Carbon market incentives to conserve, restore and enhance soil carbon

Posted by The Nature Conservancy

This report focuses on carbon finance opportunities for enhancing soil organic carbon stocks across the globe and moving towards low-carbon, sustainable, agriculture practices which deliver both on food security and the global warming trajectory of no more than 1.5°C. More precisely, the study was done to assess the state of and prospects of carbon finance for soil carbon project development and its ability to make a meaningful contribution to climate change mitigation.

In this study, we portray existing methods, standards, and projects in the area of soil carbon development and agricultural soil management. We cover carbon sequestration activities as well as efforts to reduce carbon stock losses (through peatland degradation, in particular), always retaining a narrow focus on (below-ground) carbon in soils. We also touch on several non-CO2 emissions, in particular methane released from certain land-use practices (e.g. rice paddy fields) and nitrous oxide released through the use of fertilizers. We do not address soil cover interventions and, more concretely, we are leaving forest-related activities – afforestation and reforestation (A/R), forest management, as well as activities to Reduce Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) – outside the focus of this study. Obviously, soil carbon interventions share many characteristics with forest carbon interventions, and often we can make reference to the “land-use” sector as a whole. Yet, while forest carbon policies and related activities, including carbon project development, has drawn a lot of attention over the past decade, soil carbon has not or much less so. We also do not cover in any detail carbon stocks in coastal wetlands (often referred to as “blue carbon”). While these provide vast additional potential for reducing emissions and sequestering carbon, we consider the emerging blue carbon methodological approaches1 (beyond mangrove conservation and restoration, which would simultaneously qualify as A/R or REDD+) as too novel for the kind of “lessons learnt” exercise this study seeks to undertake.

The main purpose of this study is, therefore, to extrapolate the specific situation of soil carbon – its position in climate policymaking, and the specific challenges, as well as the opportunities for intervention – and to explore to what extent carbon project finance tools can help its advancement.


Read the full ‘Carbon market incentives to conserve, restore and enhance soil carbon’ report here.

This report was written by the following lead authors with input from a strategic advisor and an advisory committee. Funding was generously provided by the Craig and Susan McCaw Foundation.

Lead Authors: Moritz von Unger and Igino Emmer (Silvestrum Climate Associates, LLC.)

Strategic Advisor: Deborah Bossio (The Nature Conservancy)