Globally, soils store three times more carbon than above-ground vegetation – forests, shrublands and grasslands – so even small disturbances to soils can significantly increase carbon dioxide emissions. Unfortunately, 20 percent of the world's native rangelands have been converted to crops, which has resulted in a 60 percent loss of soil carbon. In addition, improper management practices on existing rangelands have led to widespread soil degradation and erosion.
The American Carbon Registry has approved two protocols that allow ranchers who sequester carbon or avoid rangeland conversion to sell credits on the voluntary market: the grasslands protocol and the compost protocol. In addition, the Climate Action Reserve also adopted a protocol for the avoided conversion of grasslands in July 2015.
How does it work?
Avoided grasslands conversion
The protocols focus on protecting lands ripe for conversion to croplands – those with high quality soils – and provide ranchers with a guaranteed revenue source for keeping their lands as grasslands. To create this revenue stream, ranchers typically work with carbon credit experts to monitor and report on the status of their lands, thereby earning a carbon offset credit that can later be sold in a carbon market.
In July 2016, EDF partnered with the Southern Plains Land Trust to register the first grasslands project, on a ranch in Colorado, with the Climate Action Reserve. This project is expected to generate credits by the summer of 2017. EDF is continuing to work with landowners to engage them in grassland protocols.
Compost on the range
EDF collaborated with Terra Global Capital, the University of California and the Marin Carbon Project to measure the increase of carbon in the soil through a one-time application of compost. In the United States alone, a one-time application of compost to rangelands could remove almost 200 metric tons of CO2 from the atmosphere per year for 30 years.
The protocol, adopted by the American Carbon Registry, quantifies the emission reductions from diverting organic materials from landfills and spreading compost on rangelands to spur soil carbon sequestration. This carries the added benefit of increasing soil's water holding capacity and the quantity of forage for livestock.