The dirt on soil carbon credits

Can offering the right incentives to farmers help restore and expand soil’s carbon-carrying capacity?

On the Catalyst with Shayle Kann podcast this week:

Soil is a massive carbon sink that has been storing away emissions for centuries. But years of destructive farming practices have released much of this once-safely-sequestered carbon. Could incentivizing farmers help restore — and even expand — soil’s carbon-carrying capacity? 

In theory, yes. But the market for soil carbon credits, which entails directly paying farmers to improve their practices, is in need of serious reform. 

In this episode, Shayle talks with Freya Chay, program manager for carbon removal at CarbonPlan. The fundamental problem is that existing soil carbon credits don’t do what they are intended to do: ensure that additional carbon is permanently locked away. Freya and Shayle survey the biggest challenges facing the market and explore potential fixes, covering questions like:

  • What’s the best way to measure the amount of carbon in a plot of soil? Models, sampling, satellites or something else?

  • What tools can we use to make sure the carbon will remain in the ground, such as buffer pools and ton-year accounting?

  • How about the tricky issue of additionality? Without the credit, would the carbon have been captured, or would it have remained locked away?

  • What role could third-party grading systems play in differentiating high-quality credits from lower-quality ones?

Recommended reading:

  • CarbonPlan: A buyer’s guide to soil carbon offsets

  • CarbonPlan: Unpacking ton-year accounting

  • Canary Media: Carbon storage gets dirty: The movement to sequester CO2 in soils

  • Sylvera: Carbon credit ratings: Frameworks and processes white paper

Catalyst is a co-production of Post Script Media and Canary Media.

Catalyst is supported by Antenna Group. For 25 years, Antenna has partnered with leading clean-economy innovators to build their brands and accelerate business growth. If you’re a startup, investor, enterprise or innovation ecosystem that’s creating positive change, Antenna is ready to power your impact. Visit antennagroup.com to learn more.

Solar Power International and Energy Storage International are returning in person this year as part of RE+. Come join everyone in Anaheim for the largest B2B clean energy event in North America. Catalyst listeners can receive 15% off a full conference, non-member pass using promo code CANARY15. Register here.