Vast expanses of forests at Boreal Wildlands, ON (Photo by NCC)

Vast expanses of forests at Boreal Wildlands, ON (Photo by NCC)

Frequently Asked Questions

Nature + Climate Projects Accelerator

The Nature + Climate Projects Accelerator is a multidisciplinary team at NCC focused on accelerating conservation outcomes by connecting the true value of nature to new sources of finance through innovative, measurable solutions. The Accelerator is driving more funding to conservation by developing mechanisms for organizations in the private sector to generate returns or help meet their climate and nature commitments when they invest in NCC’s conservation work.

Conservation in Canada has been funded largely by governments and philanthropic sources. The Accelerator is increasing private sector funding in nature conservation.

Yes, forest-based carbon offset projects are the most market-ready nature-based solution available in Canada. NCC currently has two operating carbon projects led by the Accelerator Team: the Darkwoods Forest Carbon Project in BC and the Boreal Wildlands Forest Carbon Project in Ontario. Both are leveraging the value of carbon offsets to drive more conservation, faster.

The Accelerator is also developing new mechanisms for investing in conservation projects in other landscapes in Canada, such as grasslands and peatlands.

As businesses around the world increasingly recognize the economic, reputation and societal costs of climate change, the private sector is shifting toward net-zero and nature-positive commitments. To meet these ambitious targets, companies need to invest in nature-based solutions to help solve the climate change crisis by reducing their emissions outputs.

The Accelerator is working with NCC staff across Canada to drive private investment in nature and launch more conservation projects. We’re working on assessing the viability of carbon projects in Canada’s wetlands and grasslands, and looking for other ways to value nature-based solutions for private investment.

Nature-Based Solutions

Nature-based solutions are actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore ecosystems to effectively benefit human well-being and biodiversity. By keeping nature intact, we harness the power of nature-based solutions to solve some of the most critical challenges facing humanity. For example, forests, wetlands and grasslands help lessen the impacts of climate change through numerous processes like absorbing carbon and releasing oxygen back into the atmosphere. They also reduce flooding and prevent drought while serving as habitat for pollinators that support our food system.

Yes, but nature-based solutions have historically been undervalued economically. The Accelerator team is changing that by unlocking the value of nature to attract private capital to conservation — an effort that is more important now than ever.

A key distinguishing factor that differentiates the Accelerator’s projects from NCC’s traditional conservation projects is that they include a party willing to pay (in some manner) for the resulting environmental, social and economic benefits of setting aside and caring for nature.

The Accelerator team is investigating ways to measure and report on the suite of social, environmental and economical services provided by nature-based solutions. By quantifying the benefits nature provides, such as improved human health and well-being, reduced flood risk, better air and water quality, biodiversity conservation and more, we’re better able to attract private capital to conservation. NCC’s current carbon projects, for example, use on-the-ground field techniques alongside data modelling to quantify the project’s carbon savings, allowing NCC to generate revenue through the sale of carbon offsets (see below for more information on carbon offsets and NCC’s carbon projects).

Carbon Offsets

As businesses commit to net-zero and work to improve the sustainability of their supply chains, some greenhouse gas emissions still cannot be avoided due to limitations in available technology. A carbon offset is the removal of carbon dioxide or other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere to counterbalance, or compensate for, emissions that are the result of business operations. One carbon offset represents one metric tonne of carbon dioxide, or its equivalent in other greenhouse gases.

Carbon offsets can be generated through activities that prevent the release of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from natural stores, including the conservation of a forest under threat of logging or native grasslands under the threat of conversion to cropland.

Using a forest carbon project as an example, the project accounts for the shift in land use in the area from industrial logging to conservation. This means that the forest will remain standing (i.e., conserved). Its conservation and management will ensure the existing carbon remains stored in its roots. It also allows the forest to continue to absorb, or sequester, a larger amount of carbon dioxide than would have occurred had the harvesting continued. Using an internationally recognized methodology under a Standard Body (for example, Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard), the avoided release and ongoing sequestration of carbon is calculated and then verified by third-party auditors.

It is widely agreed that private funding is needed to advance conservation and nature-based solutions, as nature is our greatest ally in the efforts to address the climate change and biodiversity loss crises. NCC is using the revenues generated by our carbon projects to do more conservation, faster. Carbon projects are the most market-ready option for securing private investment in nature.

NCC is well positioned to play a leadership role in developing carbon offset projects across Canada for many reasons:

• NCC’s core conservation work is aligned with the targets of major national and global efforts to address rapid biodiversity loss and climate change.

• NCC has national reach, a significant land portfolio and proven conservation success — more than 15 million hectares of critically important landscapes protected since 1962.

• NCC prioritizes conservation outcomes, not sales, when developing carbon projects.

• NCC is committed to collaboration, consultation and bringing experts together to create, fast-track and implement permanent, long-term conservation projects.

NCC’s carbon offsets are sold through the voluntary carbon market. As opposed to a regulatory market, which imposes mandatory requirements for emission reductions, 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 strategies to meet climate neutrality commitments or in anticipation of a regulatory market. NCC’s carbon offsets must be officially retired within an agreed timeframe as per the sale contract, meaning they are removed from the active registry and cannot be sold off to another buyer down the line.

NCC requires that offsets be sold only to organizations that have made commitments or plans to avoid or minimize greenhouse gas emissions. Purchasers of NCC’s carbon offsets are vetted before each sale and must demonstrate a commitment to achieving near-term carbon neutrality, or a path to net-zero focused on reducing emissions internally, aside from relying strictly on carbon offsets. Offsets should be used for the “difficult to abate” emissions, for processes or inputs that do not currently have a viable, economic, cleaner alternative.

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, the definition of which will vary depending on the type of project. In the case of a forest carbon project, the longer the forest can be guaranteed to remain intact, the better. NCC’s forest carbon projects guarantee the carbon will remain in the forest for a minimum of 100 years.
Additionality — A conservation project can only be considered additional if the carbon that is being counted (like the carbon stored in the trees and soil) would have been released (i.e., logged) if the project had not gone ahead.
Accounting for leakage — Leakage occurs if the emissions being avoided at the project site are merely shifted to another location. While emissions in the project area may be eliminated, project developers must account for leakage to avoid selling offsets that are not “real.” To do so, a leakage rate is calculated using the protocol that the project is developed under, and removed from the total issued offsets.
Guaranteed 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 ensure the original calculation of carbon offsets remains valid.
Certification — Credible carbon projects are validated 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.

Beyond these criteria, NCC’s carbon projects adhere the to the 10 Core Principles from the Integrity Council for the Voluntary Carbon Market.

Additionality is the principle by which carbon projects must demonstrate that the carbon reductions or removals are additional to the business-as-usual scenario, meaning they would not have occurred in absence of the project. Additionality is fundamental to the development of any carbon project. In the case of Boreal Wildlands, for example, the lands were purchased from Domtar, a pulp and paper company. Had NCC not purchased these lands, the most likely scenario was that they would have been purchased by another entity and been subjected to commercial timber harvesting. It is through NCC’s conservation of the lands that additional carbon, which would have been released through logging, may be stored and sold as carbon offsets. NCC does not pursue carbon projects without defensible cases for additionality.

The risk of natural disturbances, including fire and pest infestation, are possibilities in any landscape. Under the Verified Carbon Standard, it is required that carbon projects are assessed based on their risk of natural disturbances like fire, pest outbreak, etc. Based on the assessment, a portion of offsets generated from the project are set aside into a “buffer pool” instead of being sold. This buffer pool acts as an insurance policy and provides replacement offsets that are made available in the event of project reversals from natural events. If the buffer pools were ever to be depleted, the standard body has an additional, large global buffer pool of offsets that may be accessed to replace offsets already monetized by the project. In this way, the project is considered “insured” against the risk of natural disasters and other catastrophic events.

There are several international carbon standards for validating forest carbon projects. To date, NCC’s active carbon projects have been developed under Verra’s Verified Carbon Standard (VCS), as this is the most widely recognized standard in the voluntary carbon market, accounting for more than 75 per cent of all forestry-related offsets transacted internationally. Not only is VCS a highly respected international standard that is often requested by purchasers of carbon offsets (corporations and other organizations), it also works well when complemented by other co-benefit standards that measure the “beyond carbon” benefits of forestry projects, particularly conservation-based projects.

NCC believes that Verra continues to demonstrate leadership in the Voluntary Carbon Market space, as it works to continuously to improve upon and update existing protocols and approaches to the certification of carbon offsets, and even beyond carbon.

Carbon offsets generated from NCC’s carbon projects are issued with a 100-year lifespan, meaning NCC is required to keep the carbon represented by an offset protected for 100 years.

To learn more about the Accelerator and opportunities for investing in nature,
please contact accelerator@natureconservancy.ca.

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