of the project). Confusion also abounds with the mind boggling different uses of the term REDD(+) and whether it is carried out at project, jurisdictional, or national scale. This has all contributed to demand for forest conservation credits not increasing as expected (REDD retirements in 2022 saw the biggest drop off of any credit type). The accuracy of some of the more sensational negative headlines on baselines have been robustly challenged, but uncertainty still reigns. The hope is that new Verra methodologies which require projects to use national ‘nested’ baselines should ensure that new projects coming onto the market don’t suffer the same credibility issues. Similarly, due to the increased jurisdictional and national scale of the pending ART TREES credits, baselines should also be less of an issue with these credits too. It’s not inconceivable that a new crediting standard and mechanism may also emerge. But importantly – it’s crucial that these different crediting mechanisms, operating at different scales can exist side by side and reinforce, rather than undermine, one another. When these issues are resolved, then trust in the climate integrity of forest conservation credits can be regained. Let’s not forget that deforestation and degradation causes 10-15% of global GHG emissions and that rewarding communities, private landowners and governments for protecting forest under threat with results-based payments from corporates is one of the best tools available to halt deforestation.

2) Will corporate claims guidance be agreed and gain widespread acceptance?

It’s a crazy situation where corporates are currently ‘greenhushing’ for fear of making the wrong claim. Or simply withdrawing from and not entering the market because of a fear of reputational scandals. Claims drive the market in the short term, and we need clarity and consistency ASAP. In particular, specific guidance will be needed about whether ‘carbon/climate neutral’ can still be used. That’s the most widely used claim and drives near-term demand, but it’s also one of the most controversial and poorly defined (it’s currently the subject of a court case in Germany). If it’s continued to be allowed (or is replaced by a different term with clearly beneficial implications for the buyer), specific guidance will be needed about whether it can be met with avoided emissions credits (which are still by far the most common form of nature-based credit) and whether a Corresponding Adjustment will be required. If this is done well, we could see the emergence of a semi regulated market here where corporates are required to disclose the specific credits they are retiring and the associated claims they are making – further taking this out of the ‘voluntary’ only space.

My hope is that the two most influential external bodies in this space – SBTi and VCMI – will be aligned in their guidance here. Different bodies recommending different things is never helpful for markets and we all seek consistency and clarity.

If quality and claims are both fully agreed and accepted, I think that ‘greenwashing’ accusations can be put firmly to bed.

3) Will Article 6 of the Paris Agreement be friend or foe for nature-based credits?

Whilst it looks on first glance as though Article 6, which enables the trading of emissions reductions between countries under the Paris Agreement, will be a good thing for nature-based credits, the devil is of course in the detail. Specifically:

  • Which specific nature-based credit types and methodologies will be eligible under 6.2 or 6.4? This will be key for establishing whether existing or new nature-based projects currently being designed will be able to benefit or whether new crediting mechanisms for nature-based projects will need to be developed. It currently looks like 6.2 will have more flexibility to use existing standards, whereas 6.4 looks like it will be a replacement for the CDM which may require new methodologies to be written.
  • Will there still be demand for voluntary credits which do not fit within the Article 6.2 or 6.4 framework? It would be a huge shame to throw away all the impactful climate mitigation projects which don’t end up complying with Article 6, so hopefully a thriving voluntary market with clear quality and claims guidance can continue outside of the Article 6 framework. However, very clear guidance from VCMI (and others) will be needed into what specific claims can be made with these credits (specifically related to what you can and can’t claim with or without a Corresponding Adjustment (CA). The big issue right now with Article 6 is timing. It’s not clear exactly when any of these questions will be fully resolved, yet it makes no sense for the planet to hang around until they are sorted. Climate action can’t wait for perfection.

4) Will compliance programmes allow in more nature-based credits?

Currently, the vast majority of nature-based credits are not eligible for compliance markets. They are under voluntary standards and mainly transacted on the voluntary market. Yet it’s in compliance markets where the real scale lies and high price points can be found ($850 bln market size for compliance markets globally vs just over 1$bn for voluntary in 2021, according to Refinitiv). There are of course some exceptions – California, South Africa & Colombia are good examples where a limited number of domestic nature-based credits are allowed in and the airline scheme CORSIA has approved a limited selection of methodologies for international nature-based credits. However, these are currently small in scale and are all markets with low prices. Article 6 does give rise to the prospect of more international trading for compliance markets, but ultimately policy makers (especially for the largest market – the EU ETS) are going to be unlikely to allow in more nature-based credits until debates about quality are settled. Once they are, it opens up a whole new window for finance to flow – a good reason why we are seeing an evolution of the VCM terminology from ‘voluntary’ to ‘verified’ carbon market.

5) Will biodiversity credits gain traction? And if they do, what will be the implications for nature-based carbon credits?

It finally seems that biodiversity crediting is gaining traction on the back of the Montreal biodiversity COP. ‘Nature positive’ is gaining momentum as a term corporates can use and a few practical frameworks for measuring a standardised unit of biodiversity have now been proposed. Plan Vivo has developed the first crediting methodology. Similar initiatives are also underway at Verra and other standard bodies. My feeling is that these will be developed and adopted very quickly given the urgency and momentum, although it is worth acknowledging that we are still at a very early stage in their development vs carbon markets and the market infrastructure (including safeguards and MRV systems) is yet to be built. Although this a great development for nature-based projects, it could be a long-term risk to the premium price currently enjoyed by nature-based carbon credits with high biodiversity co-benefits (particularly those co-certified by CCB)

6) Will macro-economic growth return?

Of course, this is beyond the control of nature- and carbon-market actors, but it was a large contributor to the downturn in 2022. When growth returns, budgetary constraints for corporate buyers should ease and demand should return. The 2022 macro-economic conditions particularly hit nature-based carbon project retirements as voluntary nature-based credits still tend to trade at a significant premium (+50%) to other common credit types such as renewable energy and household devices. Indeed, 2022 saw a trend for corporates turning back to cheaper technology-based credit types (retirements of renewable energy credits increased from 90 mln in 2021 to 105 mln tonnes in 2022 according to Allied data).

Due to the severity of the climate emergency, we need to act at speed and scale. Nature-based solutions hold the key to one third of the climate mitigation needed between now and 2030 and come with a myriad of co-benefits for biodiversity and people when done right. We need new and increased ways in which to fund them. Carbon markets may not be perfect, but they are improving all the time, and can be a critical way of channelling private capital into nature-based solutions. We know the challenges, and by working collaboratively to solve them we can unlock this puzzle. Resolutions to these questions are within reach. Let’s make the next series of Guardian articles be about how the challenges were addressed successfully!

 

[1] (around $400 bln of investment is needed annually by 2030 according to UNEP, delivering over 10 bln tonnes per year of CO2e reductions and removals by 2030)

[2] Primary demand in voluntary carbon market in 2021 was around $1 bln of which around half was for nature based credits according to Trove Research. UNEP estimate $133 bln annually was spent on NBS in 2021

[3] Trove estimate $296 bln by 2035 in high demand tight supply scenario, BNEF show a scenario of $1 trillion by 2037

[4] UNEP state of finance for nature estimates $400 bln annually needed for NBS by 2030. $50 bln is 12.5% of that.

[5] The N-GEO is an illiquid contract with tiny volumes traded and no control over which project you end up with

[6] Abatable’s report shows over $10 bln of VCM deals were announced in 2022, with a further $16 bln estimated deals completed but undisclosed. It is estimated that just under half are for nature-based deals.

What is additionality in the voluntary carbon market?

By News

A carbon market without additionality is like a square-wheeled bike; a highly scalable concept, scuppered by a fundamental flaw. This term, speaking to the very heart of the voluntary carbon market, it is essential to understand.

Additionality refers to the extent to which carbon credits represent a reduction or avoidance of CO2e emissions from a project that would not have been possible without the carbon finance generated through credit sales. It is an absolutely central principle as – if credits are not additional – they cannot be used to offset a corresponding tonne of CO2e emitted by the buyer.

While we focus here upon the additionality of supply, we cannot forget another foundational basis of carbon markets. That is, that high-quality supply must always be accompanied by high integrity demand. Corporate buyers need to have credible net zero strategies and prioritise cutting emissions in their own value chains as a first step. Only then should carbon credits be used to compensate for any residual emissions released whilst companies continue to decarbonise.

If you are thinking of investing, make sure to read our guidance for embarking on a credible pathway to net zero and resources from the VCMI while you explore our flagship portfolio projects.

Why is additionality so important?

It almost goes without saying that to be effective, carbon credits must represent a genuine reduction or avoidance of emissions. That is, as outlined above, the first criteria of additionality. That’s not all; the underlying activity from which the carbon credit was produced cannot have taken place without carbon revenue. 

But why is this so important? Well, take for instance this example: A wind farm is developed in, say China, and is connected to the grid. This is normally taken as a good thing. For one, it means low carbon energy and secondly it releases considerably less emissions than a coal power plant. But due to the costs of renewable energy coming down in many countries, wind farms in places like China are now cost competitive with fossil fuel energy. This means they can get built just using revenues earned from electricity sales. In essence, this means that this wind farm would not require the subsidy from the sale of a carbon credit to get built. As the project would have occurred anyway, no ‘additional’ emissions prevented from entering the atmosphere for which a corresponding volume of carbon credits can be generated.

Indeed, if a project could facilitate emission reduction or avoidance without the revenue generated from carbon credits, then to what extent is their sale necessary? Yes, carbon funding could be directed to people and communities on the frontlines of climate change to drive investment in resilience-enhancing infrastructure. But under a non-additional scenario, a project is not delivering any climate benefits beyond what was achievable without carbon revenue. Therefore, any company purchasing and retiring credits from such a project could not make claims of positive environmental action in good faith. So while the financing of social projects is extremely necessary, it should be done through the sale of additional carbon credits, or via a different mechanism entirely.

The idea of additionality is essential for any company to understand, both in terms of the scale of decarbonisation required by 2030 to meet 2050 targets and to protect against the reputational damage caused if claims are revealed as greenwash.

How is additionality regulated?

With a culture of meticulous scrutiny surrounding corporate green claims, it’s hardly surprising that companies err on the side of caution when it comes to the voluntary carbon market. Indeed, coupling this reputational risk with the urgent need for sustained, large-scale decarbonisation, buyers naturally want to know that the credits they invest in correspond to a genuine reduction or avoidance of emissions. Thanks to significant labours from across the voluntary carbon market, there are now numerous regulatory bodies to whom business leaders can turn. 

An expanding pool of companies and organisations exist with the purpose of distinguishing between high- and low-quality carbon credits. You may have come across the phrase, ‘Verified emission reductions (VERs)’. This refers to a reduction in CO2e from a project that is independently verified against a third-party certification standard. This type of verification is increasingly expected and enforced by both buyers and suppliers.

Yet, determining additionality isn’t as simple as classifying a project as additional or not. Sylvera, for instance, consider additionality as a metric of risk rather than a state that is, or is not, achieved. In fact, framed as a scale, additionality is the factor weighted most heavily in the calculation of Sylvera’s ratings. 

Others debate whether additionality is purely determined financially. While for some the wind farm example given above would be a perfect illustration of the concept, some would say that such an approach to additionality does not take into account any other factors that could have prevented the project from operating. This is known as ‘common practice additionality’ and refers to a scenario in which a project is economically viable without the sale of carbon credits, but there are other social or political factors that make it infeasible.

With stringent additionality regulation, we can unlock the full potential offered by high-quality, carbon credits. Indeed, if projects are additional they can deliver verifiable, impactful co-benefits for biodiversity, communities and individual livelihoods.

What’s next for additionality? 

Constantly evolving and improving, the standards of additionality look set to continue to rise across the voluntary carbon market throughout 2023. The Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market (ICVCM) is working on guidance regarding the setting and enforcing of a definitive global threshold standards for high-quality carbon credits. Known as the Core Carbon Principles, it is set for launch in Q1 2023.

Yet whatever developments arrive, conducting your own due diligence remains of fundamental importance. So when considering the purchase of carbon credits, consider if the project would have been financially viable without the carbon finance, ask if it is common-place in the local area and investigate if regulation exists to enforce or incentivise the project. These questions should help you determine additionality and decide whether the emissions reductions could have taken place without carbon finance. 

 

High-quality credits can create impact immediately. Used wisely, they serve to compensate for currently unavoidable emissions along a company’s pathway to net-zero. We work to ensure that high-quality, additional, independently verified products are available in the market. To see our flagship portfolio projects, make sure to check out the rest of our website.

greenhouse gas emissions

Carbon footprint? How corporates can counterbalance emissions

By News

It is likely you have felt a personal responsibility to reduce your carbon footprint. Perhaps you are avoiding flying? Or maybe you have cut down your meat consumption? However small, our environmental choices are all essential forms of climate adaptation. But while individual action is extremely valuable, we must also get corporates on board to drive widespread climate action.

The term ‘carbon footprint’ refers to the amount of greenhouse gas emissions associated with a specific person, entity or organisation (1). For a company, activities spanning from the global shipment of goods to printing a sheet of A4 all contribute to its carbon footprint. Reducing emissions may seem like an impossible mountain to climb yet, encouragingly, recent years have marked a shift: many companies are on a mission to limit their carbon footprints. Reflecting on this transition, our CEO, Ana Haurie, said:

“Corporates are no longer just feeling the top-down pressure to incorporate sustainability strategies into their operations, but also now face substantial and sustained bottom-up social pressure, which has resulted in them taking real action on climate.”

In this fight against environmental change, words and pledges are not enough; corporates must actively take steps to counterbalance their carbon footprint if they are to create genuine, tangible benefits for both people and the planet. Here’s how they can do it.

Net zero: Now is the time

There is growing consensus that we must reach a state of net zero by 2050 following substantial actions to reduce and mitigate existing unavoidable emissions before 2030. At the global level, the IPCC provides a clear definition of net zero, stating that: ‘Emissions reach net zero when all greenhouse gases emitted from human activity are counteracted by greenhouse removals over a specified period’.  

To reach net zero by 2050, we need to have already cut global emissions by approximately 55% by 2030 and such reductions cannot be achieved without also tackling the nature loss crisis. The earth’s natural ecosystems absorb roughly half of all anthropogenic carbon emissions, yet extensive deforestation is undermining the capacity of nature to provide climate change mitigation. If the intrinsic value of nature were not enough reason to invest in its conservation, the reality is that without natural biodiversity, our climate change trajectory would be far worse. 

We are not yet close to counterbalancing our greenhouse gas emissions or to halting nature loss. At our current rate, temperature rise is set to reach 2.5°C above pre-industrial levels by 2050. Exceeding the 1.5°C limit agreed in Paris will likely initiate catastrophic positive feedback loops that once begun, will further increase global temperatures. Such threats including sea level rise, melting permafrost and more frequent, severe extreme weather events, underline the urgency with which we must act. Now is the time for corporate commitment net zero.

Counterbalance: The corporate responsibility

At a corporate level, net zero is less clear cut and can mean different things for different industries. However, for most companies, net zero is an end-state in which it has reduced its own internal – scope one and two – emissions and its product -scope three – emissions as much as possible.  

It’s clear we have no time to lose. We do not have the luxury to wait for new removal technologies still undergoing development. Instead, companies must deploy every tool currently at their disposal to achieve emission reduction goals. One resource already in our collective armouries are carbon credits. Representing either the permanent removal of a tonne of CO2 from the atmosphere, or the avoidance of one tonne of CO2 being emitted, verified carbon credits are proven to be an effective way to finance the protection of natural ecosystems while also enabling companies to achieve ambitious climate goals.

For this, nature-based credits hold particularly great potential. These solutions work with nature to address the climate crisis through projects such as forest conservation, soil restoration and blue carbon initiatives which not only sequester carbon from the atmosphere, but simultaneously protect nature and biodiversity. 

When engaged with responsibly (more on this below), the voluntary carbon market is an effective tool for the acceleration of climate mitigation efforts. Let’s be clear, carbon credits form just one part of the climate solutions, but we see the scaling of the voluntary carbon credit market – and nature-based climate solutions in particular – as a prerequisite for a credible and ultimately successful journey to net zero.

How does this work in practice?

First of all, any company looking to work towards 2030 and 2050 targets should embark on a ‘pathway to net zero’. This refers to the plan a company must execute to reach the end-state of net zero emissions in a specified timeframe. Carbon credits must not be used in isolation, they need to be part of this transition pathway (see graph below). Typically, this involves a detailed account of how emission reductions will be achieved, accompanied by firm interim targets for when these reductions should be achieved. In fact, setting and meeting ambitious interim milestones could be said to be of greater importance for climate action than the end-goal of net zero. See Steps 1 and 2 on the graph below.

How to counterbalance your carbon footprint using high-quality carbon credits

Once a company has committed to a net zero pathway, it should start to cut emissions from across its value chain inline with the mitigation hierarchy. However, even after the hierarchy has been followed, it is likely that a company will still be producing some unavoidable emissions. Step 3 of the chart outlines the most appropriate action for counterbalancing hard-to-abate, residual emissions. In this scenario, purchasing a corresponding volume of avoidance credits can provide a practical, short-term solution. Generated from projects such as forest conservation or clean cooking, avoidance credits help finance climate solutions and reverse nature loss. While this is vital in the near term, these credits cannot be an end state because a tonne of emitted carbon has not been removed from the atmosphere; a separate tonne has been avoided.

Avoidance and removal

This is why a company should transition over time to increase its purchase of removal credits (i.e generated when carbon dioxide is sequestered from the atmosphere and stored either biologically in trees or soil, or geologically through direct air capture and storage). Throughout this process, a company should be continually reviewing emissions across its value chain to see if they can be cut further. 

As an impact-driven carbon finance company, our high-quality carbon credits allow corporations and financial institutions to mitigate their environmental impact while channelling private capital into predominantly nature-based climate solutions. Our flagship portfolio offers a balance of avoidance and removals projects which enable companies to follow a high-integrity pathway to net zero and counterbalance their carbon footprint. To learn more about our work and our portfolio, be sure to follow this link.

(1) https://www.britannica.com/science/carbon-footprint