Cap and trade systems. Carbon, sequestration, credits, offsets… if you’re confused about climate change and the carbon economy, you’re not alone.
Kerrianne Koehler-Munro, climate change program manager with Alberta Agriculture, is here to help. She tries to make climate change and carbon credits understandable to producers and the agriculture industry in the province.
They’re used to the concept of futures trading, and Koelher-Munro says the carbon economy is similar, with the complication that the product can’t be always be seen or touched. And the many variables within small agricultural operations make the explanation of carbon credits a challenge, says Koehler-Munro.
There are currently 10 agricultural protocols with the potential to offer carbon credits to farmers. These protocols were all reviewed by specialists, based on scientific research and were approved by industry technical experts.
Alberta is the first jurisdiction in North America to create regulations for facilities emitting greenhouse gases. The federal government has proposed the creation of a greenhouse gas offset system to start up in 2010. Both systems are similar in nature.
Greenhouse gases released during agricultural practices include carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane. These gases are monitored for their global warming potential over a 100-year period. Nitrous oxide’s effect on accelerating global warming is 310 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. The gas is primarily produced by nitrogen fertilizer that has not been used by crops, thereby increasing atmospheric concentrations.
Methane’s effect is 21 times greater than carbon dioxide and is mainly produced by digestive processes in ruminant animals and by the decomposition of animal wastes and the decomposition of vegetation in wetlands.
These gases are typically referred to as CO2 E (carbon dioxide equivalents) in documents used to discuss emissions. Gains and credits are based on the types of gases reduced.
“When you’re reducing nitrous oxide and methane emissions, it will add up a lot faster than carbon,” says Koehler-Munro.
Trees, soil and feeding practices
The two soil sequestration options available to producers are afforestation and tillage management. Afforestation projects can include the planting of trees on land that was traditionally non-treed. Reduced tillage or no-till practices can produce carbon offset credit benefits for farmers.
There are three management practices applicable to beef producers. Producers can receive credits if they add four to six per cent edible oils in dry matter form to the feed ration for their animals. This can include feed such as canola meal. Feeding edible oils to ruminant animals aids their digestion and reduces their methane emissions. This initiative is mainly applicable to feedlots because of the documented feed ration needed to meet the targets of the protocol, Koehler-Munro says.
The beef feeding reduction protocol initiative involves reducing the number of days an animal is on feed before it is slaughtered. This also applies to feedlots and is based on the difference between the initial days on feed and the new, reduced days on feed.
Another protocol involves reducing the cattle life cycle by slaughtering animals at a younger age. Producers and feedlots need to be involved in this initiative. The new Alberta mandatory age verification program will ensure that producers are tracking the age of their animals, since the protocol requires the date of birth for each animal.
Biofuels and efficiency
Biomass combustion, such as burning trees and using the energy from combustion, can also be considered as an offset. Biofuel projects fall under the umbrella of Alberta approved “quantification protocols.” There’s only one biofuel plant in Alberta, so this generally doesn’t apply to small producers.
All of the initiatives recognized as climate change projects help create more energy efficient ag operations. Making pork, dairy, and poultry facilities more energy efficient is another area where producers can earn credits. This can include the installation of energy-efficient lights or more energy-efficient heating systems.
All projects require documentation to prove the practices are current and real emission reduction is occurring. Producers involved in these projects must meet various documentation requirements explaining their baseline, and outline the project. If the offset credits are sold for compliance, the Alberta government-approved protocols must be followed in order to validate the intangible commodity of a carbon offset.
Value of an offset is created in the marketplace if the practice is additional to business as usual, which recognizes the changes from the previous practice or baseline to the new practice or project, says Koehler-Munro.
Market service provides or aggregators are used to group small quantities of offsets from various farms together in order to have enough offsets.
Koehler-Munro says the paper trail is extremely important in the carbon credit market, because it is needed to prove what was done to create the emission reduction.