Carbon Accounting and Land Use Change – Challenges, Opportunity, and a Call to Youth
“We all have a role to play in the fight against climate change. Your actions, however small, can have a profound impact when combined with thousands of others.”
This article focuses on the general workings of carbon markets in relation to small-hold farmers access. The article seeks to provide an overview of the present opportunity and challenges to small-hold farmers in the agriculture and food-production sector. Therefore, the initiatives are primarily mentioned in relation to LULUCF (Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry).
Agriculture and Climate Change
Climate change is increasingly impacting global agriculture. Simultaneously, agriculture is the focus of many debates – whether agricultural food systems are victims or contributors to climate change. Smallholder farmers manage about 75 percent of the world’s agricultural land and are heavily impacted by climate change. Agriculture is responsible for 20-30 percent of the GHG emissions globally. On the other hand, agriculture is more and more becoming part of the solution to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change (29 June 2021, solidaridadnetwork)
Unlocking the potential of smallholder farmers to become a global force for good in addressing climate change.
The international initiative “4 per 1000“, launched on 1 December 2015 at the COP 21, demonstrate that agriculture, and in particular agricultural soils can play a crucial role in relation to both food security, climate mitigation and adaptation.
Supported by scientific documentation, an annual growth rate of 0.4% in the soil carbon stocks, or 4‰ per year, in the first 30-40 cm of soil, would significantly reduce CO2 concentration in the atmosphere related to human activities.
How are offsets tracked
You’ve maybe heard off carbon accounting and offsetting. This is often mentioned as a way to make a direct impact toward fighting climate change, but what does it really mean?
You might have heard the term “Carbon Market”. This is a popular term for a trading system through which countries may buy or sell units of greenhouse-gas emissions in an effort to meet their national limits on emissions. These national limits have been decided through the Kyoto Protocol or other agreements. The market is not limited to emission reduction of CO2 but include multiple greenhouse gasses (GHGs). The term comes from the fact that CO2 is the predominant GHG, and other gases are Therefore measured in units called “carbon-dioxide equivalents” (CO2e).
A carbon credit, sometimes called a carbon offset, is used when representing the reduction or removal of one tonne of CO2 equivalent (tCO2e) from the atmosphere. On a project basis, emissions are often calculated for multiple processes including GHGs beside CO2.
A project providing emission reductions tend to follow a nationally recognised standard. The standard describes how emissions are measured, monitored, and verified. It can be difficult to understand the nuanced but important differences among standards that issue carbon credits. However, this is of great importance as it determines how projects are designed. Some standards may collaborate to include common quality measures and further future development.
To guarantee the trustworthiness of a project it’s recommended by the Gold Standard that emission reductions must be:
Small-Scale Farmers Access to Carbon Markets
Though most nationally recognised standards agree on these measurements – they differ in how emissions are calculated: which processes are included in the monitoring and accounting for carbon pools, sources and sinks. This makes project development difficult to small-hold farmers as knowledge of the specific standard is needed which often requires engaging with consultancy.
Project developers have been experimenting with projects that engage smallholder farmers in land-based carbon sequestration, while providing equitable livelihood benefits for farming communities. However, these projects face challenges in their management complexity and the costs of project development (Shames S. 2013, CGIAR).
Smallholder farmers have not yet benefited from the carbon market at scale. This is mainly due to the high transition costs needed to generate a tradable, unique, and independently verifiable carbon offset. In addition, the market has historically offered low prices for carbon offsetting assets. However, the market is changing dramatically in recent years, due to an increase of net zero emissions of leading global companies such as Google, Microsoft and Nestlé. This offers opportunity for the agriculture and food-processing sectors to create a win-win situation, especially for Tier 3 suppliers such as small-hold farmers.
Scalability within small-hold farmers
The tools and methods that do exist to measure and monitor forest carbon, and to some extent soil carbon, are mainly physical and are therefore highly labour and resource intensive. To put this in perspective, these methods normally require a minimum of 2000 hectares for measuring the impact. Whereas small-hold farmers have less than 2 hectares per household (HLPE 2013, IFAD 2013). Major efforts are therefore going into merging technological solutions such as remote sensing, Internet of things and artificial intelligence – in the hopes of automating the role of monitoring and simultaneously downscaling project areas to include small-hold farmers.
In an Indian context, Nature Based Solutions (NBS) can be tracked, mainly of terrestrial conservation, regeneration and for mangrove conservation and regeneration. Essentially these tools would help in the measuring and monitoring of the progress on India’s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) (2.5-3 billion tonnes CO2 by 2030) as well as assisting Indian stakeholder to report their development on climate and biodiversity targets.
Call to action
There’s a major potential for carbon sequestration and conservation within smallholder farming. However there’s currently two major challenges that needs to be faced in order for this to happen: How do we monitor small-hold farming and how do we make onboarding more transparent and less expensive. This must be achieved without going back on the quality of the science behind the carbon market. This is an opportunity for youth and young experts in their field, farmers, engineers, and policy makers, to think out of the box to breach these gaps.
Luckily, never before has youth had better access to education and never before have we been so connected on a global scale. This not only gives youth the opportunity to create new and well informed ideas, but also provides a stage for collaboration and adaptation across the world.
- Baseline – an estimation of the scenario/development of a benefit or indicator had the project not been implemented. The baseline usually tracks the same benefits/indicators as those tracked in the specific credit. A baseline is either static, dynamic, project-specific, or based on performance standards (or a combination of those).
- Credit Class – like a standard in one or several registries. The credit class defines the structure, procedure, and requirements related to a certain credit type.
- Credit Designer – an individual or organization that is developing a new credit class or updating an existing one.
- Established Registries – credible registries in the carbon market
- Methodology Developer – an individual or organization that is developing a new methodology or updating an existing one.
- Monitor – an individual or organization that is contracted to measure the indicators and benefits defined in each credit class based on the requirements in the approved methodology.
- Verification – a systematic assessment and confirmation of the benefits for a specific reporting period. The verification process must be independent and documented by a qualified and impartial third party.
- Verifier – an individual or organization that via a contract, is set to execute the verification requirements defined in each credit class.
- Supplement – an appendix to the credit class or approved methodology that contains requirements related to a specific geographic area or a specific case.