New program explores how carbon offsets can work on grasslands

A new two-year pilot program will examine how ranchers can generate carbon offsets in and revenue from conserved grasslands.

To generate carbon offsets, landowners will need to protect their grassland, but they have a choice of an easement, conservation agreement, servitude or covenant.

The Retaining Canada’s Grasslands Using Carbon Offset Markets project was developed by a group of organizations and agencies, led by the Canadian Forage and Grassland Association. The idea was first floated about two years ago.

Cedric MacLeod, CFGA executive director, said the protocol the group developed will be put to work on grasslands to determine how well it works.

“Based on the findings that we get on the landscape we’re going to come back and modify it. This is not the end point for the protocol; this is the starting point. We want to learn what it means and the impact it is going to have with landowners and grow with that.”

MacLeod said the protocol recognizes ranchers’ contributions when they choose to conserve grassland rather than convert it to crop production.

Tom Lynch-Staunton, regional vice-president for Nature Conservancy of Canada in Alberta, said between 30 and 50 percent of carbon is lost when land is converted. Avoiding that release is critical, he said, but ranchers have to see a “conservation dividend.”

“We see this as such a great opportunity to retain these sensitive rangelands that we’ve got and help the landowner community perhaps generate some increased revenue through carbon credits,” he said.

Funding for the project comes from the Canadian Agricultural Partnership’s AgriAssurance program, while Shell Canada is kicking in industry money.

Denise Chang-Yen, development manager for nature-based solutions at Shell, said the company has an interest in seeing grasslands retained.

“We aim to become a net zero energy business by 2050 in step with society and our customers,” she said. “We’re becoming a net zero energy business not only from our operations but also from the fuels that we sell and the energy products. It also means that for any emissions that are left over that we are not able to mitigate using technology, we’ll be balancing them with offsets, which is where nature-based solutions come in.”

The company has projects such as a reforestation effort in the British Columbia interior, but also is working with provinces to develop grassland protection protocols.

Chang-Yen said using nature to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is “an effective and immediate way to help compensate for emissions that are currently unavoidable.”

More information about the program can be obtained from the CFGA. Other partners include Alberta Beef Producers, Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association, Viresco Solutions and several land trusts.

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