Purchase onsets—carbon credits that go beyond neutralization of a person’s or entity’s greenhouse gas emissions by restoring habitat and improving human well-being.
Carbon credits that individuals and companies purchase to “neutralize” their greenhouse gas emissions are called offsets. A credit represents one metric ton of emissions and can be bought or sold for an equivalent (1:1) reduction by a high-quality and verified activity that removes greenhouse gases from the air or avoids their production (see Offsets Nexus). Onsets go beyond neutralization, removing double, triple, or more amounts of greenhouse gases. The money is thus paid forward to a verified project that draws down additional emissions while also restoring land and improving people’s lives—also metrics of success. If hundreds of individuals and companies proactively purchased onsets, we would see measurable reductions in atmospheric carbon dioxide, more food security, more secure cultural integrity, improved gender equity, and greater climate resilience.
Learn about the benefits of onsets. To be legitimate, an onset must go beyond a greenhouse gas neutralization claim, particularly those that involve fossil fuel-generated emissions. The goal of onsets is advancement. The regeneration of forests, rivers, farms, and wildlife populations, if done properly, can be an onset. A quantifiable improvement in women’s lives can be an onset. Other examples of onset benefits include:
- They can help regenerative farmers and ranchers sequester carbon in soils, which provides many other benefits at the same time (see Regenerative Agriculture Nexus). White Oaks Pastures in Florida has verified increases in soil carbon as a result of its regenerative ranching practices. At Buckwheat Blossom Farm in Maine, an online buyer pays the farm directly for a net reduction in greenhouse gases, a process that involves highly accurate measurements of carbon.
- They can help restore degraded land (see Degraded Land Restoration Nexus). Carbon Tanzania has implemented numerous locally led nature-based climate solution projects, including the Ntakata Mountains Project, which has helped sixty-three thousand Indigenous people protect and restore their land.
- They can help purchase clean cookstoves, which reduce black carbon emissions and improve women’s lives by reducing the distance they need to go for firewood (see Clean Cookstoves Nexus). Solar Sister trains and supports women entrepreneurs to deliver clean energy and cookstoves directly to homes in Nigeria.
- They can help the advancement of women, improving health, education, income, reproductive choices, innovation, agriculture, and food (see Women and Food Nexus). The W + Standard maps out six vital areas of focus, cocreated with rural women from Nepal and Kenya. The metric used by the W + Standard is a minimum 10 percent improvement in a woman’s life. The assessment employs third-party audits based on a standardized methodology. The certification is verified after a specific initiative or project is completed.
- Onsets can also help replant mangroves forests, an endangered ecosystem vital to carbon storage globally (see Mangroves Nexus). In Kenya, young people are earning money planting mangrove seeds as part of the Manyunyu Community Organization, with assistance from carbon markets.
Calculate the carbon footprint of your household and determine how many credits would be necessary to go beyond neutralizing your emissions. Use an online calculator such as this one. Support projects, organizations, or regenerative enterprises that reduce greenhouse gases while advancing social and ecological health. Projects and their accomplishments need to be verified with a protocol used by a credible carbon trader. Organizations such as Gold Standard and the Carbon Fund provide financial support to projects that improve carbon levels in the soil through regenerative agriculture and reforestation. Examples:
- The Sodo/Humbo project, located in Ethiopia, is reforesting degraded land as part of a long-term restoration plan. The work is done by community members and uses a methodology developed in Niger called Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR), which regrows trees from existing stumps. The verifier estimates the project will sequester one million tons of CO2 (equivalent). The project has restored eight thousand acres of land with indigenous tree species. It has increased local sources of food and improved the well-being of fifty thousand people in the area.
- Empower.Co connects the W + Standard to mission-aligned buyers throughout the world. These “empowerment units” are sold to foundations, companies and other buyers and the funds are directed back to women at the local level who then determine how to spend the money. Women are not the investment but the investors.
- Running Tide is a company that aims to draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere into floating kelp “microforests” that sink to the bottom of the ocean to sequester the carbon over a long period of time. For one hundred dollars, you can buy a Carbon Capture credit through Running Tide that’s roughly equivalent to 334 kgCO2e.
- Planet Alpha Corporation is a carbon pricing and carbon products company that integrates environmental, economic, and social transactions to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases to benefit landowners, investors, and the planet.
- EarthShot Labs blends science, technology, economics, and traditional ecological knowledge into projects that restore degraded land around the world with the help of carbon markets.
- Regen Network provides digital carbon credits for regenerative agriculture.
- Verra is a for-profit vender and verifier of carbon projects.
- New Atlantis is an ocean regeneration project that measures and forecasts the health of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) to create biodiversity credits that can expand conservation efforts.
Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Landowners
- Provide opportunities for onsets to credible vendors. Removing atmospheric carbon dioxide and sequestering it in forests, wetlands, and agricultural soils, especially if it involves restoring degraded ecosystems and managing the land regeneratively, can be considered an onset and sold to organizations that provide high-quality credits, including Gold Standard and Verra. A carbon credit is considered high quality if it addresses the challenges of permanence, additionality, and underperformance (see Offsets Nexus). It must generate confidence among buyers and sellers that climate goals are being achieved.
- Onsets can encourage others to move to regenerative agriculture. The employment of onsets will encourage agricultural practices that improve soil health with positive social, ecological, and economic knock-on effects. Regenerative agriculture improves crops yields, as this study shows, while lowering costs, improving the financial health of the farm. In the Chesapeake Bay area, regenerative ranchers are working at scale to address climate change through their practices.
- Invest in biochar solutions for medium- and long-term carbon sequestration. Biochar can sequester carbon for long periods of time, possibly a thousand years. However, certifying bodies have struggled to create a solid protocol for biochar projects. But Charm Industrial and Takachar are among especially promising projects (see Biochar Nexus).
Steeply reduce greenhouse gas emissions and then determine how many credits would be necessary to go beyond neutralizing the remaining emissions. Companies must make deep cuts in their greenhouse gas emissions, including those generated up and down their value chain. Actions must be transparent, verifiable, and long term. Determining the level of financial support can be achieved by placing an internal carbon price on greenhouse gas emissions that a company generates. This Blueprint for Corporate Action on Climate and Nature explains the details. Here is the step-by-step process:
- Track emissions. Maintain an accurate and transparent record of your greenhouse gas emissions, including Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions, reviewed and reported publicly on an annual basis.
- Reduce emissions. Reduce emissions across the company’s value chain with a goal of zero emissions as soon as possible. Create an action plan for reducing emissions each year.
- Price emissions. Impose a price per unit of emissions for a company’s greenhouse gas emissions that have yet to be reduced or cannot be eliminated. This price will generate funds than can support onsets. The price should be based on best available scientific evidence and be in alignment with the objectives of the Paris climate agreement. This price should be reviewed and adjusted each year. A major survey of 2,600 companies found that nearly a quarter were already using an internal carbon charge and another 22 percent planned to do so. The price itself varied from company to company and region by region. Here are more case studies. Here is a corporate perspective from India. Here is a guide to applying an internal carbon fee to supply chains.
- Include the carbon price in a company’s goods and services. Internal carbon pricing can be added to line items, overall project budgets, and the sale prices of products. The carbon price of staff travel, particularly air travel, can be incorporated into project budgets, client invoices, and expense reports. Communication of company goals supported by these additional costs will be necessary in order to raise awareness and convince clients why they need to pay at higher rates.
Support the use of onsets to protect and restore critical carbon sinks. There is a need to enlarge carbon sinks as part of the overall strategy to address climate change. Many carbon sinks, such as forests, wetlands, and agricultural land, are under the control of governmental agencies or impacted by laws and regulation. Many carbon sinks are also home to Indigenous peoples, who have frequently been denied their land rights. Agency action and policy, as well as direct monetary support, can encourage the use of onsets to finance carbon sequestration projects. Examples include:
- President Biden’s Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad called for a plan to promote the conservation of the Amazon rainforest and other critical ecosystems that serve as global carbon sinks.
- At COP26, the United States announced the Plan to Conserve Global Forests: Critical Carbon Sinks. This decade-long, whole-of-government Plan sets forth the U.S. approach to conserving critical global terrestrial carbon sinks, deploying a range of diplomatic, policy, and financing tools.
- Governments can protect land under its control and encourage others to do the same. For example, a proposal dubbed “30x30” aims to protect 30 percent of U.S. lands by 2030 as a necessary step to protect and expand America’s carbon sinks. A similar effort is under way to create a global network of marine sanctuaries and protected areas.
- Governments can encourage a switch to sustainable forestry and agricultural practices and the restoration of ecosystems that have been damaged. Forest Trends describes how public/private financing can rebuild terrestrial carbon sinks and stocks.
- Governments need to restore and protect the rights of Indigenous peoples as a way to ensure they are not exploited by the carbon marketplace and can continue to provide regenerative stewardship of native lands. The First Peoples Carbon Collaborative (Canada) has published a guide to “Indigenous Peoples and Carbon Markets.”
Earthshot engages people with emerging cleantech.
US Biochar Initiative promotes the sustainable use of biochar.
White Oaks is a leading regenerative farm and education center.
W+ is a nonprofit that manages the W+ Standard supporting women.
WOCAN, Women Organizing for Change in Agriculture and Natural Resource Management
Cows, Carbon, and Climate (17 mins.)
Carbon Markets and Biochar (20 mins.)
Soil Carbon Markets: Indigo Ag (11 mins.)
Internal Carbon Pricing (webinar series, 60 mins.)
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