As we collaborate globally to understand and address the effects of climate change, the voluntary carbon market has grown in prominence as one way for corporations to reduce their carbon footprint. Many programs, with varying approaches to calculating and marketing carbon credits, have sprung up in the past decade.
Frequently asked questions
The evolving world of carbon credits, or offsets, can be very confusing as there are many different programs and offerings.
The frequently asked questions below will help you understand how the Nature Conservancy of Canada's (NCC's) carbon program works and why we are proud to be raising money for conservation through the voluntary carbon market.
Carbon credit generally refers to a certificate or permit that allows the purchaser to offset their greenhouse gas emissions through the capturing or sequestering of carbon in the trees and soil, rather than it being released into the atmosphere. One carbon credit represents the reduction of one metric tonne of carbon dioxide or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases. To visualize what this means, consider that the average BC home emits one metric tonne of carbon dioxide or its equivalent for its heating every five months. (source: climatesmartbusiness.com)
Carbon credits represent a reduction in emissions of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gases made in one location in order to compensate for emissions made elsewhere. These credits can be traded to make up for the production of greenhouse gases generated by industry, transportation or other activities.
We can generate carbon credits from forests and other natural areas, such as wetlands by calculating the amount of carbon stored in the biomass (trees, soil, plants, etc.). Credits are also accumulated over time as these living systems pull carbon out of the atmosphere, sequestering additional carbon in the biomass until that biomass decomposes or is burned.
Darkwoods is private land and has sustained more than four decades of small-scale timber harvest. When NCC purchased Darkwoods for conservation, we removed the threat of the forests being intensely and continuously harvested for timber.
Now, with the timber activity on the property diminishing under NCC’s ownership, the vast majority of the forest will remain standing and will absorb or sequester a larger amount of carbon dioxide than would occur if logging operations continued at a more intense level. The increased carbon that is being stored and sequestered as a result of changing old logging practices to new conservation practices are verified on a yearly basis.
The conservation management of Darkwoods follows an internationally recognized protocol for carbon projects, and was audited and approved by a number of independent organizations:
Before a carbon project can be approved, it must be able to show that it fulfills a set of criteria, including:
Permanence – A carbon project must show that the carbon being stored will stay stored for a long time. In the case of a forest carbon project, the longer the forest can be guaranteed to remain intact, the better.
The Darkwoods Forest Carbon Project fulfills this requirement by guaranteeing its credits for 100 years.
Additionality – A project can only be considered additional if the carbon that is being counted (in this case the carbon stored in the trees and soil) would have been released (i.e. logged) if the project had not gone ahead.
The Darkwoods Forest Carbon Project fulfills this requirement because had the Nature Conservancy of Canada not purchased the Darkwoods property, the most likely alternative purchaser was a forestry company that would have intensively logged the property. Money raised from our carbon sales are a critical part of funding this important conservation project, which prevented the property being sold to a purchaser who would intensively log it.
Leakage – Leakage occurs if the emissions being avoided at the project site are merely shifted to another location. Rather than eliminating the emissions, the project simply caused them to be emitted somewhere else. To be valid, a project must calculate the amount of leakage the project will cause, and account for it when calculating the number of carbon credits produced by the project.
The Darkwoods Forest Carbon Project has accounted for the potential that forest harvesting levels may be increased on other properties as a result of the reduction in harvesting on Darkwoods.
Measurement and monitoring – Ongoing monitoring of the project site measures the amount of carbon captured and stored in the forest over the life of the project. This regular oversight helps to ensure the original calculation of carbon credits is still valid.
Every five years, independent verifiers will monitor Darkwoods to calculate the amount of carbon stored on the property. The verifiers will monitor and record the forest structure on a series of plots that has been set up across Darkwoods to ensure that carbon sequestration is as reported.
Certification – Credible carbon projects are certified by independent auditors who provide third-party certification of the project. This certification states that the project meets all of the above criteria (permanence, additionality, leakage and measurement) and that the project is in fact meeting its carbon storage goals.
The Darkwoods Forest Carbon Project follows an internationally recognized protocol for carbon projects, and has been audited and approved by Rainforest Alliance, Scientific Certification Systems and Det Norske Veritas to the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). Further certification has come from the Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard (SDVISta) and Climate, Community, & Biodiversity Standard (CCB).
NCC worked with a team of experts to develop a comprehensive carbon accounting methodology that would meet international standards. This methodology is specific to the Canadian landscape and was created for projects in which a logged forest is transitioned to a protected forest. The process enables conservation-based forest carbon project developers to accurately value the carbon savings their project generates.
After purchasing Darkwoods in 2008, our carbon team and advisers spent three years determining the amount and value of carbon on Darkwoods. Our methodology and findings have been certified to the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), a standard that ensures a carbon project follows internationally recognized protocols and has tangible environmental benefits (also known as co-benefits).
All of the project documents are publicly available on the Verified Carbon Standard project database. We encourage anyone interested in learning more about the details of this project to read through the material. The methodology that was developed for the Darkwoods Forest Carbon Project is open to use by other organizations wishing to undertake similar forest carbon projects, and is already being applied to new carbon initiatives.
The Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) sets aside a pool of credits that acts as insurance for Darkwoods and other projects certified under VCS. If a forest fire or other disaster were to destroy the forest (in other words, the carbon credits), credits from the insurance pool would be used to compensate the loss.
The voluntary carbon market offers many different standards that set out protocols for the proper development and certification of carbon offset projects. The Darkwoods Forest Carbon Project was certified under the Verra's Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), which is widely considered to be a leader in development of internationally accepted standards for the voluntary carbon market. Further certification has come from the Sustainable Development Verified Impact Standard (SDVISta) and Climate, Community, & Biodiversity Standard (CCB).
Other standards include the Climate Action Reserve (CAR), the American Carbon Registry (ACR) the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) guided by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Gold Standard, VER+. In addition, standards such as the Climate, Community, & Biodiversity Standard (CCB) seek to certify the additional environmental and social benefits (also referred to as co-benefits) of a project.
When searching for ways to fund the conservation of Darkwoods, NCC identified that selling carbon credits from the forests on the land could provide a significant, long-term model for funding the ongoing care and stewardship of the land, as well as NCC's other conservation work.
NCC started exploring the idea of creating a carbon project on Darkwoods when the voluntary carbon market was relatively new. The carbon team saw that the proposed project could break new ground for the industry and forge an innovative strategy for raising funds for conservation.
The Darkwoods Forest Carbon project was developed over three years as a way to raise funds through the voluntary international carbon market. The first sale of Darkwoods carbon credits went through in May 2011, raising over $4 million and involving 700,000 tonnes of carbon credits. As of early 2021, this project has generated over $15 million to support conservation in Canada.
Darkwoods carbon credits are guaranteed for 100 years.
Proceeds from the sale of Darkwoods Forest Carbon are put towards the ongoing conservation management of the Darkwoods Conservation Area, as well as NCC's other work.
As opposed to a regulatory market, which imposes mandatory requirements for emission reductions on a regional, national or international basis, the voluntary carbon market allows governments, companies or individuals to purchase carbon offsets on a voluntary basis. Many companies choose to do this as part of their corporate social responsibility or environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies, in order to meet climate neutrality commitments or in anticipation of a regulatory market.