Banking on Soil Carbon
For the most part, carbon offsetting schemes have focused on tree-planting thus far. Tracts of new forestry have been created on the back of funding from companies looking to mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions. The suggestion is quite simple – plant a tree and store x tonnes of carbon – a simplicity that appeals to many businesses looking for a quick solution.
However, trees aren’t the only way to store carbon. In fact, soil is a critical carbon store. Globally, the soil carbon store is estimated to be 2.3 times greater than the carbon in atmospheric CO2 and 3.5 times greater than the carbon in all living terrestrial plants. Within soil carbon, grassland soils are a major store and hold about 34% of the global terrestrial carbon. However, due to the rise of industrial agriculture, many of our agricultural soils have become degraded. It is estimated that nearly 2 billion ha of soil in the world has been degraded. The FAO led Global Soil Partnership reports that 75 billion tonnes (Pg) of soil are eroded every year from arable lands worldwide, which equates to an estimated financial loss of US$400 billion per year.
So, if we are to create a market mechanism to sequestering carbon, it makes sense to develop a mechanism to fund soil carbon storage and help restore agricultural soils to health.
CommodiCarbon is one of a number of UK schemes that are offering a CO2e certification. It quantifies soil carbon sequestration specifically, and measures CO2e reductions based upon guidelines set out by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). The company works closely with Gentle Farming to advise and guide on land management techniques to sequester carbon. CommodiCarbon also allow for price segmentation as well as managing multiple listings and sales at once. This scheme operates on a yearly basis, as opposed to other carbon schemes that operate on a longer-term 5 or 10-year contract, which incentivises constant improvement, encouraging the sellers to improve management practices year-on-year to generate higher income from offsetting. It also puts the farmer in control as the farmer (or land manager) can determine the price of their listings and then accept bids. There are other schemes emerging into this space, such as Soil Heroes, and a number of others that are actively scoping the space.
However, with a number of private companies entering the soil carbon market, many are wondering if the UK Government will get involved and create a public offsetting scheme for grassland soils. The UK Government has been active in promoting a ‘public money for public goods’ model within the new agriculture policy. They even included within the stated list of goods within the Agriculture Act, alongside clean water and clean air. This will mean that the UK Government should be funding soil carbon sequestration within the new farming subsidy scheme. So, could a public scheme to support soil carbon offsetting be on the cards in the future? What is clear, is that to make this viable from a farm livelihood-perspective, there needs to be financial incentives at scale that pay farmers to increase carbon levels in their soils. By including soil carbon into offsetting mechanisms, farmers could have another lucrative income stream and businesses should be able to balance their emissions.
If you are interested in learning more about soil carbon offsetting and how it might benefit your business, please get in touch.