Researchers with the Texas A&M Natural Resources Institute, a unit of Texas A&M AgriLife Research, the Department of Rangeland, Wildlife and Fisheries Management in the Texas A&M College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and others recently published Rangeland Carbon Markets, a detailed report aimed at helping Texans understand the rapidly evolving domain of voluntary carbon markets.
Carbon markets are trading systems facilitating the development, sale and purchase of carbon offset credits with the stated goal of mitigating climate change.
“In 2020, we began to be approached by all types of landowners and landowning agencies requesting information on carbon markets, how they work, and the opportunities or risks they present,” said Forrest Cobb, project coordinator with the Natural Resources Institute.
As the team worked to collect information and provide answers, Cobb said they realized few comprehensive resources were providing an overview of the various approaches to the carbon offset process spanning the gamut from soil carbon dynamics to credit verification methods.
“We were seeking knowledge related to how the carbon market systems are functioning so we could understand the implications for land use and policy,” Cobb said. “The information included in this document reflects key information needed to provide informed guidance and better understand the movements, challenges and controversies within these market systems.”
In most voluntary carbon markets, each carbon credit represents a reduction of one metric ton of atmospheric carbon dioxide. These credits, each assigned their own serial number to facilitate tracking, can then be purchased by individuals or entities, such as corporations, to claim an offset for their carbon footprint.
For example, while not all voluntary carbon markets work the same way, a livestock producer will typically enter an agreement with a project developer to implement management practices on their land that enhance carbon sequestration. These practices can include altered grazing patterns, no-till agriculture and land restoration, among others.
Once these practices have been implemented and the requirements of the agreement met, the project developer uses protocols to measure or estimate the amount of additional carbon sequestered or emissions avoided from the project. These estimates are then reviewed by a third-party verifier.
Carbon credits are issued to the project developer by a registry. The project developer can then sell those credits to a purchaser, typically a corporate entity. Timing and type of payments made to the landowner for their role in this process vary by contract.
Filling an informational gap
The Rangeland Carbon Markets report and its accompanying report, in brief represent ongoing efforts by researchers, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service specialists and others to educate landowners, public land managers and decision-makers on the ever-evolving and sometimes volatile voluntary carbon markets.
Recently, AgriLife Extension and the Natural Resources Institute partnered with the Texas Agricultural Land Trust, the Texas Grazing Land Coalition and the Noble Research Institute to develop Soil Carbon 101, a three-page guide providing landowners with key questions and considerations to ponder before entering a carbon contract.
“Producers need to understand the full context of what entering a carbon contract can mean for their enterprise,” said Jeff Goodwin, Ph.D., report coauthor and director of the Texas A&M Center for Grazinglands and Ranch Management.
While a carbon contract can present an opportunity for diversification and additional income, Goodwin said it is essential that landowners understand rangeland carbon credit production is an emerging market subject to change.
“We’re not encouraging apprehension,” Goodwin said. “We’re encouraging caution.”
Goodwin and Cobb also point to the expertise of Tiffany Lashmet, J.D., AgriLife Extension agricultural law specialist with the Department of Agricultural Economics, Amarillo, as a valuable resource.
Cobb said the voluntary carbon market is the largest and most mature payment for the ecosystem market, but many others are emerging to create markets for other ecosystem services such as water or biodiversity.
“Given the rapid growth in the voluntary carbon markets over the last few years, anyone who is in natural resource conservation needs to be aware of these market approaches, how they’re functioning, how they differ from public incentive programs, and the challenges and controversies associated with them,” Cobb said.