Carbon Credits From Restored Grasslands

CHINA - The vast potential of grasslands to support sustainable livelihoods while trapping atmospheric carbon and helping slow down global warming is one step closer to being realised thanks to a new methodology developed by FAO in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the World Agroforestry Centre.
calendar icon 30 September 2011
clock icon 2 minute read

Large swathes of the world's grasslands are moderately to severely degraded — restoring them to a healthy state could remove gigatonnes of carbon from the atmosphere and improve resilience to climate change.

So far, however, carbon crediting schemes that pay projects for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and sequestering carbon have largely ignored agriculture, including grazing-based livlihood systems.

One key challenge has been finding reliable and affordable ways to measure how much carbon is being trapped in agricultural mitigation projects.

FAO's new Methodology for Sustainable Grassland Management could help overcome this obstacle.

"We think we have cracked the problem and come up with a reliable way for herders who are investing in restoring grasslands to prove they are sequestering measurable amounts of carbon, and fund their activities by accessing mitigation finance," said Pierre Gerber, an FAO livestock policy specialist who works on the project.

The breakthrough of FAO's new methodology is that it provides an affordable way to reliably estimate the amount of GHG emissions removed from the atmosphere through improved management of grasslands.

Carbon credits from restored grasslands

A pilot project in Qinghai Province, China will eventually be able to deliver significant carbon offsets for a period of 10 years. After that point, the restored grasslands will have stored as much carbon as it is possible for them to do, and incomes from carbon trading will wind down.

But the lands involved will have been brought back to full productivity and livestock systems will have shifted to a sustainable model capable of sustaining the livelihoods of herders for generations to come.

The Qinghai project has developed a cost-effective means of estimating and crediting the extent to which such practices result in GHG reductions via carbon sequestration in soils and reduced methane generation by animals, so herders can earn money from selling carbon offset credits on emission trading markets. This added income is key to helping overcoming the barriers herders face in restoring ecosystems — such as short-term reductions in livestock revenues.

Returns are invested in further restoring the long-term health of the lands upon which they depend and building up marketing associations to improve their profits from traditional animal raising.

FAO has just submitted its methodology for approval by the non-profit Verified Carbon Standard (VSC) a greenhouse gas accounting programme used by projects around the world to verify and issue carbon credits in emissions markets.

Once approved, any grassland project using the methodology will be eligible for the creation and trade of carbon credits in voluntary carbon markets throughout the world.

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