Regen Network
Published in

Regen Network

Building Carbon Trusts to Deliver Natural Climate Solutions

Introduction & Summary

We are establishing Carbon Trusts as a new type of legal entity and a vehicle for community engagement. We focus on growing and protecting carbon reserves as a positive response to climate change. Carbon Trusts collaborate to adopt and scale natural climate solutions (NCS) that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, sequester carbon, regenerate ecosystems, revitalize rural economies, and create healthier communities. Together we can help reduce carbon emissions attributable to food, agriculture, and land use, which comprise approximately one-quarter of GHG emissions worldwide.

The carbon conservation trust (CCT) founders envision a network of social entrepreneurs implementing regenerative NCS at the community level. We are advancing a legal framework, applying trustworthy processes, and using sensible measurement methods to rethink carbon offsets and encourage farming and forestry techniques that sequester carbon and support thriving ecosystems. Carbon trusts are helping design an economic model that utilizes regeneration-based carbon credits to attract investors for holistic, long-term NCS projects. We work by assembling a capable value chain and offering incentives for landholders to collaborate on the long-term goal of building sustainable communities and cultivating resilient landscapes.

Inspired by conservation land trusts, our first-of-its-kind local carbon trust seeks to extend well-established American property law doctrines through an incentive structure that employs eco-credits and regenerative financing (ReFi). By demonstrating an adaptable and scalable business model, we believe carbon trusts can contribute to a value chain that decarbonizes the economy and achieves net-zero GHG emissions by mid-century. We observe that the unsustainable exploitation of natural resources often arises from pressures on landowners given few economic choices other than damaging carbon reserves attached to their property. Land trusts have already demonstrated how to unbundle certain property rights to protect ecosystems. Carbon trusts will use similar tools to secure the long-term viability of NCS projects and support payments to landholders who adopt and sustain climate-friendly practices, including, for example:

  • Agroforestry with reliable measurement of carbon capture and sequestration.
  • Biochar production from biomass waste to carbon stockpiles and valuable products.
  • Ecological forestry promoting carbon sequestration and building resilience.
  • Regenerative agriculture that tracks the carbon cycle and measures co-benefits.

Rather than waiting for a top-down response to climate change, we propose an adaptive, community-based, and incentive-driven approach to stimulate regenerative NCS. By demonstrating a flexible and scalable business model, we believe carbon trusts can contribute to a value chain that decarbonizes the economy and achieves net-zero GHG emissions by mid-century. As a model for future CCTs, we are piloting a place-based non-profit — the Kulshan Carbon Trust (KCT):

Vision & Mission for the Kulshan Carbon Trust

We are looking for seed funding to model a systematic process that develops and deploys significant regeneration projects suited to our local conditions. The KCT is currently working to establish proof of concept for its organizational design and incentive structures through a biochar demonstration project partially funded by Regen Network Development, Inc. Going forward, KCT plans to conduct additional NCS demonstration projects that stockpile carbon, water, and nutrients while building soil vitality. Our goal is to show that social entrepreneurship and collaborative processes can foster regenerative community action. We expect the KCT model will inform participants in the CCT network, who will continuously improve our methods.

Energizing the Carbon Conservation Trust Movement

Carbon stewardship focuses on activities that enhance the land’s carbon sequestration potential. These measures are part of the U.S. climate strategy for attaining net-zero carbon goals. By adopting NCS, we can restore the carbon sequestration capacity of degraded ecosystems. Nature-based solutions go beyond the mitigation of atmospheric carbon emissions. Indeed, NCS harness physical and biochemical processes (e.g., photosynthesis, soil microbial action, mycorrhizal networks) to drawdown carbon and reduce atmospheric CO2e levels.

Conservation principles and practices propel carbon trusts. We see conservation as the care and protection of natural systems to safeguard environmental quality for future generations. As discussed in our initial white paper, Creating a Carbon Conservation Trust Movement, our primary purpose is to convene, facilitate and enable a robust process for helping landowners and stakeholders drawdown carbon from the atmosphere and protect terrestrial carbon reserves. Under the rubric of The Carbon Conservancy,™a CCT network will build alliances that develop work practices to measure, verify, manage, and preserve carbon resources. The pilot KCT intends to perform a scope of work built on four pillars and practices to protect and cultivate ecosystems within its service territory in northwest Washington state:

Zones of interest and scope of work for Carbon Trusts

Trust has many meanings, including as a legal term of art. Trusts are well-established under American property law, and we believe a well-suited institution to address the climate crisis. In the role of trustee, CCTs assume a duty to serve the interest of their beneficiaries. Moreover, regarding trust as a verb, each CCT will strive to earn the public’s trust by demonstrating integrity, transparency, competency, and credibility in connection with NCS projects. A CCT may also hold carbon assets in trust under agreements that allocate property rights and establish contractual obligations for landowners to act or refrain from taking certain actions. Carbon trusts will exercise a duty of loyalty to the ultimate beneficiaries — namely, carbon-rich ecosystems that serve the interest of future generations in a stable and habitable climate.

Theory of Change for Promoting Carbon Conservation

As signaled by the recent Supreme Court ruling in West Virginia v. EPA, U.S. political conditions are likely to preclude strong regulatory mandates in response to the climate crisis. Instead, as a non-governmental organization, a CCT will help convene and facilitate dialogue among stakeholders to develop agreements that assure climate-friendly land stewardship practices. Our theory of change entails devising and deploying an incentive structure that aligns the interests of landowners, stakeholders, and investors. Rooted in conservation trust law and grounded in equitable carbon markets, the CCT movement derives scientific support and economic basis for several of its selected natural climate solutions from the Food, Agriculture and Land Use work of Project Drawdown. CCTs will foster long-term investments toward NCS projects and other land stewardship commitments.

CCTs aim to stimulate voluntary collective climate action by supporting landowners with know-how and access to trustworthy value chains. Carbon trusts will value ecosystem functions and services, particularly carbon sequestration, and ascribe economic incentives to securing carbon stockpiles. We are working through the Regen Network to devise manageable and affordable measurement methods for various classes of eco-credits reflecting the market value of carbon plus the co-benefits of NCS. We envision a go-to-market strategy based on carbon trust branded eco-credits derived from regenerative NCS. In addition to assuring carbon sequestration, the branded eco-credits will promise a collaborative value chain featuring social entrepreneurs producing carbon credits with robust co-benefits. We will seek to build alliances with business partners who can use these credits as carbon insets to reduce a company’s Scope 3 emissions from its supply chain. We will also engage sustainability investors through ReFi networks to fund carbon plus eco-credits, blockchain tokens, and green certifications that drive the value chain and induce landowners to adopt NCS and honor ongoing commitments.

Property ownership plays an integral part in designing suitable incentive structures. The exploitation of natural resources and the resulting destruction of carbon sinks often result from landowners’ claim of attachment (i.e., it’s mine because it’s attached to something I own). Land trusts have demonstrated how covenants and conservation easements can unbundle certain property rights to protect the environment. Carbon trusts will help restructure land tenure to safeguard carbon reserves, fortify ecosystem functions and services, and honor the vital interests of property owners in their remaining bundle of rights.

To help advance carbon conservation, we are seeking support to convene a diverse panel of property rights experts and others to consider the potential for more effective ownership arrangements (e.g., land trusts, carbon cooperatives, community forests). We will also propose legislative language which confirms that — akin to mineral rights — carbon assets represent a property interest that can be sold separately from the land.

Piloting the Kulshan Carbon Trust

To demonstrate proof of concept, the founders of the CCT movement have launched the Kulshan Carbon Trust (KCT) in Northwestern Washington. We adopted the name Kulshan, which abbreviates the indigenous name Koma Kulshan, for Mt. Baker, a 10,781 ft (3,286 m) peak located about 30 miles (50 km) due east of Bellingham, WA. Kulshan has the second heaviest glacier cover among the Cascade Range volcanoes and represents how much is at stake in abating climate heating trends.

As a non-profit, the KCT will seek to gain the confidence of its communities and earn the trust necessary to convene stakeholders and oversee the long-term vitality of carbon reserves. As a tax-exempt organization, KCT will act in the public interest to fulfill its scientific and educational purposes and support its mission by advancing collaborative natural climate solutions in Northwestern Washington.

KCT is creating an organizational design that involves community-oriented workgroups to inspire problem-solving, reciprocity, and collective action. KCT’s operational strategies will include (i) posing pertinent questions, (ii) finding best practices, (iii) applying replicable processes, (iv) facilitating transactions, and (v) developing versatile training materials. KCT is attempting these approaches to imbed good practices, sound science, and appropriate technology into its biochar pilot project.

In early 2022, KCT received a grant from Regen Network Development for a project to demonstrate biochar’s efficacy in Whatcom County, WA. A KCT workgroup has since assembled a value chain by engaging subject matter experts and local practitioners to implement plans for producing and applying biochar. KCT has established a second workgroup to valorize carbon credits from the resulting biochar by adopting methodologies that monitor, report, and verify the performance of the biochar process. In late 2022, our team will conduct several conservation burns to produce biochar and apply it locally for beneficial use and carbon sequestration.

The following photograph shows a site where KCT is converting biomass feedstock into biochar that sequesters carbon, improves soil health, and decreases erosion at logging sites.

Once it executes the biochar pilot project, KCT will develop additional NCS pilot projects in its service territory. Our movement aims to raise awareness about regenerative NCS and provide a framework for building a capable local supply chain. In so doing, we hope to demonstrate the viability of inclusive, interdisciplinary, and intergenerational workgroups to enable stakeholder engagement, public outreach, long-term finance, and legal documentation for biochar and other NCS opportunities.

Implementation Framework

KCT workgroups are comprised of students, community leaders, business managers, professionals, practitioners, and landholders working together to develop and scale NCS projects. Workgroup members gather data, consult thought leaders, and evaluate indigenous, conventional, and innovative land management methods to revitalize ecosystems and optimize carbon conservation. As a forum to build alliances for regenerative NCS projects, workgroups will guide the planning process for several key elements of an NCS value chain, including:

  • Feasibility studies, cost-benefit and lifecycle analyses, site selection and permitting,
  • Measurement, monitoring, validation, and management of carbon plus eco-credits,
  • Documentation, record-keeping, and reporting to valorize carbon plus eco-credits,
  • Valuation, regenerative financing, and equitable considerations for a just transition,
  • Supply chain development, operational capability, resilience, and adaptation, and
  • Workforce training for appropriate technology and good practices.

We expect the planned CCT network will harness the legal and policy tools of (i) conservation easements/covenants, (ii) carbon markets/exchanges, (iii) sustainable/regenerative finance, and (iv) carbon producer cooperatives. Another potential role for carbon trusts is to develop model agreements (including smart contracts) that reduce transaction costs and improve income for people working to implement NCS. As ReFi (i.e., regenerative finance) evolves, these agreements will feature an intelligent and equitable allocation of future revenue. In due course, the CCT movement intends to grow beyond carbon and take an integrative approach emphasizing ecosystem functions and services that bolster sustainability and adaptation.

In supporting NCS projects, carbon trusts may develop forms of agreement that can harmonize the interests of landowners and funding sources. These compacts can evolve into standard contracts that provide legal scaffolding to conserve carbon. Landowners’ voluntary participation and consent will be a vital element of model terms and conditions, as well as reasonable measures for accountability to implement and sustain regeneration plans. In some cases, these agreements may enlist carbon trusts to assure compliance. Moreover, these model agreements will inject high ethical standards of good faith and fair dealing to govern business transactions and inspire reciprocity among stakeholders.

Since trees do not grow overnight and soils need time to recuperate, progress will depend on patient capital, long-term market incentives, and a resilient supply chain. Moving from conventional (i.e., extractive) agriculture to sustainable (i.e., regenerative) farming may require ReFi during the changeover. After reducing excessive fossil fuel-related inputs, yields may drop at first. Then, revenues will recover while reduced input costs enhance profitability. Workshops with local landowners can assess support needs and link resources to help foster a transition to regenerative agriculture and sustainable forestry. Perhaps carbon cooperatives — modeled after agricultural coops — can emerge to aggregate small landowners and achieve the necessary scale to manage transaction costs and spread risks.

Creating The Carbon Conservancy™

Once the KCT demonstrates proof of concept, we will establish The Carbon Conservancy™ to grow the carbon trust model into a network by accrediting local and regional CCTs. Founders of carbon trusts in different bioregions with varying economic drivers can adapt the processes and work practices piloted by KCT to fit local conditions. The CCT movement intends freedom within a framework, provided that each CCT maintains legal compliance, avoids conflicts of interest, and honors high ethical standards.

Using accepted science, CCTs will gather field data from practitioners and citizen scientists. As a process driver, carbon trusts will seek stakeholder input and community involvement to ensure that carbon assets are trustworthy. Then, in cooperation with the Regen Network and other amenable platforms, carbon trusts will support transactions that yield carbon trust branded eco-credits for regenerative natural climate solutions. CCTs can facilitate transactions between host landowners and sponsoring eco credit buyers by serving the role of a trustee to acquire and secure a non-possessory legal interest in carbon assets (and potentially other ecosystem services) tied to real property. Carbon trusts can oversee covenants between the parties, assuring that carbon reserves are well managed. The carbon trust model monitors, reports, and verifies key indicators to validate and valorize the carbon credits accumulated by NCS and other good land stewardship practices, as illustrated by the following figure:

Over time, The Carbon Conservancy™ will share intelligence, support technology innovations, and assemble standardized deal documents that help carbon trusts reduce transaction costs and advance best practices for natural climate solutions.

Next Steps

Going forward, KCT plans to conduct Phase 2 of its biochar pilot project. We will consider technological options and ReFi opportunities as we strengthen the value chain to scale-up biochar production and application in our service territory. We will also extend our valorization workgroup to offer carbon trust branded eco-credits reflecting the co-benefits associated with biochar and the integrity of the assembled value chain. KCT plans to launch another pilot project that demonstrates agroforestry in our bioregion. Once we obtain additional funding, KCT will convene more workgroups to develop implementation plans. Our goal is to foster at-scale collaborative natural climate solutions that conserve and sequester carbon plus deliver valuable co-benefits. We aim to show proof of concept for place-based carbon trusts and set the stage for forming a CCT network and launching The Carbon Conservancy™.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Howard Sharfstein

Howard Sharfstein

21 Followers

For decades, Howard practiced environmental/energy law and worked on corporate sustainability. Now, he is a co-founder and President of the Kulshan Carbon Trust