FAO project could help mitigate climate change

Tue, 27/09/11

The vast potential of grasslands to support sustainable livelihoods while trapping atmospheric carbon and helping slow down global warming is one step closer to being realised.

Large swathes of the world's grasslands are moderately to severely degraded — restoring them to a healthy state could remove gigatonnes of carbon from the atmosphere and improve resilience to climate change.

So far, however, carbon crediting schemes that pay projects for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and sequestering carbon have largely ignored agriculture, including grazing-based livelihood systems.

One of the key challenges has been to find reliable and affordable ways to measure how much carbon is being trapped in agricultural mitigation projects.

FAO's new Methodology for Sustainable Grassland Management could help overcome this obstacle.

"We think we have cracked the problem and come up with a reliable way for herders who are investing in restoring grasslands to prove they are sequestering measurable amounts of carbon, and fund their activities by accessing mitigation finance," said Pierre Gerber, an FAO livestock policy specialist who works on the project.

The new methodology has been developed by FAO in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Science, the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the World Agroforestry Centre.

Measurement is the challenge

The breakthrough of FAO's new methodology is that it provides an affordable way to reliably estimate the amount of GHG emissions removed from the atmosphere through improved management of grasslands.

"Our approach allows not only for direct measurement of carbon sequestration through soil sampling but also computer modelling of sequestration based on soil types and activities undertaken," explained Leslie Lipper, an FAO economist involved in the project.

"Being able to demonstrate reliable monitoring is a must for projects wishing to participate in carbon markets, and modelling reduces monitoring costs, making it possible for small-scale herders and livestock raisers to participate."

The methodology is being applied to a pilot project in Qinghai Province, China, which will eventually be able to deliver significant carbon offsets for a period of 10 years.

After that point, the restored grasslands will have stored as much carbon as it is possible for them to do, and incomes from carbon trading will wind down.

Opening the door to mitigation finance

FAO has just submitted its methodology for approval by the non-profit Verified Carbon Standard (VSC) — a greenhouse gas accounting programme used to verify and issue carbon credits in emissions markets.

Once approved, any grassland project using the methodology will be eligible for the creation and trade of carbon credits in voluntary carbon markets throughout the world.

"This methodology now gives countries a clear-cut option for including sustainable grassland management in their Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions to reduce GHG emissions, which they are developing in line with national climate strategies and in light of the UNFCCC Cancun Agreements of last December," added Lipper.

"So far, there have been few options for doing so".

Source: FAO Media Centre

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