Glossary

Blue Carbon 101

Blue Carbon 101

Blue Carbon 101


by: David Chen and Daniel Frasca | September 29, 2022

 

tidal marsh september's blogBlue carbon includes important coastal and marine ecosystems such as mangroves, seagrass meadows, and tidal marshes.

What is Blue Carbon?

On the fringes of Earth’s continents lies one of nature’s greatest climate regulation mechanisms: vast reserves of organic carbon known as blue carbon. “Blue carbon” refers to the organic carbon captured and stored in coastal and marine ecosystems and can be used to refer to the marine habitats that sequester and store carbon dioxide.

The United Nations first used the term “blue carbon” in a 2009 report that recognized the critical role some coastal and marine ecosystems play in drawing down carbon from the atmosphere. The United Nations Framework Committee on Climate Change defines blue carbon as mangroves, seagrass meadows, and tidal marshes. As the field of blue carbon grows, additional ecosystems will likely be recognized as blue carbon, a topic we will discuss in an upcoming blog.

As of late, blue carbon has become a hot topic due to the immense capacity of these ecosystems to draw down atmospheric carbon levels and provide irreplaceable ecosystem services.

Big Mangrove September BlogThe intricate root systems of mangroves on the Indonesian island of Nias provide protection from storm surge and coastal erosion for local communities.

Blue Carbon as a Climate Solution

What makes coastal and marine ecosystems different than their terrestrial equivalents? After all, aren’t all plants capable of sequestering carbon? While that may be true, blue carbon ecosystems can capture 10-50 times more carbon per unit than their land-dwelling counterparts. In fact, every year, blue carbon ecosystems bury underground a comparable amount of carbon as terrestrial forests despite occupying less than 3% of the global forest area. The open ocean is also no match for the carbon-capturing powers of coastal blue carbon ecosystems. For reference, coastal habitats represent about 2% of the oceans’ surface area yet are responsible for nearly 50% of carbon sequestered in marine sediments. These blue carbon ecosystems, nestled between the endless ocean and vast landmasses, represent a thin slice of Earth working overtime to regulate the climate.

Fisherman September BlogLocal Indonesian fisherman sourcing fish and shellfish in a pristine blue carbon ecosystem

How Blue Carbon Ecosystems Sequester Carbon

Coastal habitats capture carbon more effectively than their terrestrial counterparts due to their higher efficiency in converting solar energy into organic matter – often described as a high primary productivity rate. More importantly, blue carbon ecosystems trap sediment and organic matter such as leaf litter in their roots and allow that carbon to accumulate in the seabed. This process is known as “sedimentation” and accounts for 50 – 90% of all the carbon sequestered in these coastal ecosystems.

This ability to store carbon underground in soils and sediment is one of blue carbon’s most unique and essential functions. Aboveground biomass, such as the trees in a forest, will sequester and store carbon over its lifetime. However, at the end of the tree’s lifecycle, the tree will die and release carbon back into the atmosphere during the decomposition process. In contrast, belowground carbon sequestered by blue carbon ecosystems can remain undisturbed for hundreds or even thousands of years. A prime example is a seabed meadow off the coast of Spain that has accumulated over a 35-foot-thick carbon deposit over the span of 6,000 years. The stable and enduring nature of these reserves is created by the seabed’s saltwater and oxygen-deprived conditions, which slow the pace of decomposition and effectively trap carbon underground. Belowground carbon also represents a more resilient store of carbon stock as it is insulated against natural disturbances, such as fire and heavy rainfall, which are expected to become more frequent and intense as the climate continues to warm. Not only can carbon stored underground reduce the symptoms of the climate crisis, but it can also endure the worst effects of climate change.  

Pretty Landscape September's BlogMangrove restoration site at a local village in Aceh, Indonesia

Beyond Carbon

For the people connected to these ecosystems, the benefits of blue carbon extend far beyond combating climate change. Blue carbon habitats provide extensive benefits to biodiversity, local communities, and the millions of people dependent on them for their food supply. Aquatic plants found in these coastal blue carbon environments provide the shelter, nutrients, and water filtration services on which aquatic animals depend- simply put, many forms of animal life cannot survive without these foundational habitats. Flourishing coastal habitats increase food security and provide coastal communities with fishery and ecotourism opportunities. Mangroves and tidal marshes mitigate coastal erosion and insulate coastal communities from storm surges during extreme weather events. It’s been estimated that the annual value of the ecosystem services provided by blue carbon habitats hovers around $190 billion.

The world’s blue carbon ecosystems have a fundamental role in addressing climate change. Focusing our attention on the conservation and restoration of these precious ecosystems will have an immense impact in returning life to coastal waters and uplifting surrounding communities.

 


About the Authors

David Chen is passionate about nature-based solutions and developing carbon offset projects that protect and restore native ecosystems. From replanting bald cypress trees in the Mississippi River delta to reestablishing mangroves forests in international countries, David understands the positive impact these projects have on biodiversity, coastal resiliency and improving local livelihoods. David is a Program Development Manager at ClimeCo and has a Master of Environmental Management from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and received his Bachelor of Science from the University of California, Riverside.  

Daniel Frasca is an Associate on the Program Development Team specializing in nature-based solutions. He joined the team with previous business development, finance, and sales experience in the residential solar industry and leadership experience in the nonprofit sector. Daniel earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Management from Boston College, with a concentration in Finance and a minor in Environmental Studies.

Dispatches from the Nature-Based Solutions Conference

Dispatches from the Nature-Based Solutions Conference

Dispatches from the Nature-Based Solutions Conference


by: Emily Romano | August 25, 2022

Site visit by ClimeCo at a reforestation project in Louisiana

Nature-based solutions (NBS) are an important part of the work we do at ClimeCo, and they are a growing sector of carbon markets. NBS are defined as actions that restore, manage, and protect natural habitats for societal benefit, including mitigation and adaptation to the effects of climate change. These activities, such as reforestation, peatland rewetting, or grassland management, have received extensive media coverage in recent years and months as they play an increasingly important role in many corporate and national climate plans. Successful NBS projects have the potential to achieve a trifecta of climate, community, and biodiversity benefits, while poorly designed projects are rightfully criticized as a step backward for climate goals, human rights, and ecosystem health.

With this context in mind, I attended the Nature-based Solutions Conference in Oxford, UK, in July 2022, hosted by researchers at the Nature-based Solutions Initiative. Held in the beautiful Oxford University Museum of Natural History, the conference attracted a wide range of researchers, policymakers, activists, NGO members, and practitioners. Sessions addressed topics such as the global status and criticisms of NBS, inclusive project governance and narratives, improved biodiversity outcomes, the economics of NBS, and applications for urban environments.

I learned a lot from the speakers, whose presentations addressed the conference’s central question: “How can we ensure that NBS support thriving human and ecological communities?” In this blog, I summarize and share the key messages I took home from this conference.

Bodleian Library, Oxford University


Key Takeaways

Concern for Low-Quality NBS

With careful planning and consideration, NBS projects can provide powerful, sustainable, and cost-effective benefits to their host communities. Unfortunately, a number of low-quality NBS projects around the world have failed in recent decades. These failures are almost always due to protocols with inadequate provisions for permanence and additionality or a lack of robust safeguards of human rights and biodiversity.

The conference explored numerous concerns surrounding low-quality NBS, primarily those voiced by Indigenous and local communities regarding projects that have caused and perpetuated human rights abuses. These include land tenure injustice, displacement of people and livelihoods, and denial of community access to natural resources. This sort of project is often characterized by a top-down design without the active participation of the local community, prioritization of western value systems, and a lack of transparency or long-term monitoring requirements. Low-quality projects often result in ecosystem failures due to inappropriate species selection or project location or the establishment of monoculture plantations without regard for local biodiversity.

An additional concern voiced at the conference was that NBS not be used in greenwashing schemes by polluters to replace decarbonization efforts. While ecosystems play an important role in climate change mitigation and adaptation, they are not capable of compensating for delayed emissions reductions in other sectors. Speakers also highlighted the moral hazard of entities from the Global North who might seek to export the responsibility and the work of decarbonization to the Global South.

These concerns are critically important for improving NBS project outcomes. The conference’s primary focus was on how to address these concerns and included many examples of current best practices from around the world.

Tradeoffs, Inclusive Project Design and Governance, and Narratives

While many NBS projects generate desirable co-benefits or “win-win” results for society and biodiversity, projects may also generate tradeoffs that create tension between competing project goals. For example, biophysical tradeoffs might occur if a project prioritizes one ecosystem service at the expense of another. Social tradeoffs might occur between stakeholders with different cultural or spiritual valuations of nature or between those with scientific knowledge and those with Indigenous knowledge. Project developers must acknowledge and mitigate these tradeoffs in partnership with local stakeholders to account for the full range of project impacts.

One strong message from the conference was the critical role that Indigenous and local community members must play in all stages of NBS projects and the importance of free, prior, and informed consent. Numerous speakers pointed out that many Indigenous groups have traditionally implemented successful NBS within their own communities, and their knowledge can fill critical gaps in scientific understanding. The inclusion of these groups from the design to the implementation to the monitoring stage of a project is not only a basic indicator of respect but can also tangibly improve project outcomes.

Indigenous and community leaders from numerous countries, including Zambia, China, Tanzania, Peru, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, presented case studies illustrating successful NBS outcomes in their communities. These presentations called for projects to distribute benefits equitably among community members, ensure a living wage, and create sources of long-term finance controlled by the local community. Finally, the speakers emphasized the critical importance of land tenure for Indigenous peoples.

ClimeCo meeting indigenous workers at a mangrove reforestation project in Indonesia

How to Prioritize and Adequately Represent Biodiversity

Another conference theme was the need for better metrics of biodiversity, so that progress can be adequately represented in project designs and monitoring plans. Speakers highlighted several scientific and technological advances, such as ecosystem DNA and high-resolution carbon mapping tools, which would facilitate project area prioritization and robust biodiversity assessment if implemented at scale.

However, some speakers quickly pointed out that “technology is not the solution. We are the solution.” In this vein, multiple speakers recommended that biodiversity monitoring plans utilize community monitoring approaches, including input from local and Indigenous groups regarding biodiversity metric selection.

Mangrove nursery managed and developed by the local community near the reforestation site

Creating High-Quality NBS

The conference delivered a crystal-clear message that projects that do not include robust provisions for human rights and biodiversity do not fall under the umbrella of the NBS term.

To avoid the pitfalls of low-quality projects, reputable carbon offset registries have developed meaningful standards for additionality and permanence and protocols that include protections for human rights and biodiversity. The most important feature of these protocols is that registries update them when a loophole is identified. Although these updates require months or even years to go into effect, this process allows registries to enforce ever-evolving concepts of “best practice.” For this reason, carbon offsets generated using the protocols of reputable registries, such as the Climate Action Reserve, Verra, the American Carbon Registry, and Gold Standard, are categorically distinct from low-quality offsets.

Regardless of protocol requirements, project developers are responsible for designing projects that adhere to best practices and meaningfully address the concerns of Indigenous and local stakeholders. Within the voluntary carbon market, project developers and carbon credit end-users must be able to recognize the indicators of a high-quality project and must be selective in the projects they choose to support.


ClimeCo’s NBS Approach

As offset project developers, the ClimeCo team always listens for new perspectives on best practices. We believe that NBS projects have enormous potential when they are designed carefully to empower and give voice to local communities. As sustainability advisors, we also feel a keen responsibility to help clients decarbonize wherever possible. Our ESG Advisory team provides many services essential to clients at any stage of their decarbonization journey. We encourage the use of offsets to address emission sources that are difficult or impossible to abate as a part of a larger decarbonization plan.

Most importantly, we understand there is no one-size-fits-all approach to NBS project development. We are grateful for each opportunity to earn a community’s trust and seek partners who share our accountability and responsible stewardship values.

ClimeCo’s Dr. Scott Subler observing freshly planted Bald Cypress saplings

Conclusion

I left the conference inspired by the incredible work being done worldwide to improve the implementation of NBS. ClimeCo will continue to listen and apply the guidance and feedback of the global NBS community, and I cannot wait to see the good our projects can do. ClimeCo is committed to informing you of new information discovered as we continue to explore in-depth NBS concerns. We welcome comments or questions surrounding this topic.

Anyone interested in watching conference sessions can access recordings and PDFs of presentations on the conference website (I recommend Session 4 and Session 9A). For those curious to see examples of high-quality projects, the Nature-based Solutions Initiative’s organizers directed us to their Case Study Platform, a map-based tool with over 100 examples of projects from around the world that meet the researchers’ quality standards.

 


About the Author

Emily Romano is a Project Manager at ClimeCo based in San Francisco. Within Project Development, she applies a background in climate, ecosystem, and soil science to her work managing NBS projects. She holds a Master of Science in Environmental Science and Policy from Northern Arizona University and a Bachelor of Science in Geology from Syracuse University.

State Climate Policy Trends: Action Amidst Federal Inaction

State Climate Policy Trends: Action Amidst Federal Inaction

State Climate Policy Trends: Action Amidst Federal Inaction


by: Wilson Fong and Braeden Larson | July 28, 2022

 


On June 30th, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of West Virginia vs. the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), have limited regulatory powers unless they have the explicit authority from Congress, otherwise known as the “major questions doctrine.” This decision limits the executive branch’s power to allow federal agencies to regulate significant economic and political issues. In this case, it limits the EPA’s power to regulate emissions reductions from power plants under the Clean Air Act. However, the decision made on the premises of the “major questions doctrine” will trickle down to all federal agencies’ regulatory operations that have been granted through executive power. Concerning climate change policy, this means the EPA is paralyzed from taking country-wide actions on emissions reductions until Congress gives the EPA regulatory authority. While some states have already been implementing emissions reduction regulations, this Supreme Court decision will necessitate states taking their own leadership roles in climate change policy.


States Are Taking the Lead

At the time of this writing, the U.S. Congress is split on how to address climate change: it’s either through Congress-approved regulatory action or through a neutral approach, where emissions reductions are driven by industry-led initiatives. As a result, the onus falls on the individual states to develop emission reduction frameworks that align with their political, economic, and environmental realities. There have always been states, like California, that have been at the forefront of climate action in the U.S., though there has been a recent uptick in new, state-level climate action, despite the mosaic of political and environmental positions existing throughout the U.S.

The emerging state-level approaches vary from general, all-encompassing, state-wide environmental climate action plans to more focused actions, such as those that singularly promote the build-out of carbon capture and storage (CCS). State-level climate action, through differing approaches, attempts to fill the holes in climate policy and abdication of regulatory authority at the federal level. At a high level, the key actions being taken can be broken down into four policy categories: State Action Plans, Carbon Pricing Systems, Low Carbon Products, and CCS and Class VI Well Primacy.


State Policy Categories: A Primer

To better understand the actions being taken and the implications they may have on your business, we will walk through the four policy categories below.

1. State-Wide Environmental Action Plans: State-wide environmental action plans are the overarching climate policy and strategy toolkits that can be used to reduce emissions and achieve sustainable environmental outcomes. Within these plans, states often include their climate goals, emissions reduction targets, and emissions baselines to ensure the policy and strategy toolkit is utilized to meet these targets. A typical toolkit may include a state’s environmental action plan, along with policies such as carbon pricing systems, greenhouse gas (GHG) reporting regulations, clean fuel standards, low carbon product bid-preference, energy efficiency requirements, and carbon capture and storage (CCS) deployment regulations. Multiple states have committed to environmental action plans with mid-century emissions reduction targets. Most recently, Maryland passed an environmental action plan under the Climate Solutions Now Act of 2022. Maryland has committed to being carbon neutral by 2045, with an interim goal of reducing GHG emissions by 60% by 2030, compared to 2006 emissions levels. Maryland’s Department of the Environment is required to submit a draft environmental action plan by June 30, 2023, along with the policy and strategy toolkit the state will be using to meet the 2030 and 2045 targets.

2. Carbon Pricing Systems: Carbon pricing systems are one of the most effective and efficient emissions reduction policies within the policy and strategy toolkit that are available to states. Carbon pricing systems internalize the economic cost of pollution and provide incentives to industries, governments, and individuals to reduce their carbon emissions. The two most popular systems are a carbon tax and a cap-and-trade system. A carbon tax sets a price per tonne of CO2 emitted that is paid by all participants of the economy. A cap-and-trade system sets a cap on emissions for industries and businesses within covered sectors but allows for individual flexibility through the development of emission trading schemes. Washington state is currently finalizing its rulemaking processes for the Climate Commitment Act, which requires the enactment of a cap-and-trade program (known as cap-and-invest) on January 2023. The rulemaking includes provisions for setting the emissions cap, setting price floors and ceilings on allowances, GHG reporting, establishing emissions-intensive-trade-exposed criteria for industries vulnerable to international and inter-state trading, and establishing carbon offset usage rules.


3. Low Carbon Products
: In an attempt to incentivize new technological innovation, some states have introduced and passed low carbon product procurement policies. These types of policies provide a bid preference for businesses that have reduced the embodied carbon emissions associated with producing the product. Other policies include the promotion of industrial recycling through regulation. The state of California is currently in the process of passing Senate Bill 1297 (SB 1297), which requires public agencies in the state to provide preference to low-embodied carbon building materials where feasible and cost-effective for public projects.

4. Carbon Capture and Storage, and Class VI Well Primacy: While perhaps the most inequitable policy category due to the availability of geological storage in different states, CCS regulations have the potential to lead to the greatest emissions reductions through the geological storage or utilization of industrial CO2. Storing CO2 in the Earth is predicated by the need for a Class VI well permit, which is issued by the EPA (federal jurisdiction). Class VI wells are used to inject CO2 into deep rock formations. In an effort to support the build out of CCS in the U.S., the EPA has created a process to transfer permitting authority to states, thereby reducing administrative burden and improving efficiency. The current Class VI well landscape across the U.S. is fragmented due to the varied control over carbon sequestration rights, or ‘primacy’ over Class VI wells. Primacy identifies whether the Federal or State Government has enforcement authority over Class VI wells permitting. The vast majority of Class VI wells are under the direction of the U.S. EPA and follow a lengthy application process. As companies increasingly discuss and mobilize resources for CCS, the administrative burden on the U.S. EPA grows in parallel. The U.S. EPA lacks the staff and resource capacity necessary to take on a large number of Class VI well applications, which are necessary to sequester CO2 in deep saline aquifers. For this reason, while states are developing regulations and action plans for CCS deployment and sequestration, they are also active in the primary enforcement application process with the U.S. EPA to take primacy over regulating Class VI wells within their state. To receive primacy over Class VI wells, the state must align its standards with the EPA. Class VI primacy is an enabling action that will support the rapid and widespread deployment of CCS throughout the United States.


Conclusion

In the absence of federal authority on climate change regulation, 24 states and the District of Columbia are establishing emissions reduction targets and implementing a plethora of emission reduction initiatives. While one of the most effective policies for reducing emissions is a carbon pricing system, the adoption of regulated carbon markets in the U.S. has been slow.

As states contemplate policy action to reduce the effects of climate change, it elevates the growing need for support of different technological, industrial, and nature-based policy solutions. With properly designed policies, states can support the deployment of CCS solutions and increase acceptance and demand for low carbon products, both of which have significant emission reduction potential.

ClimeCo has vast experience in a wide array of emission reduction initiatives and actively monitors developments throughout the U.S. Please contact us if you want to learn more about our Policy Team’s complete range of services that help companies improve readiness and resilience in the ever-changing regulatory environment.

Update Note: On July 27th, Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced a deal to pass a budget reconciliation bill that would include $369 billion in spending towards climate and energy policies. Most of the incentives from this package are long-term tax credits, which include relief for clean hydrogen fuel development, direct-air-capture deployment, and advanced nuclear projects for heavy industry. Other tax credits are provided for renewable projects in the energy economy, new EV purchases, and residential retrofits for heating, cooling, and power. However, this announcement, as it stands, continues a federal trend to take a bottom-up approach to climate change, which leaves the states taking the regulatory lead on climate change.

 


About the Authors

Wilson Fong is an Associate on ClimeCo’s Sustainability, Policy, and Advisory team, based in Calgary, Alberta. Wilson collaborates with corporate clients to navigate the complexities of carbon markets, model their carbon position, and advise them on emission reduction strategies. He holds a Master of Global Business and Master of Science in International Business from the University of Victoria and Montpellier Business School.

Braeden Larson is a Policy Analyst on ClimeCo’s Sustainability, Policy, and Advisory team, based in Calgary, Alberta. Braeden supports the tracking and analysis of carbon policies throughout North America. He holds a Master of Public Policy from the University of Calgary and a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) with a major in Politics from Acadia University.

Emerging Efforts to Address Reforestation’s Most Challenging Problem

Emerging Efforts to Address Reforestation’s Most Challenging Problem

Emerging Efforts to Address Reforestation’s Most Challenging Problem


by: David Chen | June 20, 2022

Sapling of a tree to be reforested.

The Difficulty of Financing Reforestation

Reforestation is emerging as a desirable and effective tool for carbon emission removals and has received increased attention from investors in the last several years. Investments in reforestation enable vital carbon removal from the atmosphere and offer innumerable ancillary environmental and social benefits, from creating critical habitats for biodiversity to improving water quality, groundwater recharge, and flood prevention for local communities. Despite the demand for the carbon removals and ancillary benefits that reforestation projects provide, the most challenging obstacle for reforestation-based carbon offset projects begins before a shovel ever touches the ground.  

For nearly all reforestation carbon offset projects, the majority of costs, such as securing easements (to ensure long-term permanence) and planting activities, occur at the beginning of a project. In contrast, most carbon sequestration benefits from reforestation activities, and therefore the associated revenue from carbon offsets, accrues slowly over a long-time horizon. This delay between when costs occur and when revenue is realized has historically made reforestation challenging to finance and has hindered projects from getting off the ground; project developers cannot implement a reforestation project without a sizable initial investment, and investors looking to secure carbon credits can find it challenging to justify such an investment without assurances that expected carbon benefits from the investment would be delivered over an extended timeline.  

Although financing challenges have hindered reforestation efforts for decades, several well-known carbon offset registries, such as the Climate Action Reserve and Verra, are developing new programs and instruments that aim to address those early finance hurdles and enable more project developers, like ClimeCo, to bring reforestation projects to market.  

Boat driving by bald cypress trees in marshy water.


CAR’s Climate Forward Program

One approach currently offered is the Climate Action Reserve (CAR) Climate Forward program that seeks to drive forward-looking investments, such as reforestation, by allowing projects to generate ex ante credits called Forecasted Mitigation Units (FMUs) that can be utilized to help finance the high upfront cost of getting a project launched. As opposed to traditional carbon credits generated ex post or after emission reductions occur and can be used to offset existing sources of emissions, FMUs are an environmental instrument that are issued based on forecasted emission reductions and/or removals and are intended to offset a future stream of emissions from new economic activity (i.e., a new construction project or development). Reforestation projects under the Climate Forward program must meet stringent eligibility requirements to ensure that the carbon sequestration benefits are additional and minimize and account for the risk of natural or intentional “reversals,” a situation where the stored carbon associated with a project is released back to the atmosphere. 

In late April this year, CAR released Version 2 of the Climate Forward Reforestation Methodology, with additional assurances that bolster the environmental integrity of FMUs generated from reforestation projects in the Climate Forward program. One of the most noteworthy additions to the Reforestation Methodology is the inclusion of a permanence risk buffer pool to account for unintentional reversals outside a project’s control, such as fire, insects, and disease. To account for these unavoidable reversals, the newly updated Reforestation Methodology will require every reforestation project in the Climate Forward program to contribute a certain percentage of FMUs into a “permanence risk pool,” which will be collected and held as insurance. If an unintentional reversal occurs, CAR will retire the corresponding amount of FMUs from the permanence risk pool to compensate for the negative impact of the reversal. These updated assurances to the Reforestation Methodology will help give buyers confidence that their FMUs represent carbon that is stored for the long term. 

Saplings of mangroves to be planted in reforestation effort.


Verra’s Projected Carbon Unit

Carbon registry Verra is currently creating a solution for addressing this financing problem with a new commodity called a “Projected Carbon Unit” or “PCU.” PCUs are intended to help provide a source of upfront revenue to support the development of projects on Verra’s registry before the verification and issuance of Verra’s standard carbon offset or Verified Carbon Units (VCU).  

Unlike the FMUs generated in the Climate Action Reserve program, PCUs are not ex ante but are an instrument that reflects the validated projection of expected emission reductions or removals and cannot be used for offsetting claims until the associated emission reductions or removals are successfully verified (i.e., after the reduction has occurred). Upon successful verification, the PCU’s will automatically be converted to ex post VCUs. PCUs are intended to be generated using Verra’s existing methodologies which theoretically could provide early finance for a multitude of nature-based solutions and other carbon offsetting project types. Verra has completed two rounds of public consultation and intends to operationalize and launch PCUs in September 2022.  


Conclusion

The recent addition of the permanence risk buffer pool to the Climate Forward program and Verra’s development of PCUs are part of a larger trend of creative solutions being designed to help reforestation efforts meet the growing demand for nature-based solutions. I am excited to see these efforts by CAR and Verra and look forward to seeing even more future innovative solutions that will support these types of opportunities. The more we can reduce the hurdles of nature-based projects, the more our planet benefits.  

 


About the Author

David Chen is passionate about nature-based and blue carbon project development. From replanting bald cypress trees in the Mississippi River delta to reestablishing mangroves forests in international countries, David knows the positive impact these projects have on biodiversity and coastal resiliency to improving local livelihoods. David is a Program Development Manager at ClimeCo and has a Master of Environmental Management from Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment and received his Bachelor of Science from the University of California, Riverside. 

Key Takeaways From NACW

Key Takeaways From NACW

Key Takeaways From NACW


by: Greg Cesare | May 25, 2022

 NACW Conference Panel with Lauren Mechak   

Why Should You Know About North American Carbon World?

Along with several ClimeCo colleagues, I had the pleasure of attending the nineteenth annual North American Carbon World (NACW) conference held April 6-9th in Anaheim, California. As we have in the past, ClimeCo was one of the event’s corporate sponsors. While the 2021 virtual NACW conference offered a unique opportunity for attendees to learn and participate, we were excited to be in person again. NACW provides a fantastic opportunity for participants in the carbon markets to experience great panels of speakers and catch up with old friends and make some new ones.

For those unfamiliar with NACW, it is a premier event in North America focused on climate policy and carbon markets. This year’s conference included over 720 attendees, representing 14 countries. The conference attracts stakeholders from various backgrounds and industries, including project developers, verification bodies, non-profits, international carbon registries, government, community members, academia, carbon finance, technology startups, and Fortune 500 companies. The conference attendees share a common goal of addressing the climate crisis through innovative solutions.

It was an incredible couple of days spent meeting with stakeholders in the carbon markets. Truly one of the most rewarding aspects of the conference was getting to know what drives these stakeholders and their interest in various aspects of the market. The wide range of topics, including natural climate solutions, digital assets, and policy outlooks, brought together a diverse group of experts. Reflecting on the conference, I have a few key takeaways:

Team ClimeCo at the NACW Conference 

Supporting Voluntary Carbon Market Growth

The voluntary carbon market continues to grow significantly, and much of the growth is driven by corporate sustainability goals. How the voluntary market responds to the demands from corporate buyers will be of critical importance to sustain its momentum. While country-level commitments made through the Paris Agreement, for example, play a vital role, the voluntary market provides a tremendous opportunity to utilize the financial power of the private sector to address the climate crisis at the urgent pace required.

As highlighted in the panel discussion, “State and Future of the North American Voluntary Carbon Market,” whom ClimeCo’s Director of Program Management, Lauren Mechak participated, the voluntary market is well designed to support innovation to capitalize on the financial power of the private sector. Many innovations are being developed that require carbon finance to be commercially viable. For example, unique project types and emerging technologies in remote sensing and blockchain technology are being explored for implementation in carbon projects and the carbon market. The flexibility of the voluntary market is built to support these innovations, but it is vitally important that it’s done correctly by adhering to the principles and standards required for high-quality offsets.

Projects Must Deliver Quality, Transparency, and Accountability

A key aspect of supporting the market growth is the demand from credit buyers and the public for a transparent and high-quality process. Investors demand projects that ensure real and permanent greenhouse gas emission reductions. Transparency in how carbon offset methodologies are created, projects are developed, and credits are verified is vitally important to ensuring the continued growth of the voluntary market.

One of my favorite panel discussions focused on Driving High-Quality Standards in Carbon Markets. This panel highlighted initiatives in the carbon market focused on bringing increased transparency into project activities. Efforts to develop tools that assist market participants with evaluating what a “good” offset project looks like are underway, such as the Carbon Credit Quality Initiative. These initiatives aim to enhance the integrity of carbon credits by providing independent and easily understood scoring of carbon credits.

Corporate buyers also provided their perspectives regarding the challenges they face in evaluating carbon offset projects. Many simply do not have the expertise to adequately review lengthy project description documents and understand the underlying assumptions of the project and the methodology upon which the project was established. The level of detail provided in the publicly available documentation can be challenging for buyers and much of the general population to understand on their own. Some individual companies can bring expertise in-house to evaluate the quality of an offset credit. However, experts within the carbon market have an opportunity to provide simplified guidance on what a “good” carbon credit looks like. Initiatives that create tools and simplify access to information make it easier to understand what’s behind a given project, which provides the confidence for projects they are supporting – delivering real and permanent climate impacts.

NACW Conference room filled with seats


As a project developer, ClimeCo always strives to provide as much transparency as possible. We participate in widely trusted and recognized carbon registries, such as the Climate Action Reserve, Verra, Gold Standard, and the American Carbon Registry. Carbon registries play an essential role in addressing transparency and quality. The voluntary market relies heavily on registries and verifiers to demonstrate the validity of an offset. These registries provide the public opportunities to comment on our projects and review summary information about their design and performance. I believe the discussions regarding simplifying publicly available information will lead to an even more transparent and trusted process. Our projects must also undergo independent verification before issuing carbon offset credits. The independence of verification bodies and carbon registries is vital for ensuring the quality of carbon offset projects and maintaining the integrity of the growing carbon market.

Co-Benefits of Carbon Projects

My final takeaway from the conference is that the projects being developed worldwide provide value beyond their carbon impact. It’s sometimes easy to be consumed by the impact a particular project will have on the climate; however, there are many co-benefits to carbon projects which improve the lives of the community members in which they are situated.

The inspiring story of the Yurok Tribe highlighted the co-benefits of these projects. Panelist Javier Kinney of the Yurok Tribe described the important impacts that offset revenues provided to their local communities. The tribe has been able to finance the repurchase of ancestral territory by utilizing carbon revenues. They have also used revenues from carbon sequestration projects to support the reintroduction of two condors (North America’s largest terrestrial bird) back into their ancestral lands. The condor is a sacred species to the Yurok Tribe, and this was the first time the birds will have taken flight in their former range since 18921. Their incredible story demonstrates the power carbon projects have to change the environment and support community building.

NACW Conference Networking and Social Event


Conclusion

Being in a room with over 700 people interested in carbon markets and how they can shape the future of the climate crisis was inspirational. Participants from all across the world and from diverse industry backgrounds highlighted the increasing interest in the market. As highlighted at the conference, with increased interest comes increased scrutiny.

NACW was a great reminder of the importance of the fundamentals of project development in the carbon market. To ensure market integrity, we must remain vigilant regarding the types of projects we engage in. Demonstration of additionality, leakage considerations, and carbon storage permanence are always key factors in our decision to develop a project. The conference also highlighted aspects such as co-benefits that project developers should be searching for and creating through their project implementation.

As our project portfolio expands, ClimeCo’s project development team continues to implement processes to ensure high quality and transparency. This includes registering projects with highly trusted carbon registries, engaging with broad stakeholder groups, developing publicly available project description documents, and verifications through independent auditing bodies. These fundamentals were always the core of our project development, and the conference confirmed their importance to market integrity.

Our projects have the potential to improve the communities and ecosystems of so many places around the world. ClimeCo’s Project Development Team is committed to developing high-quality carbon projects. Our core value of strong engagement with our project partners, local stakeholders, carbon registries, and credit buyers elevates the quality and transparency in which our projects operate. We’re looking forward to participating in the growth to come and supporting initiatives that maintain the integrity of the markets.


About the Author

Greg Cesare is the Director of Project Management within ClimeCo’s Project Development Team. He is located in State College, PA. Greg and the Project Management team provide implementation and long-term management of ClimeCo’s portfolio of environmental commodity projects.

The ABCs of Proxy Voting and Its Role in ESG

The ABCs of Proxy Voting and Its Role in ESG

The ABCs of Proxy Voting and Its Role in ESG


by: Erica Lasdon | April 26, 2022

Board Room Proxy Voting


What is Proxy Voting?

Proxy voting is the primary means for shareholders to communicate their views about a company’s management. At most public U.S. companies, shareholders can vote annually to elect board members and approve executive compensation packages and other strategic proposals put forward by the company. This voting peaks from April through June, when most annual corporate meetings occur.

For decades, U.S.-based public corporations have also faced shareholder proposals at a company’s annual meeting. They are proposed by shareholders who meet minimum holding requirements set by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Resolutions tend to focus on a single, concrete call to action, such as issuing a report or establishing explicit board oversight for Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) issues relevant to the company.  Rules require that the proposals be high-level and do not overstep management territory.

While non-binding, these proposals have been an important mechanism for interested investors to drive attention to ESG issues. Over the years, vote totals have risen out of the single digits for ESG resolutions. Still, many filed resolutions are withdrawn before being sent out for a broader shareholder vote. This entire process has formed the backbone for more active engagement between shareholders and company management. It has built a body of voluntary disclosure from companies that forms the basis for much of what we currently understand about material ESG business issues.


Long-term ESG Proxy Trends

Examining the trends in proxy voting is a powerful way to understand the general market views on corporate ESG practices. The overall trends are unmistakable and steady. The following charts¹ give a clear sense of how this process has driven the adoption of ESG in recent decades.

Graph showing record proportion of proposals receive significant support

Graph showing record proportion of E&S proposals are withdrawn, as more companies reach agreements with proponents

Graph showing environmental and social issues are joining the mainstream


What to Expect in 2022

The 2021 proxy season featured record support for proposals on environmental and social (E&S) issues and continued strong support for governance proposals, especially at midsized and smaller companies. It also saw growing opposition to director elections. Part of this trend is explained by the increasing support by institutional investors such as BlackRock and State Street for ESG resolutions and against directors presiding over perceived inadequate climate or diversity oversight. These investors are also increasingly open to supporting dissident board nominees, potentially signaling a new phase in shareholder activism connected to longer-range strategic concerns about climate and/or diversity.


This shift in voting practices is likely to continue in the upcoming 2022 proxy season. What is creating this shift?

In general, institutional investors are moving more quickly to vote against companies, many shedding their more cautious approaches in past years, which showed deference to corporate management recommendations on resolutions. Large investors like BlackRock and State Street demonstrate this approach by signaling intent in annual public letters to vote against companies that lag on issues like climate and diversity. 

Similarly, the proxy advisory services that provide influential analysis and recommendations to investors also signal ESG policy changes annually. Both ISS and Glass Lewis have signaled a more active ESG voting approach, especially on efforts to increase board oversight of crucial ESG issues like climate and diversity.²

We can perhaps get the clearest view of ESG during the 2022 season by looking at the leading edge of shareholder action, the investors filing the resolutions. The annual Proxy Preview published by three active groups (As You Sow, Sustainable Investments Institute, and Proxy Impact) highlights leading trends and gives specific details about pending resolutions. In March 2022, there were 529 filed resolutions, up 20% from 2021. The pie chart³ below shows the ESG topics at play this year:

Pie Chart of 2022 Shareholder Proposals showing ESG are top priorities

In his introductory letter to this year’s Proxy Preview, As You Sow CEO, Andy Behar, draws these three main messages from 2022 resolution proponents:

1) Climate change affects each company and its supply chain, employees, and customers. Every company must cut emissions in half by 2030, and leading companies are already on the way.

2) Racial justice, gender equality, diversity, and equity are critical for talent retention and recruitment. Companies are starting to act by using clear metrics to quantify the problem and inform action.

3) Political Spending has become riskier in the era of polarized politics. Some companies restrict spending while others are challenged to explain incongruent corporate policies and political spending.


What Should Companies do to Prepare?

Public companies now have a clear obligation to provide disclosure on key ESG topics, driven by this market expectation. Corporate boards should ensure they are prepared to provide proper oversight of ESG topics and may be asked to participate in shareholder engagement more actively than in the past. Management teams should ensure that they get forward-looking information on significant ESG developments to efficiently allocate corporate resources towards necessary improvements.


What About Private Companies?

Private companies and investors in the private markets do not face the direct challenge of a shareholder resolution or proxy vote concern about director elections or other corporate-backed proposals. However, proxy season trends offer a useful window into expectations private market participants face on other fronts. Increasingly, requests for similar ESG information are expected as a part of other types of corporate financing. Private equity investors, banks, and other capital providers also seek to understand how large and small firms manage their most relevant ESG issues.

There are no public records of proposals or votes and less pressure to report on ESG issues publicly. Still, surveys of investors and other participants in private markets show a similar rising tide of interest in understanding relevant ESG issues. Private companies and investors can use many of the same tools as public market peers and can sometimes find customized guidance for their asset class.


Conclusion

As companies and investors face questions from stakeholders about their strategy on climate change and other ESG issues, ClimeCo is here to develop solutions that fit your needs. For more information or to discuss how ClimeCo can drive value for your organization, contact us at info@climeco.com.

Here are some recent resources offering guidance on many of the topics discussed above:

Resource

Author

Useful for

Materiality Finder

SASB

Investors/companies looking to identify material ESG issues by industry

A Climate Disclosure Framework for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises

CDP

Investors/companies looking to establish climate disclosure for smaller companies

Audited Financial Statements and Climate-Related Risk Considerations

Center for Audit Quality

Audit Committees looking to build climate literacy

Technical Note: Reporting on Transition Plans

CDP

Investors/companies looking to develop transition plans from current disclosure

Guidance on Diversity Disclosures and Practices

State Street Global Advisors

Investors/companies looking to establish or enhance diversity disclosure

Navigating the Risks of Corporate Political Spending

Center for Political Accountability

Investors/companies looking to establish or enhance political spending oversight



[1] “The Long View: US Proxy Voting Trends on E&S Issues from 2000 to 2018,” Kosmas Papadopoulos, Managing Editor, ISS Analytics, published on 1/31/2019 at the Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance.

[2] “Heads Up for the 2022 Proxy Season,” Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, 12/22/21, https://governance.weil.com/latest-thinking/heads-up-for-the-2022-proxy-season-iss-and-glass-lewis-release-voting-policy-updates-for-2022.

[3] Proxy Preview 2022, p.5, available at https://www.proxypreview.org/.


About the Author

Erica Lasdon is Sr. Director, Capital Markets on ClimeCo’s Sustainability, Policy, and Advisory team based in Washington DC.  Erica specializes in applying ESG to financial company operations, with deep expertise in engagement, proxy voting, and investment functions across a wide range of asset classes. Erica holds a B.S. in Biology and a B.A. in History from the University of California, San Diego and served on the development team for the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board’s Level II exam for the inaugural FSA credential.