Glossary

Blue Carbon 102

Blue Carbon 102

Blue Carbon 102


Red, White, & Blue (Carbon): The Global Distribution of Blue Carbon Projects and Opportunities in the United States


by: Allyson Ulsh | January 19, 2022

 

Blue Carbon 102 | Allyson UlshIndonesia is home to the largest percentage of mangrove ecosystems globally. Mangroves are critical ecosystems that can sequester and store carbon dioxide, referred to as blue carbon due to their coastal nature.

Where is Blue Carbon Located?

Our team dove headfirst into the world of blue carbon in a previous blog post, Blue Carbon 101. Through exploring how blue carbon differs from ‘regular’ carbon, which ecosystems sequester it, and the interwoven community and biodiversity benefits, it’s clear that blue carbon projects have a fundamental role in addressing and mitigating climate change. Even with the understanding that mangroves, seagrass meadows, and tidal marshes are responsible for sequestering blue carbon, it’s difficult to envision precisely where these critical ecosystems are in the world.

Mangroves are found worldwide in the intertidal zones along coastlines, with a large percentage of the species’ density and diversity in Southeast Asia. Indonesia has over 3.3 million hectares (approximately 8.2 million acres) of mangroves along its coastlines, accounting for nearly 20% of the world’s global mangrove inventory [1]. Brazil, Nigeria, and Mexico jointly account for another 20% of total mangroves worldwide [2].

Seagrasses (not to be confused with seaweed) can be found globally along coastlines, including regions along the Artic circle. Similar to mangrove distribution, the density and diversity of seagrasses are highest along the coasts of Southeast Asian countries throughout the Pacific [3]. Tidal marshes, defined as the wetland areas along and between coastal areas that are inundated by daily tidal patterns, can also be found globally. The contiguous United States, excluding Hawaii and Alaska, has over 2.9 million hectares (7.2 million acres) of intertidal vegetated coastal wetlands, with mangroves and tidal marshes included in this inventory [4].

Unfortunately, mangrove, seagrass, and tidal marsh ecosystems face significant global threats. In addition to removing existing habitats, coastal development alters the hydrology and increases pollution and sedimentation, putting additional pressure on these blue carbon ecosystems. Mangrove ecosystems suffer from deforestation due to increasing pressures from coastal agriculture, including but not limited to shrimp farming, fishing, and salt production. Rising sea levels, changing salinities, and increasing temperatures all stress these critical environments, contributing to further habitat loss across all coastal ecosystems.

Seagrass meadows play an essential role in sequestering and storing blue carbon in the ocean | Blue Carbon 102 by Allyson UlshSeagrass meadows play an essential role in sequestering and storing blue carbon in the ocean.

Where Are Today’s Blue Carbon Projects?

Current blue carbon projects listed on Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and Community, Climate, and Biodiversity registries focus primarily on mangrove restoration across four continents. These mangrove projects highlight how carbon finance can be coupled with local conservation organizations to scale restoration efforts. Mirroring the mangrove hotspots discussed above, many of these projects are in the coastal regions of Indonesia, India, China, Nigeria, Senegal, and Mexico. There are currently 28 mangrove projects across 13 countries listed on the VCS registry at various points of project development.

Within the blue carbon space, ClimeCo has partnered with YAKOPI to fund and restore 6,000 acres of mangroves in Indonesia’s Aceh and North Sumatra regions. This mangrove restoration project involves the community throughout the entire process. Including collecting seeds from mangrove propagules, propagating the seeds in nurseries, assessing planting locations, planting the mangroves, and monitoring and maintaining the stand health. More details on this project will be shared in a forthcoming blog post highlighting the incredible community and project partners that have made this project possible.

While several mangrove restoration projects are listed on Verra’s registries, only one listed blue carbon project exists within the United States. This project involves the restoration of seagrass meadows through the direct seeding of seagrass species along Virginia’s coastline. With blue carbon ecosystems accounting for less than 1% of the United States’ natural land area, the opportunity for U.S. blue carbon projects exists but certainly with its own set of challenges.

Blue Carbon Projects available on Verra's Verified Carbon Standard Registry | Blue Carbon 102 by Allyson UlshBlue carbon project locations based on project information publicly available on Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard Registry. Smaller countries on the map may only have one icon representing multiple projects in proximity. 

Louisiana’s coastline is home to the largest, most productive tidal wetland area across the United States | Blue Carbon 102 by Allyson UlshA Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries Marsh Master moving through Louisiana’s tidal wetlands. Louisiana’s coastline is home to the largest, most productive tidal wetland area across the United States.

Coastal Blue Carbon in the United States

David Chen and I attended the Restoring America’s Estuaries: Coastal and Estuarine Summit early in December 2022 to learn more about the prospects of blue carbon projects in the United States. More than 1,375 coastal restoration professionals joined us to learn about opportunities and challenges surrounding blue carbon projects across the United States. Through attending several blue carbon sessions, we learned about topics such as seagrass carbon variability in California, the blue carbon market potential in Texas, and how to utilize blue carbon to support coastal wetland restoration in the Northeast.

While it’s clear that blue carbon projects have a fundamental role in addressing and mitigating climate change, it’s also evident that sea-level rise and its variable effects across different blue carbon ecosystems will complicate future project planning and development. Existing coastal marshes across the mid-Atlantic region are forecasted to be significantly vulnerable to sea-level rise. However, an opportunity exists for transitional zone habitats to migrate inland. Sea level rise will need to be accounted for in all aspects of blue carbon project development planning and implementation to ensure ecosystem, and subsequent carbon, permanence.

Additionally, there was a degree of uncertainty addressed in relation to the most effective restoration techniques for tidal marshes and seagrasses. Localized considerations, such as hydrology, in-land development, water quality, and salinity, among others, all play a role in the carbon sequestration rates across ecosystems. Careful consideration of the science behind blue carbon restoration will need to be accounted for in the quantification of carbon emission removals across landscapes.

Lastly are the challenges posed by jurisdictional claims. Carbon rights for the coastal and seafloor blue carbon ecosystems in the United States lie within different governmental agency jurisdictions. All blue carbon projects must involve the appropriate governmental agencies and foster relationships with the state legislature to ensure that projects and partners meet both state-led initiatives and voluntary carbon market standards. As sea-level rise affects these vulnerable ecosystems, the question of jurisdiction will become more complicated.

The scientific expertise and restoration partnership experience was unparalleled across the presentations. Our team’s overall takeaway from the conference was that while developing blue carbon projects in the United States is challenging across several facets, it is certainly possible. As a leader in developing and managing environmental commodities, we are excited to see how blue carbon projects will continue to expand and how we can be at the forefront of domestic blue carbon project development.



[1]  The Economics of Large-scale Mangrove Conservation and Restoration in Indonesia (worldbank.org)

[2]  Global Forest Resources Assessment (fao.org)
[3]  Seagrass and Seagrass Beds | Smithsonian Ocean (si.edu)
[4]  Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2020


About the Author

Allyson Ulsh manages ClimeCo’s portfolio of nature-based solutions projects. From reforestation in tropical cloud forests to replanting bald cypress trees in Louisiana, Allyson understands the importance of coupling carbon finance with local stakeholder engagement to scale restoration efforts. Allyson is a Project Associate working within the Nature-Based Solutions project team. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Environmental Resource Management from Pennsylvania State University, Schreyer Honors College. 

Preparing for Climate Risk

Preparing for Climate Risk

Preparing for Climate Risk


by: Amanda Mast | December 15, 2022

 

Preparing for Climate Risk
Business leaders, investors, and policymakers are increasingly aware of how climate-related risks impact companies’ financial performance and operational resilience. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there have been 15 separate, billion-dollar weather and climate disasters during the first nine months of 2022. [i] Acknowledging the risks posed by climate change and investor requests for better information, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) proposed rule amendments in March. These changes would require companies to share additional climate-related information—including climate risks and efforts to manage these risks. [ii]

How can business leaders prepare for a world with rapidly evolving climate risk? The SEC’s proposed rule amendments build upon the recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD). [iii] This blog outlines how companies can leverage the TCFD recommendations and shares quick tips on what to consider when approaching climate risk for the first time.

The Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures

TCFD is the dominant framework for managing climate risk. Established by the Financial Stability Board in 2015, TCFD set out to identify climate-related information that firms should gather and disclose to investors and other stakeholders. [iv] The TCFD released final recommendations in 2017, updating guidance in 2021. [v] These recommendations ask companies to consider climate risks under different scenarios, including transition risks—those associated with a transition to a low-carbon economy, such as a price on carbon—and physical risks, like extreme weather. [vi] This information is useful to investors looking to more accurately price climate risk, and to companies as they assess and manage these same risks.

Figure 1. The TCFD recommendations highlight various categories of climate-related risks that companies can assess. [vii]


Firms see the value and are getting on board.
The rapid adoption of the TCFD recommendations shows their value to companies and investors. In the TCFD’s 2022 Status Report, 80 percent of the large companies included in the review disclosed TCFD-aligned information. CDP, the non-profit responsible for the global environmental disclosure platform, incorporated the TCFD framework into their climate change questionnaire, further amplifying the recommendations. [viii] In 2022, over 18,000 companies representing more than half of global market capitalization disclosed to CDP—responding to requests from investors, customers, and other stakeholders. [ix]

Regulators reinforce TCFD recommendations. Over 120 regulators and governments have expressed support for the TCFD, with numerous governmental entities encouraging aligned disclosures, including Brazil, Canada, New Zealand, and the UK. [x] The United States is also counted in this group, as the SEC based the proposed rule amendments, in part, on the TCFD recommendations. [x]

Figure 2. Expansion of support for the TCFD recommendations over time from the October 2022 Status Report. [x]


Scenario Analysis Basics

Tools enable planning despite uncertainty. To help companies develop meaningful risk assessments, the TCFD recommends an analytical tool called scenario analysis. [xi] During a scenario analysis, companies consider a range of plausible futures, from an emissions trajectory that limits warming to 2°C or lower to a business-as-usual emissions trajectory that causes significant change to global temperatures. [xi] These scenarios are not meant to be forecasts but hypothetical paths of development that can allow a firm to build resilience across a range of possible future states. [xi] Institutions have published robust scenarios that companies can leverage in this exercise, ranging from “physical climate scenarios” to “transition scenarios.” [xii]

Figure 3. High-level framework for the scenario analysis of physical and transition risks by the U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. [xiii]


The physical impact of climate change. Physical scenarios focus on climate drivers, including GHG emissions, that allow models to explore the resulting changes in the climate system. [xiv] The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is well-known for these scenarios, including the five Shared Socio-economic Pathways (SSPs) outlined in the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). The AR6 highlights a range of changes to the physical climate across scenarios. For example, an extreme heat event that historically occurred once every 50 years will likely occur more than 30 times in that same period under a high global warming scenario. [xiv] Companies can use scenarios to assess how their assets and operations may be affected and inform adaptation plans to stay competitive.

Figure 4. The IPCC Sixth Assessment Report uses five Shared Socio-economic Pathway scenarios that describe the development of climate drivers. [xv][xiv]


Transition impacts of climate change. Other scenarios allow companies to explore potential transition risks, like the scenarios of the International Energy Agency (IEA). The IEA’s Net-Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario (NZE) outlines one possible pathway for the energy sector to reach net-zero emissions. [xvi] The IEA’s Stated Policies Scenario and Announced Pledges Scenario take policies and commitments, among other conditions, and model the resulting changes to the energy sector and global emissions. [xvi] Assessing resiliency under these scenarios can help firms understand their exposure to the impacts of the energy transition.            

Figure 5. The International Energy Agency’s three scenarios show a range of possible changes in the global energy system. The IEA also shows how two of these scenarios compare to select IPCC scenarios. [xvi]



How to Get Started

Better planning based on better data. Armed with an understanding of risks under future scenarios, companies can prepare despite significant uncertainty. They can not only consider current climate risks but also anticipate how they may change.  Developing robust climate assessments now can allow companies to anticipate regulation, meet investor disclosure requests, and improve the resilience of business operations against both the physical and transition risks of climate change.

Leveraging TCFD in preparation for regulation. When aligning to the TCFD framework, ClimeCo recommends that companies reflect internally first:

  • What are your primary goals? The TCFD recommendations can help companies prepare for upcoming regulations like the SEC’s proposed rule amendments. It can also help companies meet investors’ requests for TCFD alignment, improve their CDP Climate score, and better understand and manage business risk.
  • What is your existing governance and strategy related to climate change? By understanding and enhancing internal structures and priorities, companies can mitigate risk and capture economic opportunities related to the energy transition.
  • How do physical and transition risks currently impact the business? Understanding the most significant risks can allow a company to allocate resources efficiently for future risk management.
  • Who are the essential stakeholders? A shared understanding of climate change and the proper internal buy-in, whether from facilities, procurement, or investor relations teams, can help ensure the success of climate assessment initiatives.

ClimeCo supports clients in their efforts to align with TCFD and pursue scenario analysis. To learn more, please reach out to David Prieto or Amanda Mast.  




[i] NCEI. Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters. 2022. https://www.ncei.noaa.gov/access/billions/time-series

[ii] SEC. Fact Sheet Enhancement and Standardization of Climate-Related Disclosures. 2022. https://www.sec.gov/files/33-11042-fact-sheet.pdf
[iii] SEC. The Enhancement and Standardization of Climate-Related Disclosures for Investors. 2022. https://www.sec.gov/rules/proposed/2022/33-11042.pdf
[iv] TCFD. About. 2022. https://www.fsb-tcfd.org/about/
[v] TCFD. Implementing the Recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. 2021. https://assets.bbhub.io/company/sites/60/2021/07/2021-TCFD-Implementing_Guidance.pdf
[vi] TCFD. Final Report: Recommendations of the Task Force on Climate-related Financial Disclosures. 2017.
https://assets.bbhub.io/company/sites/60/2021/10/FINAL-2017-TCFD-Report.pdf
[vii] TCFD. The Use of Scenario Analysis in Disclosure of Climate-related Risks and Opportunities. https://www.tcfdhub.org/scenario-analysis/
[viii] CDP. How CDP is aligned to the TCFD. 2022. https://www.cdp.net/en/guidance/how-cdp-is-aligned-to-the-tcfd
[ix] CDP. How companies can take action. 2022. https://www.cdp.net/en/companies
[x] TCFD. 2022 Status Report. 2022. https://assets.bbhub.io/company/sites/60/2022/10/2022-TCFD-Status-Report.pdf
[xi] TCFD. 2022 Status Report. 2022. https://assets.bbhub.io/company/sites/60/2022/10/2022-TCFD-Status-Report.pdf
[xii] TCFD. 2022 Status Report. 2022. https://assets.bbhub.io/company/sites/60/2022/10/2022-TCFD-Status-Report.pdf
[xiii] TCFD. Technical Supplement: The Use of Scenario Analysis in Disclosure of Climate-Related Risks and Opportunities. 2017. https://assets.bbhub.io/company/sites/60/2021/03/FINAL-TCFD-Technical-Supplement-062917.pdf
[xiv] TCFD. Technical Supplement: The Use of Scenario Analysis in Disclosure of Climate-Related Risks and Opportunities. 2017. https://assets.bbhub.io/company/sites/60/2021/03/FINAL-TCFD-Technical-Supplement-062917.pdf
[xv] TCFD. Technical Supplement: The Use of Scenario Analysis in Disclosure of Climate-Related Risks and Opportunities. 2017. https://assets.bbhub.io/company/sites/60/2021/03/FINAL-TCFD-Technical-Supplement-062917.pdf
[xvi] TCFD. Technical Supplement: The Use of Scenario Analysis in Disclosure of Climate-Related Risks and Opportunities. 2017. https://assets.bbhub.io/company/sites/60/2021/03/FINAL-TCFD-Technical-Supplement-062917.pdf
[xvii] U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission. 2020. Managing Climate Risk in the U.S. Financial System. https://www.cftc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-09/9-9-20%20Report%20of%20the%20Subcommittee%20on%20Climate-Related%20Market%20Risk%20-%20Managing%20Climate%20Risk%20in%20the%20U.S.%20Financial%20System%20for%20posting.pdf
[xviii] IPCC. Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. 2021. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_SPM.pdf
[xix] IPCC, 2021: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_SPM.pdf
[xx] IPCC. Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. 2021. https://report.ipcc.ch/ar6/wg1/IPCC_AR6_WGI_FullReport.pdf
[xxi] IPCC, 2021: Summary for Policymakers. In: Climate Change 2021: The Physical Science Basis. https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/downloads/report/IPCC_AR6_WGI_SPM.pdf
[xxii] IEA. Global Energy and Climate Model. 2022. https://www.iea.org/reports/global-energy-and-climate-model/understanding-gec-model-scenarios
[xxiii] IEA. Global Energy and Climate Model. 2022. https://www.iea.org/reports/global-energy-and-climate-model/understanding-gec-model-scenarios
[xxiv] IEA. Global Energy and Climate Model. 2022. https://www.iea.org/reports/global-energy-and-climate-model/understanding-gec-model-scenarios


About the Author

Amanda Mast joined ClimeCo in 2022 as a Manager of Climate Advisory on the Sustainability, Policy, and Advisory Team, and is based in Washington D.C. Before ClimeCo, she worked on Apple’s Environment, Policy, & Social Initiatives team and with The Coca-Cola Company, supporting global initiatives for environmental sustainability. Amanda leads climate strategy and risk management projects, corporate sustainability, and ESG disclosure.

A Concrete Path to Decarbonizing Cement

A Concrete Path to Decarbonizing Cement

A Concrete Path to Decarbonizing Cement


by: Kayla Carey and Andrew Primo | October 27, 2022

 

Cement PowderCement is a powdery substance that can be mixed with sand, water, and gravel to form concrete.

Most people are familiar with cement, the key ingredient in concrete, but few are likely aware of how foundational this material is to contemporary life. Buildings, roads, bridges, canals, sidewalks, railways, ports, power lines, wind, and solar farms… nearly all infrastructure requires cement and lots of it. The International Energy Agency estimates that nearly 4.3 billion tons of cement were produced in 2021 alone, making enough concrete to build the equivalent of over 2,800 Hoover Dams.

And this number will only grow. By mid-century, the global population is expected to approach 10 billion people, over two-thirds of whom will live in cities, according to the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs. Add to that the massive buildout of electricity, renewable energy, efficient transportation, and carbon capture infrastructure required to support a decarbonized society, and the need for a significant increase in today’s already record-high cement production levels becomes abundantly clear.

Why are cement emissions so difficult to reduce?

There is, however, a fatal catch to this skyrocketing demand: cement, as it is produced today, has a tremendous greenhouse gas footprint. And decarbonizing isn’t as simple as substituting coal with renewable energy or electrifying vehicles. At least half of all emissions generated from the production of Portland cement (the global standard) are released during production through the creation of “clinker,” one of the primary steps in cement production.

Clinker is produced in giant kilns, where limestone and other minerals are superheated to temperatures up to 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit.  The chemical byproduct of this process is tremendous amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2): in the United States,  one metric ton of CO2 is emitted for every metric ton of Portland cement produced. Because of the difficulty in avoiding the process emissions from this critical step in production, cement is considered a “hard-to-abate” industry.

How Cement & Concrete are madeClinker production requires high heat and releases carbon dioxide as waste. Image Source: Cement Association of Canada

With such huge volumes of cement produced each year at such high emission rates, the cement industry has become one of the most carbon-intensive on the planet, contributing approximately 2.4 billion metric tons of CO2. That’s more than all aviation and maritime shipping emissions combined, and these will only continue to increase unless rapid steps are taken to reduce cement’s carbon intensity.

How can we reduce cement’s hard-to-abate emissions?

With the increasing demand for infrastructure paired with the urgency for decarbonization, how can the cement industry balance this paradox? Unsurprisingly, there is not a single or simple solution.

The Global Cement and Concrete Association’s (GCCA) 2050 Net-Zero Roadmap identifies several actions that the cement industry can adopt to slash greenhouse gas emissions and limit the most severe consequences of climate change. These strategies include:

  • Improving operational efficiency;
  • Switching to less carbon-intensive fuel sources;
  • Replacing traditional limestone-derived clinker with alternative materials; and
  • Deploying carbon capture utilization and storage (CCUS) technologies.

Each pathway can have a significant impact on lowering the carbon intensity of cement; however, only a couple of technologies can reduce the troublesome emissions released during clinker production – clinker replacement and CCUS.

Clinker Replacement: In certain applications, clinker can be at least partially replaced with alternative products called supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs). Typical SCMs are byproducts of industrial processes, such as coal and steel production; however, transitions in these industries, such as the closing of coal-fired power plants and the shift to more efficient steel-production furnaces, have limited the availability of these commonly used SCMs, creating a gap between supply and demand. Some companies have launched demonstration projects to produce additional clinker replacements, such as fly ash harvested from landfills and naturally occurring substances—known as “natural pozzolans”—like volcanic ash. But producing and treating these materials so that they can be used in cement is complicated and expensive, and they have not yet reached the scale needed to meet the worsening SCM supply void.

Carbon Capture Utilization and Storage: CCUS—in which the CO2 released in clinker production is captured and stored or used in other applications—is another key approach to reducing cement’s process emissions. Very few CCUS projects currently exist, especially at cement plants. Nearly all CCUS projects worldwide are still in the pilot phase as the technology faces substantial implementation challenges and is extremely cost-prohibitive. 

Building with CementNearly 4.3 billion tons of cement were produced in 2021, which is enough concrete to build the equivalent of over 2,800 Hoover Dams. 

Leveraging the Voluntary Carbon Market

For hard-to-abate sectors to meet net-zero targets on time, they must work together to employ a mix of proven and emerging technologies, such as clinker replacement and CCUS. But how can the industry overcome existing economic and technical challenges to scaling these technologies? The voluntary carbon market could be an important lever in bringing new SCMs to market and making CCUS more economically viable.

Today, there are a growing number of opportunities for the cement industry to generate voluntary carbon credits. One of the most trusted carbon offset registries, the Climate Action Reserve, recently announced the development of a Low-Carbon Cement Protocol that will incentivize the production of innovative SCMs to address the current supply gap. In addition to tax incentives, new opportunities are also emerging to generate carbon credits from CCUS projects. The cement industry can leverage the voluntary carbon market to direct much-needed financing to the sector and accelerate the road to decarbonization. 

 


About the Authors

Kayla Carey is a Manager for Program Development, specializing in decarbonization for hard-to-abate sectors. With experience in sustainability management and energy policy, she helps energy and industrial clients navigate environmental markets and develop new quantitative methodologies. She holds a master’s degree in Environmental and Natural Resources Policy and a Bachelor of Arts in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, both from the University of Colorado Boulder.

Andrew Primo is a Manager on ClimeCo’s Program Development team, based out of Denver, Colorado. He assesses the feasibility of new emission reduction projects in hard-to-abate sectors, including heavy industry, waste management, and shipping. He works with corporate partners and carbon registries to develop new technical methodologies for carbon crediting programs.

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.