Grassland carbon offset projects can provide financial support to protect vibrant ecosystems, while maintaining ranching on the project land and the communities that depend on it. To date, only 11 grassland carbon offset projects have been listed on third-party certification standards in the United States. While these ranchers want to protect their lands from conversion, for some, the economics do not pan out. Recent releases and changes to two grassland offset methodologies may help increase the number of grassland carbon offset projects.
In October 2019, the American Carbon Registry released version two of their Avoided Conversion of Grasslands and Shrublands to Crop Production methodology. This version has changes designed to lower costs and streamline project implementation. For example, to reduce project development costs, a project property appraisal is not required to determine threat of conversion to cropland. Instead, the threat of conversion to cropland can be determined by historical county data. Verification costs are also reduced under version two because the verifier can forego the site visit by using supporting documentation to determine that the property is a grassland. Furthermore, the second version adds flexibility in quantification of emission reductions.
Also, in October 2019, The Climate Action Reserve released the Canadian version of their Grassland Protocol. This expands the possible territory and scalability of grassland offset projects to a new area with a few differences in the protocol from the United States version. Early adopters will be allowed to enter the market with a project start date as early as October 2017 if the project is submitted by October 2019. This protocol will also allow flexibility in credit accounting. Either Tonne-Tonne or Tonne-Year accounting will be accepted. The U.S. protocol uses Tonne-Tonne accounting for 100-year projects that receive full offset volume after the buffer discount. Tonne-year accounting allows a project owner to agree to a shorter commitment than 100 years in exchange for a discounted number of credits. The Canadian protocol allows for project commitments between 20 and 100 years. The shorter the time commitment, the greater deduction on offset volume received. This deduction reduces as the time commitment to the project increases and thus risk of reversal decreases.
There are many groups such as The Climate Trust, that are qualified to develop these projects using the above protocols. These new protocols will certainly increase the volume of available voluntary offsets. In addition, multiple states are exploring implementing cap and trade programs that may allow grassland carbon offset projects, as seen in the previously introduced bill in Oregon and the inclusion of cap and trade in New Mexico’s climate change strategy plan. Prices for compliance-grade offsets are significantly higher than voluntary offsets, which would increase the pace of grassland project development and allow smaller projects to become viable.