Stop selling false hope of credit for historical carbon efforts

Producers should have accepted disappointment long ago, but are continuously sold false hopes that their historical efforts to sequester carbon will earn them credit on a carbon trading market. | File photo

Farmers holding out hope that historical efforts to sequester carbon will earn them credit on a carbon trading market should accept a hard truth. It isn’t happening.

They should have accepted disappointment long ago, but are continuously sold false hopes.

Saskatchewan is developing its own protocols for a carbon market. The feds are doing the same, while some jurisdictions in Canada have been operating them for years.

Globally, putting a price on carbon and offering the opportunity to buy and sell units on an open market is not new.

There are clearly defined markets buying and selling carbon, with many more in development.

But already there are some clear foundations of a credible offset market.

The Stockholm-based Carbon Offset Research and Education (CORE) publishes an internationally recognized guide for offset protocols often looked to by policy makers. CORE requires “additionality” as part of a project to be recognized as a credible offset.

“GHG (greenhouse gas) reductions are additional if they would not have occurred in the absence of a market for offset credits. If the reductions would have happened anyway — i.e., without any prospect for project owners to sell carbon offset credits — then they are not additional,” says CORE.

Credit for historical carbon offsets, which are carbon-saving practices farmers adopted years ago, wouldn’t be offered if CORE was the authority.

Washington, D.C., based Verra is among the world’s most renowned verifiers of carbon credits to be sold on market. It too rejects offsets based on historical practices.

Verra says a project counts as additional — that is, it could be allowed as an offset — if “it can be demonstrated that the activity results in emission reductions or removals that are in excess of what would be achieved under a ‘business as usual’ scenario and the activity would not have occurred in the absence of the incentive provided by the carbon markets.”

As well, the American Carbon Registry says historical offsets would not be allowed.

There is not a single market or verifier I can find where historical offsets wouldn’t be rejected.

Offset programs being designed in Canada will subscribe to this idea, too. There will be no credit for any GHG emissions removed before 2017.

Producers who went zero-till, or use perennial forage coverage, prior to that period don’t get credit.

It is a pillar of carbon markets worldwide.

Considering this, I was surprised last spring when Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said farmers should be credited for two decades worth of carbon sequestration.

Unwilling to face facts and be straight with Saskatchewan residents, Moe’s bureaucracy is being tasked with breaking the hard truth to producers — that past efforts won’t be included in a carbon market.

Right or wrong, the reality is that Canadian rules have to align with national and international markets.

Meanwhile, farm leaders continue unrealistic calls for recognition and appeals to Ottawa to consider including historical offsets.

The Agricultural Carbon Alliance continues to advocate “carbon offset protocols must be accessible to early adopters and open to science-based measurement. This should include the recognition of activities that began prior to January 2017, where appropriate, and incorporate flexibility to accommodate advancements in verification.”

Policies can always change, but long-standing international standards being mimicked in the development of our domestic market make it clear that historical efforts to reduce carbon won’t be recognized.

Advocacy against this, even if warranted, is a losing effort.

It is time farmers accept this truth, rather than continue to be sold false hope from farm leaders and politicians that credit for past efforts could be coming.

D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm Media’s Ottawa correspondent. Reach out to him by emailing

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