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For conservation, carbon offset projects go far beyond reducing GHGs

Published: October 12, 2020 by Editorial Team

Last week, climate change was the theme of Land Trust Alliance’s annual conference. One of the most under-appreciated benefits of nature-based climate solutions and carbon offset projects in particular, is their contribution to land conservation. Carbon projects support ongoing conservation of the project area itself, provide revenue for ecosystem enhancement and climate change resilience, and fund subsequent land acquisitions. These benefits go far beyond reducing atmospheric greenhouse gas (GHG) levels.

Owning and managing land costs money and many properties owned for conservation purposes forego some revenue (i.e. reduced timber sales, lower cattle stocking rates, etc.) in order to meet conservation goals. Carbon offsets sales help replace that foregone revenue and ensure that the project area continues to be conserved, even in the face of unforeseen financial crises that might otherwise jeopardize the property’s conservation values. Contractual commitments to the permanence of GHG reduction provides a legal protection on top of the financial incentive.

Carbon offset revenues are frequently used to fund property stewardship, ecosystem enhancement, and climate resiliency. Restoring salmon habitat, removing invasive species, reducing woody fuels, and upsizing culverts to prepare for increasing rainfall due to climate change are just a few examples of conservation projects funded through carbon offset revenues. It is not always obvious, but a quick peek under the hood of most carbon projects reveals a wide range of additional conservation benefits made possible through offset sales.

Finally, land trusts are in the business of conserving land. Revenues from one carbon project frequently provide funding used to acquire new easements or the outright purchase of more high value conservation land. A number of large conservation deals in the last few years have employed carbon offset projects as important pieces of their financing.

While conservation outcomes resulting from carbon projects are obvious to land owners and conservationists, these benefits are often lost in larger discussions about carbon offsets. It is important for people and organizations in those discussions to look beyond just the GHG benefits of nature-based offset projects.