Opinion: Stop selling false hope for historical carbon efforts

Opinion: Stop selling false hope for historical carbon efforts

Farmers holding out hope that historical efforts to sequester carbon will earn them credit on a newly-created market should accept a hard truth. It isn’t happening.

They should have accepted disappointment long ago, but are continuously sold false hopes by their leaders.

Globally, putting a price on carbon and offering the opportunity to buy and sell units of it on an open market is not new. 

There are clearly defined markets buying and selling carbon, with many more in development. 

But already there are some clear foundations of a credible offset market

The Stockholm-based Carbon Offset Research and Education (CORE) publishes an internationally recognized guide for offset protocols often looked to by policy makers.

Just as Canada has in its own draft protocols for an offset market, CORE requires “additionality” as part of a project to be recognized as a credible offset. 

“GHG reductions are additional if they would not have occurred in the absence of a market for offset credits. If the reductions would have happened anyway – i.e., without any prospect for project owners to sell carbon offset credits – then they are not additional,” says CORE.

Credit for historical carbon offsets wouldn’t be offered if CORE was the authority. 

Washington, D.C.- based Verra is among the world’s most renowned verifiers of carbon credits to be sold on market.

It rejects carbon offsets that would have been conducted during “business as usual.”

There is not a single market or verifier I can find where the issue of additionality wouldn’t prevent historical offsets from being rejected. 

Offset programs being designed right now in Canada will subscribe to this idea, too. There will be no credit for any greenhouse gas emissions removed prior to 2017. 

Producers who went zero-till, or use perennial forage coverage, prior to that period don’t get any credit.

None of this is particularly new, and it shouldn’t be surprising.

Some of these standards, including the one around additionality, were first developed 15 years ago. 

It is a pillar of carbon markets worldwide.

Considering this, I was surprised last spring when Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said farmers should be credited for two decades worth of carbon sequestration. 

Even if he believes farmers should be credited, as a former environment minister, he would be aware of long-standing international protocols preventing it.

Why then, does he continue to advocate carbon stored by producers “should be recognized going back decades,” and claim his government is working to ensure that is the case?

Unwilling to face facts and be straight with Saskatchewan residents, Moe’s bureaucracy is being tasked with breaking the hard truth to producers that past efforts won’t be included in a carbon market.

A Saskatchewan spokesperson was burdened with telling Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipality (SARM) delegates that in order for credits to be worth something, “they have to align with the rules that have been established for offset programs that are forming up both nationally but also internationally.”

It’s a shame politicians, and farm leaders, don’t have the gumption to be as straight forward.

Right or wrong, the reality is rules have to align with national and international markets.

Meanwhile, farm leaders continue unrealistic calls for recognition and appeals to Ottawa to consider including historical offsets. 

The Agricultural Carbon Alliance, formed about the same time Canada began developing its own market, continues to advocate “carbon offset protocols must be accessible to early adopters and open to science-based measurement. This should include the recognition of activities that began prior to January 2017, where appropriate, and incorporate flexibility to accommodate advancements in verification.”

Policies can always change, but long-standing international standards being mimicked in the development of our domestic market make it clear that historical efforts to reduce carbon won’t be recognized. 

Advocacy against this, even if warranted, is a losing effort. 

It is time farmers accept this truth, rather than continue to be sold false hope from farm leaders and politicians that credit for past efforts could be coming.

About the author

Reporter

D.C. Fraser

D.C. Fraser is Glacier FarmMedia’s Ottawa-based reporter. Growing up mostly in Alberta, Fraser also lived in Saskatchewan for ten years where he covered politics, including a stint teaching at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism. He is an avid fan of the outdoors and a pretty good beer league hockey player. His passion for agriculture and agri-food policy comes naturally: Six consecutive generations of his family have worked in the industry.

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