Friday, March 18, 2011

Soil Carbon Credit Standard Proposed

Novecta, a consultancy jointly owned by the Iowa and Illinois Corn Growers Associations, has been circulating a draft standard for agricultural soil credits. Soil credits have played a minimal role in carbon markets up to now, because soil carbon is viewed as difficult to measure, verify, and track. The proposed standard seeks to rectify two particular issues affecting the perceived integrity of soil carbon credits:
  • Additionality - The additionality (compared to business as usual) of soil credits has been difficult to demonstrate, because the cyclical nature of agricultural production complicates efforts to estimate what would have happened in the absence of a soil carbon project. The proposed standard would base additionality on crop cycles, comparing carbon content at the beginning and end of a cycle--more carbon at the end than at the beginning would confirm additionality.
  • Permanence - An individual soil project is subject to multiple factors, such as weather and market dynamics, that render outcomes highly variable. This makes permanence difficult to demonstrate at the individual project level. To compensate, the Novecta standard would employ the concept of "collective persistence" to aggregate individual projects. Treating projects in the aggregate protects individual producers from the uncertainties associated with agriculture, while creating a more stable measure of sequestration for carbon markets.

Following comments and further revisions, Novecta plans to present the standard to USDA and members of Congress in an attempt integrate farming more fully into carbon trading schemes. This represents an important step forward for the budding "carbon farming" movement. It also represents an opportunity to align the interests of agriculture more broadly behind carbon sequestration efforts by providing an additional, secure source of income, particularly attractive in a world of fluctuating, unpredictable food prices.

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