Environmental Protection

Estuary Group to Link Wetlands Restoration to Carbon Markets

Restore America's Estuaries has partnered with Silvestrum and ESA PWA on the initiative and its requirements.

Restore America’s Estuaries (RAE) will lead an initiative to help coastal wetlands restoration and protection projects issue carbon credits on the international voluntary carbon market for the first time.

RAE, a national advocacy organization dedicated to coastal and estuarine habitat restoration, will lead a technical working group that will develop requirements for quantifying and crediting the greenhouse gas benefits of several new types of wetlands conservation projects under the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) Program.

“Coastal wetlands hold vast, untapped potential to trap atmospheric carbon, particularly carbon dioxide, one of the chief culprits behind global warming and climate change,” said Steve Emmett-Mattox, who will oversee the project as RAE’s senior director of Strategic Planning and Programs.

The VCS Program is a robust global standard and program that has been used to develop hundreds of greenhouse gas-reducing projects and millions of GHG credits validated and verified to recognized global criteria. VCS provides requirements for crediting various types of agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) projects, including those on peatlands, but has yet to develop requirements specific to crediting projects in other types of wetlands. The working group will draft requirements for crediting a range of wetlands project types, likely to include mangroves and coastal and tidal wetlands.

The working group, funded by New Orleans-based Entergy Corporation and KBR, will be led by RAE in partnership with ESA PWA, a wetland restoration consulting firm headquartered in San Francisco, and Silvestrum, a Dutch-based firm that assists in the creation of carbon assets in land-use projects for compliance and voluntary markets worldwide. Leading wetlands scientists will contribute their expertise in core areas: Boone Kauffman is a mangroves expert with the USDA Forest Service; Patrick Megonigal is a wetland biogeochemist with the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center; and Hans Joosten is a peatlands specialist with Greifswald University, Greifswald, Germany.

“New studies indicate that wetland soils sequester carbon at rates 10 to 50 times greater than terrestrial forests,” says Emmett-Mattox. “Unfortunately, this is a good news-bad news situation. We have discovered a huge resource in the fight against global warming and sea level rise at a time when our coasts and their wetlands are at a crisis point,” he says.

While the global extent of coastal wetland systems, including mangroves, salt marsh, and freshwater tidal marsh, is not fully known, estimates are that there are 852,000 km2 and they are declining at rates four times faster than terrestrial ecosystems. Conversion and drainage of wetlands releases significant quantities of CO2 directly to the atmosphere. For converted wetlands with organic-rich soils, the ongoing emissions may persist for decades releasing carbon pools that built up over hundreds and thousands of years.

“Many industries operating in the coastal zone work diligently to be good coastal stewards,” he says. “The ability to gain carbon offsets for coastal protection and restoration projects will provide a new incentive for corporate social responsibility and could ignite significant private investment in critically-needed coastal projects. The potential for tidal wetlands restoration exceeds several million acres in the United States alone. The primary limiting factor for additional coastal habitat restoration, including wetland projects, is funding. The coastal wetland restoration community is now beginning to seek carbon finance as a means to undertake additional projects."

RAE represents 11 regionally based “Save the Bay” organizations that collectively undertake more than 100 coastal habitat restoration projects each year. In the United States, hundreds of additional projects are carried out each year by private landowners, non-profit organizations, state and local governments, tribes, and federal agencies as well.

In May, the technical working group will begin to develop draft requirements for crediting the additional wetlands project types. By September, the group aims to complete a first round of draft requirements, governing issues such as defining eligible project areas and carbon pools, establishing baseline scenarios, quantifying GHG emissions reductions in project and baseline scenarios, monitoring and measuring of carbon stocks, and addressing leakage and other non-permanence issues. The draft requirements will undergo peer review, public consultation and revision before being incorporated into the VCS Program requirements.

Source: Restore America’s Estuaries

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