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Land-based Carbon Offsets – from Strategy to Implementation

In our first part to this series ‘How to Self-Generate Carbon Credits – Building an Offsets Strategy’ we outlined a six-step, high-level roadmap to help kickstart your journey towards self-generating carbon credits, through land-based carbon offsets. Beginning with, most importantly, a robust emissions reduction strategy that integrates with meaningful commitment and action to address and reduce carbon emissions under corporate responsibility.

In part two of this series, we dive deeper into two key steps that should inform the implementation of a land-based carbon offsets strategy for self-generating credits from land-based, vegetation sequestration projects. First, we take a closer look at the role of co-benefits – what they are and why they are important and relevant when developing your offsets strategy.

The second step we focus on, is the eligibility and feasibility assessment process. We provide a four step guide with top practices to embrace, and the pitfalls to avoid, as your organisation seeks specialist support to determine the suitability of individual project sites.

1. Beyond Carbon – Delivering Co-Benefits from Carbon Farming Projects

This step involves consideration of the various parameters that influence the suitability of different project types for your organisation.

One of these is to consider the imperative for generating co-benefits. That is, land-based carbon offset projects that deliver both quality Australian Carbon Credit Units (ACCUs) and additional benefits, including improved biodiversity, fauna, flora and positive socio-economic and cultural outcomes such as employment opportunities for Indigenous communities and Traditional Owners.

Land-based sequestration projects, if done right, have a significant potential to generate both environmental and social co-benefits. Restoring and protecting nature is one of the greatest strategies for tackling climate change risks, and not just for the obvious reason that the soil, forests, and oceans suck carbon out of the air. These ecosystems also act as buffers against extreme weather, protecting houses, crops, water supplies and vital infrastructure, making our economies, societies, and financial systems more resilient. Land-based carbon offset projects offer a unique advantage in that well-designed and considered projects, can address the twin crises of climate change and biodiversity loss. Species diversity is presently in decline faster than any other period in history, and the permanency of this loss brings urgency to this challenge.

Beyond the ability to integrate climate and nature-based (biodiversity) benefits, a land-based carbon offset strategy may also be uniquely positioned to deliver net-positive community outcomes, including for Indigenous communities. Achieving these requires early, meaningful and considered engagement with local members of the community.

The Aboriginal Carbon Foundation (AbCF) is providing great leadership here, and a landmark report released in 2021, showcases the many ways that Country and culture can be embedded within land-based carbon offset projects.

Why it is important to consider projects beyond carbon?

On the international stage, corporate responsibility and the need to address biodiversity loss and other nature-related threats is coming under increasing scrutiny, transpiring into the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures launched in 2021, an increase in the number of climate pledges at COP26 now containing commitment to nature-based solutions, and countries such as France introducing reporting obligations on financial institutions regarding biodiversity impacts from this year.

Moving forward, boards will have to equip themselves to respond to regulatory and social responsibility with respect to their ‘biodiversity footprint’ and nature-positive outcomes, as much as they will for their ‘carbon footprint’ and climate-related risks. In this context, organisations who are strategic about the creation of co-benefits and who bake co-benefits into an offset strategy from the start, will be the leaders and innovators in this transition.

On the face of it, embedding biodiversity, fauna, social or other co-benefits into land-based carbon offset projects might appear to come at a cost both in time and resources, however these high-quality offset projects are highly valued in the existing market and will continue to be recognised as a premium product as co-benefit markets mature.

How to Design Carbon Offset Projects with Co-Benefits in Mind

As demand for high-quality, land-based carbon credits continues to strengthen, it will be increasingly important for the integrity of the market that best practice frameworks emerge for measuring and verifying stapled co-benefits. The Accounting for Nature framework, with its scientific foundations with the Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, is one such environmental accounting framework that continues to strengthen and bring confidence to the market. For social co-benefits, the AbCF’s Core Benefits Verification Framework brings rigor and independence to the verification of social and cultural values associated with community and economic development programs.

Aspiring towards achieving the greatest long-term outcomes for the land invokes good stewardship. And well-designed land-based carbon offset projects that are robust and verifiable, and connected to local community and corporate values, have the potential to be powerful nature-based tools in the fight against continued land clearing, species decline and climate change.

Your land-based carbon project has great potential to contribute. Our experts are well-placed to help you evaluate the various options suitable to embed particular co-benefits, including the costs, risks and benefits of each, in order to inform strategic business decisions. Our recent work with the Barwon Region Water Corporation highlights this process.

2. Our Top Tips for Assessing Eligibility and Feasibility for Land-Based Carbon Offset Projects

Drawing upon Ndevr Environmental’s experience with successfully registering both land-based and industrial ERF Method projects, here we offer several top tips and what to look for when moving forward with implementing your land-based carbon offset project. We typically follow a gateway-process that enables progressively deeper understanding of project viability, whilst being cost-conservative to assess a site for carbon project development.

  1. When seeking expert support, ensure that the assessment process follows a gateway approach that facilitates decision-making about the suitability of a site, at the earliest point possible to avoid unnecessary costs. Not every site your organisation identifies will be eligible for participation, or exhibit the abatement profile needed for your organisation, and you should identify this as early as possible. In our tried and tested model, the pre-feasibility is intended as a preliminary Go/No-Go gateway, with a high-level screening indicating whether the site merits further investigation. Should this stage deliver a positive assessment in terms of abatement, the analysis may proceed.  
  2. Critical eligibility criteria are then considered in stage 2, confirming that the site meets key prerequisites for participation in the ERF. A more in-depth remote sensing analysis of the property is undertaken to firm up the ACCU-generation potential, based on site conditions and the development of a site-specific financial model.
  3. Progressively more refinement of this potential is achieved at stage 3. It is typically at this stage that a site visit would be undertaken, and the site progresses through to more detailed project design. 
  4. Where the detailed feasibility assessment remains positive, the project can proceed to Stage 4: registration and implementation. Important considerations here include ongoing compliance requirements, from auditing and reporting, monitoring for disturbance and assessing progress towards forest cover where relevant, as well as obligations on the project proponent to ensure the carbon sequestered is maintained over the chosen permanence period.

One major pitfall to avoid where a project proceeds through to stage 4, is commencing project-related activities too early. This is because participation in the ERF is premised on projects being additional, and this is expressed as a requirement that no project-related activity may start before the project is formally registered. If the project starts prior to this milestone, it is precluded from the ERF – the entire project folds. The ERF framework dictates the kinds of activities that are regarded as signifying commencement. Whilst some are straight-forward (e.g., planting trees), others are less intuitive and your organisation will be well-served to obtain expert, project-specific advice on this issue.

This piece concludes our series How to Self-Generate Carbon Credits. Focused on  land-based carbon offsets – from Strategy to Implementation, we’ve taken you on a deep dive into the role of co-benefits – what they are and why they are important when developing your offsets strategy, and detailed our four step guide on the eligibility and feasibility assessment process for a land-based carbon offset strategy.

If you’re interested in exploring a self-generating carbon offsets strategy, or learning more about land-based carbon offset projects, co-benefits and the assessment process reach out. We highly recommend expert guidance on this complex process and our experienced team are here to help. Reach out to Michaela or Matt for more information or call 03 7035 1740. If you need advice on a wider climate change or sustainability strategy we can help with that too so, please get in touch.

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