As companies reduce their carbon footprint internally by promoting more environmentally efficient supply chains, which often takes significant time and capital, the purchases of carbon offset credits allow companies to rapidly meet interim sustainability goals while adjusting their internal processes and eliminating their emissions. Driven by the financial incentives tied to sustainability, increased regulatory oversight, and a united front from hundreds of corporate executives, sustainability is the name of the game. Knowing exactly which carbon credits to buy, and the risks they entail, present a novel challenge to buyers looking to do good.
Courtesy: Swiss RE
For the past generation of carbon offsetting, the focus was on avoiding emissions, such as paying someone to not use an environmentally damaging product (like using certain chemical fertilizers) or engage in a damaging practice they were previously doing (like chopping down forests or tilling). However, avoiding emissions, though better than nothing, does not change the net balance of carbon in the atmosphere: if we emit 100 tons of CO2, investing and retiring 100 carbon offset credits of avoided emissions will still result in 100 tons total released into the atmosphere. The carbon offsets only avoided the release of an extra 100 tCO2. Flying in a plane and buying offsets still means the plane’s carbon emissions end up in the atmosphere. Carbon offsets are simply no longer enough.
The new frontier is carbon removal. As the graph below demonstrates, without negative emissions (carbon removed from the atmosphere), we do not stand a chance at reaching the 1.5 degrees Celsius warming target laid out in the Paris Accords. Carbon removal allows for companies releasing emissions they cannot rapidly eliminate to compensate those who are drawing it down. For technology-based solutions, such as carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies and direct air capture, the hype keeps growing: these projects can provide long permanence if the carbon sucked out of the atmosphere is properly stored, and vast amounts of carbon sequestered if the technologies become more scalable. However, companies and credit buyers will have to pay a very steep price per ton of CO2 (typically ranging in the hundreds of dollars per ton). Additionally, the technologies are currently quite resource intensive, potentially exorbitantly so, and experimental.
Courtesy: McKinsey & Company
The alternative is nature-based carbon removal, which builds on the scale of nature to continually sequester massive amounts of atmospheric carbon. At the heart of this emerging ecosystem is soil carbon sequestration. The grasses and soil microbial networks on properly managed lands function like a scrubber, using photosynthesis to remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it securely in the living soil. Emerging agricultural technologies make it easier for farmers and ranchers to implement these practices over large swaths of land, with remote sensing technologies allowing for widespread monitoring and verification of practices and outcomes. Implementing regenerative practices on America’s grassland soils has the potential to remove roughly 0.5 to 1.5 billion tons of CO2e every year, on top of myriad benefits to ecosystems (birds, insects, vegetation), water retention, and animal welfare.
Both avoidances and carbon storage are important pieces of the response to climate change. But reducing and avoiding emissions simply will not make a significant enough dent into our projected levels of global warming. That’s why tech innovators like Shopify, Microsoft, and Stripe have built robust carbon removal purchase portfolios and released their “playbooks” to all. Soil carbon sequestration is the sweet spot for corporations aiming to reduce their carbon footprint as it presents an innovative, affordable, and scalable solution that can tailor-meet a buyer’s ESG goals.
To learn more about how regenerative grazing and soil carbon sequestration credits can help meet your company’s needs, contact Grassroots Carbon here.