Category Archives: Ecosystem Services

The New Fall Crop for Rice Farmers: Carbon Offsets

rp_robert-200x300.jpgThis September, a new crop will be made available to rice producers: carbon offsets.

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) took another important step forward last week when it published the latest draft standard for the development of carbon offsets. The standard lays out the steps a producer needs to take in order to sell his new crop. Once it is approved, producers will be able grow and sell it as a new revenue stream.

So how does this work?

Rice fields are flooded as a part of growing this worldwide staple. It’s necessary for its growth. However, when water comes in contact with organic matter, the organic matter decomposes, generating methane – a strong greenhouse gas. By reducing the amount of methane generated through rice cultivation, a farmer can generate a carbon credit that can be sold to companies to offset their carbon emissions.

What are the practices that produce credits? Read More »

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Fertilizer-Efficiency Credits Seed the Market for Agricultural Offsets

Robert ParkhurstFertilizer use is key to increasing the productivity necessary for farms to feed rising populations.  However, not using the right amount in the right place at the right time is one of the biggest threats to a stable climate. Nitrogen fertilizer not used by crops emits nitrous oxide, a heat-trapping gas 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. It also contaminates water supplies, causes algae blooms downstream and erodes soil health.

So, it was welcome news last week when the first greenhouse gas credits for fertilizer efficiency made their debut in the North American carbon market.

The American Carbon Registry issued the credits to Myron Ortner, a central Michigan farmer who voluntarily reduced nitrous oxide emissions from his crops by modifying his fertilizer use. Working closely with researchers at Michigan State University, Ortner tested fertilizer inputs on a 40-acre plot where he grows corn and soybeans in rotation. In an interview with Scientific American, he said he’s down to using 135 pounds of fertilizer per acre, less than the average 200.

"I found out we can use less nitrogen and get away with it through those studies," Ortner told the publication. "I want a few more years on it before I'm going to commit all my acres to it, but I don't think I've lost any yield by doing what we're doing." Read More »

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Spreading Good News About the Compost Protocol

robertThere’s a growing excitement around spreading compost on rangelands to help fight climate change. Over the past four years we have learned that grazed rangelands are really good at pulling carbon out of the air and sequestering it in the soil below. And if you add compost just one time, you can capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere for more than seven years. Plus, you’ll  increase  both the quality of the grasses and the ability of the soils to hold water. If we scaled this to just 5 % of California’s rangelands, we could capture approximately 28 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, which is about the same as the annual emissions from all the homes in California.

To measure the capture of CO2, we collaborated with Terra Global Capital to create a protocol to calculate the amount of CO2 and enable ranchers to generate carbon offsets which they can sell on the voluntary carbon market. Right now we’re  in the middle of a public comment period for this protocol –  Emissions Reductions from Compost Additions to Grazed Grasslands. After public comment is over the protocol will go through a peer review period, and then be approved and published by the American Carbon Registry.  A copy of the protocol and instructions for providing comments is available here.

This protocol quantifies the emission reductions from diverting organic materials from landfills and spreading it on rangeland to spur carbon capturing grass growth. Recent waste studies estimate that approximately 72% of the waste stream going to landfills is organic (6% wood, 7% textiles/leather, 13% yard debris, 12% food scraps, 34% paper). By accurately measuring how much we divert and sequester, we can also correctly reward landowners for their good work. With our partners, University of California at Berkeley and the Marin Carbon Project, we’ve already seen the beneficial impacts through pilot projects on rangeland in Marin, Sonoma, and Yuba counties. Read More »

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Spring Cultivates Rice Offsets

rp_robert-200x300.jpgThe arrival of Spring can’t come soon enough for some, though it came early for the California offset market.  Three significant events will spur the development of carbon offsets from rice cultivation.  First, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) launched a rulemaking to adopt a compliance offset protocol for rice cultivation projects.  The American Carbon Registry (ACR) also approved a rice protocol for the Mid-South (Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Texas).

And at EDF we announced the listing of the first California rice offset project with ACR.

As a part of ARB’s rulemaking, they released a discussion draft of a compliance offset protocol.  This protocol contained three different activities that growers can take to reduce the generation of methane associated with rice cultivation – dry seeding, early drainage, and alternate wetting and drying of fields.  All of these practices have been developed using the latest science and have been shown to reduce methane generation without impacting yield.  Methane is the second largest anthropogenic source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for 9% of all U.S. GHG emissions from human activities.  Methane is also important because it is more than 20 times more potent a GHG than carbon dioxide.  At the meeting, the ARB stated that they intend to propose the protocol for consideration at the September 2014 Board meeting. Read More »

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Plow, or Preserve and Profit?

Konza Prairie Biological Station

This weekend, long-time Minneapolis Star Tribune outdoors columnist and reporter Dennis Anderson wrote a revelatory call to arms about the dire state of conservation in Minnesota:

"This ain’t working, and we need to try something different. Radically different."

Directly to the West of Minnesota in the Prairie Pothole Region of Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, annual losses of native grasslands have averaged approximately 50,000 acres per year since 2007, leading to a significant loss of soil carbon. High prices for commodity crops make it much more attractive to plow grasslands than to keep them intact.

What if a market-based initiative paid farmers and ranchers for keeping grasslands grass? A new carbon offset protocol announced yesterday may just do that.

The protocol officially titled the “Avoided Conversion of Grasslands and Shrublands to Crop Production” was developed through a partnership effort including Environmental Defense Fund, Duck’s Unlimited, The Climate Trust, The Nature Conservancy and Terra Global Capital and was funded in part by the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Innovation Grant.

Just approved by the American Carbon Registry, this first of its kind voluntary protocol will be best applied to grasslands in the Midwest. Producers of these offsets can sell them to any willing buyer in America. Ranchers in the Midwest already recognize the value of their land lies in the soil health below ground where the soil translates to healthy food for their cattle. Now these same producers can quantify this value and sell it through new environmental markets.

“This project provides Northern Great Plains producers with new ways to earn income from conservation activities, expanded opportunity for outdoor recreation and an opportunity to create jobs in their communities,” said Robert Bonnie, USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment. “The American Carbon Registry’s approval of this innovative ACoGS protocol enables vital projects like our partnership with Ducks Unlimited to preserve a treasured national landscape, while also preventing the release of greenhouse gas emissions.”

This first project the Under Secretary mentions, is estimated to perpetually conserve 5,000 – 6,000 acres of native mixed-grass prairie. The protection of grasslands will also indirectly protect 500-600 acres of seasonal and semi-permanent wetlands situated in the protected grasslands.

And these lands are protected not through onerous regulations or hollowed out federal conservation programs but through innovative new revenue streams for the agriculture sector from emerging environmental markets such as California’s carbon market.  Between now and 2020, companies in California can purchase more than 200 million metric tons of offsets.  This protocol has the opportunity to help supply that demand.

This is an exciting step forward for Midwest producers. By making ecosystems a part of the economy ranchers and their families will benefit from diverse opportunities to make more money off their land.

 

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611,622 Offsets and Counting!

Yesterday the California Air Resources Board (CARB) delivered a total of 611,622 offsets to four offset project operators.  These offsets can now be used by California compliance entities to meet their obligations under the cap-and-trade requirements of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32).

This is an historic accomplishment for California.  Not only are these the first compliance offsets to be generated for the state’s landmark cap-and-trade program, but it sends a strong signal to compliance entities that there is supply.  It also creates a win-win for developers, like U.S. farmers and ranchers, giving them  the opportunity to generate a new revenue stream for their operations while helping California fight pollution in the process.

EDF looks forward to the further offset issuance from CARB.  There are 62 Early Action Projects under review and we expect those credits to be issued in the upcoming weeks.  In addition to Early Action Projects, offset project operators can develop projects under one of the four CARB compliance offset protocols – Forest, Urban Forest, Livestock, and ODS.  This is an exciting time for the cap-and-trade program.  Offsets are valuable, high quality reductions that have already been achieved.  As Board Chair Nichols said “These offsets have undergone the most rigorous verification of any existing program. They achieve real greenhouse gas reductions under ARB-approved protocols, and deliver a range of additional environmental benefits."

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Offset Market Alive and Well in California

Offset Issuance
Congratulations to the California Air Resources Board (CARB) as they announced plans to issue the first CARB Offset Credits or ARBOCs.  These 600,000 metric tons of offsets helps the state move closer towards our emissions reductions goals.  Compliance entities, such as utility and oil and gas companies, can use these offsets to meet up to 8% of their compliance obligation.

As I said before, this is the first of many offset milestones we expect this year.  The CARB has listed 62 Early Action offset projects and 66% of them are in the forest and agriculture sectors – 15 forest projects and 26 livestock manure management projects.  This is important because, as the largest uncapped sector under the cap-and-trade program, agriculture represents a major potential to reduce near-term greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. has more than 442 million acres of cropland.  EDF is working to identify opportunities for producers to generate revenue from their environmental stewardship on these lands.  This is why we support the CARB’s development of protocols like the Rice Cultivation Protocol.

These Early Action projects have generated approximately 12 million metric tons of offsets, most of which is anticipated to be approved for use in the cap-and-trade market.  These Early Action projects are expected to generate Registry Offset Credits (ROCs) later this year and, as required in the regulations, these ROCs will then be reviewed by CARB and converted into ARBOCs within 45 days of issuance.

Anaerobic Digestion, Compost, and Rangeland Opportunities
In addition to issuing offsets, the CARB, in coordination with CalRecycle, held a public workshop this afternoon to discuss updates to the draft Waste Management Sector Plan.”  This plan is an integral part of the Scoping Plan update which will be completed by the end of this year.  Two opportunities of the Waste Sector Plan are of particular interest.  Both relate to further developing Composting and Anaerobic Digestion programs to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from organic waste streams. The Plan estimates that 4.54 to 5.62 million metric tons (MMT) of GHG reductions can be generated by diversion of organic waste from landfills. About half of these reductions (2.06 MMT) can be handled by anaerobic digesters which can convert farm and food waste into both offsets and energy.  California is one of the few states in the country that have incentives in place to generate both these benefits.

The other half of the reductions are forecasted to come from the composting of organic waste.  The Plan states that composting infrastructure has not grown over the past ten years and one of the reasons is a lack of demand for compost.  As a part of a USDA grant, EDF is developing a protocol for the application of compost to rangeland.  Our research has shown that applying one-half inch of compost (made from diverted landfill waste) to grazed rangelands can generate GHG emission reductions of 1.3 to 3.2 MT CO2e per hectare per year.  With approximately 23 million hectares of rangeland in California, there is an enormous potential market to purchase the increase in compost generated.

California policymakers are continuing to create markets for farmers and ranchers to generate revenue from their environmental stewardship.  I look forward to seeing this market continue to develop and expand.

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Agricultural Offsets are to 2013 as Energy Efficiency was to 1973

In 1973 Chase Manhattan Bank saw “virtually no scope for conservation” of electricity.  In 2011 the total market for energy efficiency in buildings was worth $68 billion and is expected to grow more than 50% by 2017.

The same thing is being said about greenhouse gas (GHG) protocols for agriculture today as energy efficiency 40 years ago.  When the California Air Resources Board (CARB) stated that they plan to consider a protocol for rice farmers in California and the Midsouth, some stated that the reductions from the protocol would be “very small” and not “widely used.”  These criticisms miss a key point.

The rice protocol is the jumping off point for a wide-range of agricultural offsets.  The rice protocol will demonstrate the benefits from the use of biogeochemical models, such as the DeNitrification DeComposition (DNDC) model, pioneered by the University of New Hampshire over the past two decades.  It will show how agricultural producers can aggregate their reductions with fellow farmers to create an offset project.  It will revolutionize ways to verify large amounts of data through risk-based sampling.  In short, this is the start of something significant.

Once the rice protocol is approved, CARB can turn its attention to other crops such as corn, wheat, or leafy greens.  They can look at grazing practices on land across the United States.  These practices, just like energy efficiency, add up fast.  It is entirely possible to achieve annual GHG reductions of one hundred million metric tons of CO2e reductions, equivalent to taking more than 20 million cars off the road, over the next ten years.

Because agriculture is the largest uncapped sector under California’s cap-and-trade program, it has a unique potential to help California meet its 2020 target.  To play a role in the program, the rice protocol needs to be adopted this spring and additional offset protocols from agriculture need to be considered in the upcoming years.

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The Future of Offsets Just Got Brighter

Yesterday the California cap-and-trade program hit another milestone. The American Carbon Registry, an approved Offset Project Registry, issued the first compliance offset credits, a significant breakthrough because these offset credits are the first ones that can be used by California companies to comply with the requirements of AB 32, California's greenhouse gas law. The credits were issued for a refrigerant destruction project which collected refrigerants from residential, commercial, and industrial sources. While these gases came from a variety of geographic areas, a significant amount came from California sources like kitchens, garages, basements, and attics.

This is the first of many goals we expect from the offset market in 2013.  Earlier this year, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) planted a seed when it launched a process to develop a carbon offset protocol for rice growers. California is the second-largest rice growing region in the U.S., and the ground that is being plowed here, both literally and figuratively, will set the stage for the development of future agricultural offset protocols across the country with practices such as fertilizer management for lettuce and corn.

As the largest uncapped sector under the cap-and-trade program, agriculture represents a major potential to reduce near-term greenhouse gas emissions.  Unlike refrigerants, offsets generated by agriculture are perennial and a grower can get a long-term income stream for their practices. Because the U.S. has more than 442 million acres of cropland, agriculture has many opportunities to reduce greenhouse gases.

EDF's research and pilots have demonstrated that it is possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease input costs, maintain yields, and generate revenue – all at the same time – creating a win-win for both farmers and the environment.

Consider this: If just 5% of U.S. agricultural land were able to reduce or sequester half a ton of CO2e per acre, more than 11 million tons could be reduced – equivalent to taking more than 2 million cars off the road for a year.  By approving the rice offset protocol this fall, the ARB will take the first step toward unleashing this potential.

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A Blueprint for Advancing California’s Strong Leadership on Global Climate Change

A key reason California has become a global leader on climate change is its ability to successfully adopt the Global Warming Solutions Act, the state’s climate law that uses market-based tools to significantly reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emission levels.

A group of tropical forest experts has now presented a blueprint for how California can secure significantly more reductions in global warming pollution than the law requires, while keeping pollution control costs down and helping stop the catastrophe of tropical deforestation.

California is widely recognized as the major first mover in the United States on climate change, but tropical states and countries are making strong progress in stopping climate change, too. Brazil and Amazon states have reduced emissions from cutting and burning the Amazon forest by about 2.2 billion tons of carbon since 2005, making Brazil the world leader in curbing climate change pollution.

Research has shown that government policies played a big role in this major achievement. But so far this success in reducing deforestation has been entirely from government “command-and-control;” promised economic incentives for reducing deforestation haven’t materialized.  Pushback from ranchers against environmental law enforcement and the officially recognized indigenous territories and protected areas that cover an area four times the size of California have weakened critical environmental legislation.

Brazil and the Amazon states will continue to reach their ambitious deforestation reduction targets, at least for the next few years, but deforestation rates recently appear to be edging upward.

California now has an opportunity to send a powerful signal that forests in the Amazon – and ultimately elsewhere – can be worth more alive than dead by partnering with sustainable development leaders outside the United States.

Since state-wide, or “jurisdictional,” reductions in deforestation and forest degradation are large in scale and relatively low-cost, it’s critical that well-governed and effective pollution control programs from early movers, like the state of Acre, Brazil, are recognized by California’s carbon market. Ultimately, this can help California control costs, while giving these environmental leaders the sign they need to keep deforestation under control.

 

REDD Offsets Working Group report

The REDD Offsets Working Group (ROW), along with observers from the governments of California, Acre and Chiapas, Mexico, calls for the Golden State to allow limited amounts of carbon credits from Reducing Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) into its carbon market, but only from states that can show that they have reduced deforestation state-wide and below historical levels.

The ROW report: Recommendations to Conserve Tropical Rainforests, Protect Local Communities, and Reduce State-Wide Greenhouse Gas Emissions" recommends:

  • Partner states receive credit for a part of their demonstrated reductions only after showing they have succeeded in halting deforestation through their own efforts.
  • Free, prior and informed consent for local communities in REDD+ programs.
  • Adherence to internationally recognized standards for protection of indigenous and local peoples’ rights and participation in policy design in partner-state REDD+ programs.

REDD+ programs are especially important for indigenous and forest-based communities because these groups have historically protected forests, and typically want to continue doing so, but they have largely lacked access to markets, modern technology, quality health care and social services that REDD+ could help deliver. With California’s help, forest communities can achieve better economic opportunities and forest conservation.

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