Carbon Markets Should Not Ignore Avoidance Methane Offsets
Carbon market hot terms over the past few years have included “removal,” “nature-based solutions” and “standards,” which may overlook the broader importance of all sectors of the voluntary carbon market. Groups such as Science Based Target Initiative and Voluntary Carbon Market Integrity Initiative have taken the lead promoting the need for strict guidelines but also favoring removal offsets over avoidance offsets. This conversation ignores an important category of offsets – avoidance of methane emissions.
Methane emissions in the United States account for 11% of total emissions from human activities. The largest sources of methane emissions with abatement potential are enteric fermentation (27% of total methane emissions), landfills (17%) and manure management (9%). There are currently multiple protocols in the voluntary market to create avoidance offsets for these three emissions sources. Yet, there are very limited options and associated protocols to remove that methane from the atmosphere because it is an extremely difficult process. We must continue to do all we can to support methane emission avoidance projects and curb emissions of a gas with a global warming potential of 28 times greater than carbon dioxide over a 100-year time scale.
Keen offset buyers concerned with monitoring, verification, additionality, and permanence should be attracted to methane avoidance carbon offsets from landfills and anaerobic lagoons at dairy operations. These projects either capture and flare biogas or capture and convert biogas to create energy. Because these projects use meters to track the methane concentration and biogas flow, there is high confidence in total volume of offsets created. Modeling the baseline for additionality is also straightforward. In all the cases above, the project is stopping a known emission from entering the atmosphere. To demonstrate additionality in these projects, there must be no environmental law requiring the capture of methane from anaerobic lagoons and landfills. Lastly, buyers have confidence when purchasing these credits because there are no ways for a reversal to occur. Given the security provided by avoided methane emission offsets and the scalability of the impact, these credits should be an integral part of a buyer’s offset portfolio. It would be a big mistake for the voluntary carbon market to dismiss the importance of these credits as recently suggested by some market participants.