Accounting Challenges to Landowner Participation in Carbon Sequestration Projects
By guest blogger David Wade
Ecologically-based carbon sequestration represents an opportunity to mitigate our impact on climate change. The United States’ crops, grasslands, soils, and forest sequester 14% of the nation’s carbon emissions.* The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that a payment of a mere $15 per ton of carbon sequestered could entice landowners to boost ecological sequestration enough to offset 21% of the nation’s emissions.** It is clear that ecological sequestration could play a large role in the nation’s efforts to reduce its greenhouse gases.
However, the carbon accounting criteria of additionality, verifiability, leakage, and permanence, which are important to ensure the programs’ carbon benefits, require land use restrictions and complicated monitoring that may dissuade some landowners from undertaking carbon sequestration projects. This blog post suggests ways carbon purchasing programs can work with – and support — landowners to achieve significant levels of program participation.
Additionality and verifiability require that sequestration projects show measurable increases in carbon uptake.
- Additionality requires that landowners conduct studies to determine what their net carbon emissions (emissions minus uptake) were before a project begins and what they will be after a project has started.
- Verifiability requires that landowners pay the cost of monitoring their carbon emissions over time in order to prove they are meeting their carbon obligation.
At first, landowners may not have the technical expertise to undertake these studies, and may need to hire consultants to do the work. The monetary cost of hiring experts and time cost of learning complex monitoring systems may initially cause landowners to doubt the value of participation. Fortunately, the majority of the costs occur at project outset. Carbon purchasing programs can win landowner participation by providing assistance with costs, both monetary and time, as landowners learn how to manage their projects. Once the initial measurement requirements are met and knowledge gaps are bridged, landowners will be more than capable of meeting their reporting requirements.
Leakage and permanence both threaten to dissuade landowner participation by limiting land use options.
- Leakage is carbon emissions that partially or fully offset the carbon uptake of a landowner’s sequestration project. Programs aim to limit leakage as much as possible since leakage undermines a project’s carbon benefits.
- Permanence is the goal of ensuring that carbon reduction lasts for the duration of a project’s contract. Not many landowners will be thrilled to learn that leakage and permanence may limit them to only engaging in land use activities that are carbon neutral.
Landowners know they have to protect themselves against an uncertain future, and their best bet lies in maximizing their ability to generate revenue from their land. If programs are going to overcome landowner aversion to limiting land use options, then programs need to provide landowners with ways of protecting themselves against unforeseen losses such as flood, fire, or other catastrophic events. If the conditions for opting out of the program are well defined, contract termination clauses may provide the flexibility and assurance landowners require in order to consider participation.
If this blog post shows nothing else, it shows that carbon accounting criteria give landowners legitimate reasons for being wary of participating in carbon sequestration projects. Fortunately, carbon purchasing programs can do much to earn landowner participation by providing technical and financial assistance as well as means of opting out in the face of unforeseen losses. These options are useful considering how much the nation’s biological systems can offer in mitigating climate change.
What do you think? Comment below!
–David Wade is a recent recipient of a MPA from the University of Oregon and drew on his thesis research on forest-based carbon sequestration projects to form his insights about how conservation accounting criteria may impact landowner participation levels. He aims to put these ideas to use assisting conservation organizations secure high levels of landowner participation. Contact him at email@example.com if you have any questions or think he might make a good addition to your staff.
* Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2009). Executive Summary: Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2007. USEPA #430-R-07-002. Washington, D.C., pp 15.
** Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (2005). Greenhouse Gas Mitigation Potential in U.S. Forestry and Agriculture. USEPA #430-R-05-006. Washington, D.C., ch 4. pp19.