New carbon credit integrity guidelines could boost buyer confidence in agriculture

Voluntary carbon markets are a source of much-needed finance to help the agriculture sector realize its potential for climate mitigation. Still, carbon credit buyers face challenges in differentiating carbon credits that represent real and verifiable climate impact, based on the latest science and best practices in a crowded marketplace. It takes due diligence to get this right, and changes are underway to make the process easier.  

New guidance on high-integrity carbon credits from an independent governance body has important implications for all credit categories, including those generated by the agricultural sector.  

The Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market, also known as the ICVCM, recently launched its Core Carbon Principles, known as CCPs, a set of definitive global threshold standards for carbon credit quality. Soon, the ICVCM will begin an assessment process to determine whether carbon-crediting programs meet the CCP criteria, and whether certain carbon credit categories can be fast-tracked for CCP-approval or need to be more deeply evaluated to determine their eligibility.   

The ICVCM will issue CCP-approval labels for carbon credits, a demarcation intended to build trust in the voluntary carbon market and unlock investment by making it easier for buyers to recognize and put a price on high-integrity carbon credits. 

While CCP-approval decisions have not yet been made for agriculture credit types, the recently released guidance provides insight into key considerations for making those determinations.

Here’s what their criteria may look like in practice for the agriculture sector.

1. Carbon credits for agroforestry, agricultural soil carbon sequestration, and grassland and rangeland management mitigation activities may be eligible for the CCP-approved label but with elevated safeguards to mitigate the risk of releasing stored emissions. 

The past several years have seen a boom in credit issuance and purchasing for activities that take greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and store them, including enhanced soil carbon sequestration on agricultural lands. However, buyers should bear in mind that the ICVCM determined that agroforestry, soil carbon sequestration on croplands and grassland/rangeland management — along with strategies to store and protect other natural carbon reservoirs — have a substantial risk of reversal or non-permanence of climate benefits. This could be due to a change in land use or management or uncontrollable climate events such as droughts, floods, warming temperatures and fires.

The ICVCM guidance requires project developers to monitor, report and compensate for reversals for a minimum of 40 years to account for such reversals. This would not play out at the individual farm level, but rather by maintaining and managing an aggregate project-level buffer pool of robust backfill carbon credits, which would be held on reserve as an insurance mechanism against the loss of stored carbon. Per the CCP guidance, buffer pools would need to meet credit composition, transparency and other management requirements.  

Such safeguards against reversals could potentially open the door to the CCP-approval label if other quantification and verification issues are also addressed, giving buyers more confidence in these credit categories. Some crediting programs already follow these requirements, while others will need to make improvements for their credits to qualify for the label.

2. Categories of carbon credits that prevent or permanently reduce methane emissions from livestock operations are likely to be eligible, with a chance of being fast-tracked for CCP-approval.  

Buyers should be aware that there is an urgent need to mobilize capital to fund practices and technologies that avoid livestock methane emissions. Livestock operations are a major contributor to global methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas that has more than 80 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after its release. 

Another independent assessment body for carbon crediting methodologies — the Carbon Credit Quality Initiative, a collaborative initiative between EDF, World Wildlife Fund and Öko-Institut  — already found that there is a strong need for carbon market revenues to make projects such as industrial-scaled and household-scaled biodigesters fed with livestock manure financially viable for farmers. 

Given the clear economic need and permanence of these avoided emissions, these credit categories may be eligible for a fast-track to the CCP-approval label.  

There are critical opportunities within the agriculture sector to avoid and remove climate-warming emissions and quality assurance guardrails are essential to creating confidence in a carbon market that works for farmers, credit buyers and all entities in between. By purchasing high-integrity agricultural carbon credits that align with ICVCM’s Core Carbon Principles, credit buyers have the opportunity to help the agriculture sector fulfill its potential as a key climate solution.  

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