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Sell or hold carbon on your farm?

By Séamus Murphy, Carbon Specialist, SAC Consulting

In the 1980s climate change was a mere blip on the radar of most people, one main environmental issues was acid rain.  This was mainly due to power stations (usually coal) emitting sulphur and nitrogen oxides that reduced the pH of rain and damaged ecosystems.

An economic solution to and environmental problem was developed, the first 'cap and trade'system.  Companies that reduced their emissions could sell credits to companies who needed them.

Carbon credits and the idea of selling carbon is becoming more common in agriculture and land use circles.  It has been a common practice in woodland planting for some years now, but the discussion is moving towards carbon credits from soil carbon.  The science surrounding soil carbon is continually developing and ongoing research is giving a clearer picture of how to increase, and account for, soil carbon.  Currently carbon markets for soil are some way off, but they are coming.

Whether it be carbon sequestration in farm woodland or soils, once a carbon credit is sold the carbon mitigation is awarded to the buyer.  This means a beef farmer who decides to sell their soil carbon credits to a haulage company can no longer account for their soil carbon sequestration against their own carbon footprint.  Many would argue that this allows industries to buy their way out of dealing with climate change.  Agriculture is in a unique position - as well as being a significant emitter of greenhouse gases, it also has the potential to sequester carbon and offer a clear solution towards the climate crisis.

It begs the question should agriculture, an industry under intense scrutiny for its climate change impact, sell carbon credits and allow other industries to benefit?  Emissions trading for acid rain worked because it was mostly emissions from one industry, and it became economically beneficial for companies to reduce emissions.  Emissions trading around climate exchange is farm more complex.

This article from Farming for a Better Climate was funded by the Scottish Government as part of Scotland’s Farm Advisory Service and first published in the Farming Scotland Magazine in March 2021.

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