Tapping carbon markets to support grassland livelihoods

Photo: M. Ruckh (flickr)

Rural communities can find themselves shut out of emerging carbon markets because these markets do not acknowledge that their agricultural practices sequester carbon. Effective grassland management, for example, captures carbon, but grasslands management is not eligible for carbon trading. Approved standards for sequestering carbon in grassland would mean herders could tap into carbon markets.

In China, the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) worked with partners in the government and private sectors, and with herders, to work out a method for cost effectively accounting and monitoring carbon sequestration in grassland. The group set up a pilot project in Qinghai province in northwest China, the Three Rivers Grassland Carbon Sequestration Project. Researchers developed a method to effectively monitor and account for carbon sequestration in grasslands. The method, once approved, would allow herders to tap into carbon financing for restoring grassland and raising livestock productivity.

Selling captured carbon in carbon markets compensates herders for the income they lose by restoring grassland and breaks the destructive cycle of overgrazing, degradation and impoverishment. Breaking the cycle also significantly reduces carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions because restored and protected grasslands capture carbon.

Herders also benefit as grazing improves, agricultural marketing associations emerge and as they develop sound strategies for long-term management of the land on which they depend.

The Sustainable Grassland Management methodology developed by partners in the Three Rivers Grassland Carbon Sequestration Project met the rigorous double-verification requirements of the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). The method has now been approved internationally, and will benefit herders worldwide and provide a strong incentive for better grassland management.

"This is an exciting opportunity to bring international carbon finance to the Three Rivers region where results-based climate financing is considered a critical source of support to the region's ecological maintenance and progress. Moving forward, we will be working closely with local farmers to help them implement sustainable grassland management projects.” Xu Xiaoxiao, Executive President, Qinghai Environmental and Energy Exchange Center

The Chinese government is taking lessons from Qinghai in developing its fledgling national carbon market. Other initiatives are underway in Mongolia and Uruguay to see if herders in these countries can also apply the Sustainable Grassland Management methodology to gain access to carbon markets.