Carbon offsetting was primarily designed to address a specific problem: counteracting the impact of carbon emissions by absorbing or avoiding the emissions elsewhere.
Increasingly, responsible businesses are looking for carbon offset programs to deliver wider social and environmental benefits alongside carbon reductions.
How do these progressive carbon offsets create non-carbon environmental benefits, such as habitat conservation?
What is habitat conservation?
Habitat conservation is a management method that aims to preserve and restore areas of natural habitat for wild plants and animals.
Although some habitat loss is due to natural events, conservation has become a necessary practice due to the increasing rate at which natural habitat is being destroyed by logging, farming, pollution, climate change and other anthropogenic causes.
Although tropical rainforests are estimated to contain 50 percent of all species, conservation is important to preserve many diverse ecosystems including:
- Freshwater and wetland habitats
- Non-tropical forests
Why is habitat conservation important?
Habitat conservation is important for protecting species and ecological processes, and for maintaining biodiversity.
In Kenya, for example, NativeEnergy teamed with The Nature Conservatory and Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) to support a soil sequestration project (North Kenya Grassland Project), benefiting:
- The long-term health of the grasslands needed for grazing (by livestock AND wild animals).
- Ranchers who need efficient access to markets.
- A way of reducing temptation to annex more pristine pastures for scarce resources.
After all, habitat loss is a major cause of species extinction.
For example, rainforests are home to millions of highly specialized species, which exist nowhere else. When their habitat is destroyed, they cease to exist, and species that coexist or depend upon those species also become extinct, resulting in the collapse of an entire ecosystem.
Biodiversity is essential for global food security. Wild plant species have greater resistance to disease than farmed crops; a decrease in genetic diversity may result in a greater risk of food loss due to epidemics.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), only about 30 crops provide virtually all of the world’s food supply. They stress the importance of maintaining a diversity within each crop, because: “Plant genetic diversity also has the potential to provide traits that can help meet future challenges, such as the need to adapt crops to changing climatic conditions or outbreaks of disease.”
They also stress that at the periphery of cultivated habitats: “wild botanical relatives of food crops may contain genes that allow them to survive under stressful conditions.”
Degraded habitats can also result in erosion, flooding and mudslides, which impact human settlements and infrastructure as well as wildlife.
How can you support habitat conservation with carbon offsets?
Mature forests store huge quantities of carbon, both in the trees and vegetation itself and within the soil in the form of decaying plant matter.
Burning forests to clear land for agriculture releases a large amount of greenhouse gases, but landowners can be discouraged from doing so with financial incentives.
Forestry was one of the earliest recipients of carbon offset investment, with programs including tree planting, agroforestry, improved forest management and conservation.
Although some early forest offsets were criticized for failing to meet the key tests of additionality, permanence and leakage, renewed interest in forest conservation has led to improved monitoring.
Reliable programs now provide a high level of confidence that the offsets deliver real emissions reductions over an extended period of time.
Carbon offset programs reward forest owners who adjust their land management practice to achieve greater carbon sequestration. For each additional ton of carbon dioxide their trees store, forest owners earn a credit that they can sell to companies who wish to offset their emissions.
Furthermore, progressive carbon offsets such as NativeEnergy’s Help Build projects are designed to deliver habitat conservation alongside carbon offsets – not just as a happy coincidence – to help companies meet non-carbon environmental goals as well as carbon reduction targets.