Farmers planning to sell carbon credits need to be aware of the differences in how they are bought and sold, to ensure they don’t enter into agreements that could impact them financially in the future.
That’s according to Jim Elliott, senior policy advisor at Green Alliance, an independent think tank focused on the environment, which released a report on the topic at last weeks Oxford Farming Conference.
Elliott said that while selling carbon credits did offer farmers an ‘opportunity’, they need to be conscious there is still a lot of uncertainty in the science, particularly in terms of how much carbon can be sequestered in soil and for how long it can be stored.
He also warned that carbon offsetting could do more harm than good if companies buy credits instead of reducing their own emissions.
“Offsets should only be used for emissions that companies genuinely can’t reduce, otherwise we make it much more difficult to stop the climate crisis,” he said.
With all the uncertainty surrounding carbon farming, Elliot said it is vital that really strong standards are introduced to verify carbon sequestration.
Measures to store carbon work differently in different contexts, he said.
“You could see differnt results even within a field for the same intervention, let alone between fields or between farms and different areas of the country,” he said.
“This presents challenges from a market perspective because it (verification) introduces costs.
“It is also very easy for carbon to be re-released into the atmosphere in the future after it has been sequestered.
“You only have to look at what is happing with ash dieback to see how that might work. We have all this carbon that has been stored in ash trees for decades and centuries that will be released because of the disease.
“There are no guarantees in natural carbon storage.”
Elliot also warned that carbon offset credits cannot be used (or ‘retired’) more than once.
If sold, they cannot be counted towards a farm’s own decarbonisation efforts or be used by it to make a claim about low carbon or net zero produce.
This could be significant if the government or the farm’s customers set new requirements around its emissions or the sustainability of its produce.
“For example, if a food retailer requires a certain emissions intensity from its suppliers, or consumers wish to choose products that make low carbon claims,” he said.
“In this case, a farm which has sequestered carbon but sold it as credits upfront to another business outside the supply chain would not be able to use it to meet the emissions requirements of its supply chain buyers and customers.
“They would need to make further emissions reductions or sequester more carbon to meet these needs.”