bCarbon: A Measurement-based standard designed to work for both landowners and soil carbon credit buyers
Existing soil carbon storage standards do not work very well for landowners for a variety of reasons: (1) they prohibit participation if land management practices are profitable and make economic sense, if their neighbors are already using regenerative practices, or if the landowner is already using regenerative practices; (2) they require permanence commitments long beyond a time period to which the landowner reasonably can commit (some as long as 100 years); and (3) they prescribe specific land management practices that are not practical across the board and might even prevent fast improvements.
When considering what soil carbon credits we wanted to supply, Grassroots Carbon decided to trust the new bCarbon standard for a variety of reasons. bCarbon is pragmatic, measurement-based, and aims to meet the needs of both landowners and soil carbon storage credit buyers. bCarbon certifies one thing: results. At Grassroots Carbon, we understand that corporate carbon buyers looking at this nascent market want to see there has been an actual reduction of atmospheric CO2. To build trust in this market, we believe that we need to deliver what was promised. Atmospheric CO2 captured and reliably stored in healthy soil.
Recognizing that current standards weren’t meeting the needs of both carbon buyers and landowners, the Baker Institute of Public Policy at Rice University convened a working group to develop a novel set of rules to govern voluntary soil carbon storage transactions in the US, called “bCarbon”. There are over 100 participants in the stakeholder group, including major landowners and ranchers, corporate executives, agricultural industry leaders, environmental advocacy groups, state agencies, philanthropic foundations, and scientists across several key disciplines. Taking feedback from the needs of both carbon buyers and landowners, bCarbon tailored the standard to make sure that landowners had the flexibility to manage their property as long as they continue to support soil health and carbon credit buyers could be confident the carbon credits they purchase are based on an actual increase in measured soil carbon storage.
From this effort, bCarbon launched as an independent 501c3. bCarbon is based upon a set of 10 principles (as documented June 25, 2020):
- Principle 1. The credits under this U.S. system are issued for the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by photosynthesis and storage in the soil as carbon.
- Principle 2. Any landowner who sequesters carbon dioxide in the soil within a given calendar year is eligible for soil storage payments for that year.
- Principle 3. Transactions can be based upon estimated values subject to verification. Soil carbon testing is required for verification.
- Principle 4. Transactions may occur on an annual basis after an initial declaration of intent to participate in the soil carbon sales program and the initiation of soil carbon testing requirements.
- Principle 5. To become eligible for payments, a landowner must agree that the land will be maintained and protected in a way that promotes and protects soil health and landscape ecological health for ten years. Transactions occurring in subsequent years will require renewal of the ten-year commitment, creating a “rolling” ten-year requirement.
- Principle 6. Landowners are not required to manage their land in any particular fashion. However, certain land management techniques will lead to greater carbon sequestration than will others.
- Principle 7. A buffer account will be maintained to ensure that all credits issued under this standard are protected against failure risks.
- Principle 8. It is anticipated and specifically allowed that a third-party entity will act as an assembler of credits for purposes of expediting the communications and exchange between buyers and sellers.
- Principle 9. All credits issued under this standard must be certified.
- Principle 10: All credits certified under this standard may be bought and sold until retired, with all transactions being recorded with the certification entity.
Like any other standard, bCarbon may be changed over time, but the fundamental principles are expected to stay relatively consistent. Their focus is allowing landowners to more easily participate and have the freedom needed to operate while giving carbon buyers confidence they have purchased quantifiable carbon credits that are only certified based on an actual increase in soil carbon storage. Although it is a new standard, this results-based certification has given many large corporate carbon buyers, such as Marathon Oil and Shopify, the confidence to trust bCarbon.