Carbon Markets and Standards

Introducing Blue Carbon to the Voluntary Carbon Market

Blue carbon presents an opportunity for wetland restoration projects to receive carbon credits. Wetland restoration activities that have a climate benefit (increase sequestration and/or reduce emissions) can earn carbon credits on the voluntary carbon market. An investor can then support wetland restoration while receiving carbon offsets in return.

There are two broad types of carbon markets: compliance and voluntary. (Except for the California Global Solutions Act system and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the northeastern states, the U.S. does not currently have a compliance carbon market.)

Voluntary markets allow for the buying and selling of carbon offsets, outside of a regulatory system. Carbon markets are needed as a platform to buy and sell carbon offsets.The restoration of tidal wetlands, salt marshes, mangroves and other coastal habitats offers significant potential for sequestering carbon and reducing emissions.

  • In 2014 – buying of carbon offsets was worth $395 million to lock 87 million tons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.
  • Key offset buyers include: government, corporate, energy, transportation, finance, and insurance providers. (Hamrick and Goldstein. Ahead of the Curve: State of the Voluntary Carbon Markets. 2015.)

The first global greenhouse gas (GHG) offset Methodology for Tidal Wetland and Seagrass Restoration (VM0033) provides the procedures for how to calculate, report and verify GHG reductions for tidal wetland restoration projects. Project managers can use this methodology to develop offset projects in tidal wetlands that can generate carbon finance.

What is a carbon offset?

A carbon offset represents a reduction in emissions to balance out the emissions an individual or company cannot reduce. An individual, organization or company can purchase carbon credits to offset their carbon emissions. One carbon credit/offset = one metric ton of carbon dioxide (CO2).

What is a carbon standard?

Carbon standards are a method of quality assurance for carbon offset generation. Standards set the requirements for GHG accounting, project validation, and the development of methodologies (protocols) for specific project activities (e.g. forestation, wetland restoration, etc.)

Working with our partners, RAE helped to expand Verra (formerly Verified Carbon Standard or VCS) rules to include wetland restoration and conservation (WRC) as an eligible project activity.

Methodology for Tidal Wetland and Seagrass Restoration

In 2015, the Methodology for Tidal Wetland and Seagrass Restoration became the first globally applicable greenhouse gas accounting methodology for coastal wetland restoration, allowing salt marsh, seagrass, mangrove, and other tidal wetland restoration projects to earn carbon credits. Now projects such as removing tidal barriers, improving water quality to increase seagrass habitats, beneficial use of dredged materials, and re-introducing native plant communities will be eligible to earn carbon credits on the voluntary carbon market, generating new sources of funding. Read the press release here, and access the methodology here.

Coastal Blue Carbon in Practice: A manual for using the VCS Methodology for Tidal Wetland and Seagrass Restoration. This manual guides project developers in planning a blue carbon project for carbon credit.

In addition, RAE is partnering with Silvestrum Climate Associates to develop a framework methodology for the conservation of coastal wetlands to generate carbon offsets, with funding support from the North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation, Conservation International, The Nature Conservancy, The Curits and Edith Munson Foundation, and Blue Ventures Conservation.The finalized conservation methodology is expected in 2018.

The Process of Developing VCS Wetlands Requirements

Wetlands are complex and dynamic ecosystems. In addition to CO2, both methane and nitrous oxide can be present in wetlands. Rigorous science is required to support inclusion of wetlands in the carbon markets.

RAE led a technical working group to develop requirements for wetland restoration and conservation (WRC) projects under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS).

Why Verra/VCS? – Verra (formerly known as the Verified Carbon Standard) is a robust global standard and program that has been used to develop hundreds of greenhouse gas-reducing projects and millions of GHG credits validated and verified to recognized global criteria. Verra provides requirements for crediting various types of Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) projects, including those on peatlands and tidal wetlands.

Technical Working Group

The working group, funded by New Orleans-based Entergy Corporation and KBR, was led by RAE in partnership with ESA PWA, a wetland restoration consulting firm, and Silvestrum, a Dutch-based firm that assists in the creation of carbon assets in land-use projects for compliance and voluntary markets worldwide.

The result of the working group was an expansion of existing AFOLU requirements to incorporate a range of wetland habitats and project activities, including restoration, creation, and conservation of seagrass beds, mangroves, salt marsh and other tidal wetlands.

  • Leading wetlands scientists contributed their expertise in core areas
  • Team members include: Dr. Steve Crooks (ESA PWA), Dr. Igino Emmer (Silvestrum), Steve Emmett-Mattox (RAE), Dr. Hans Joosten (Greifswald University), Dr. Boone Kauffman (USDA Forest Service), and Dr. Patrick Megonigal (Smithsonian Environmental Research Center).
  • The WRC requirements were submitted and underwent a peer review, public consultation and revision before being incorporated into the VCS Program requirements (as of October 2012).