Implementation of Biological Sequestration Offsets in a Carbon Reduction Policy: Answers to Key Questions for a Successful Domestic Offset Program

Article excerpt

To ensure a successful atmospheric carbon reduction policy, a domestic offset program that utilizes broad biological sequestration must be implemented in addition to conventional source emission reduction. This type of offset program will not compromise the environmental integrity of a carbon reduction policy if it is conducted under a tight emission cap in which participants must utilize both measures to conform to the cap. A successful offset program will incorporate current conservation programs within a broad sequestration policy to reduce concerns of additionality, provide methods to mitigate the impacts of carbon leakage, and establish means to ensure carbon storage is permanent. To administer such a program, verification and permanence issues should be devolved to the state level, similar to current federal pollution reduction programs, with the federal agency issuing the guidelines under which a program will proceed.


The domestic debate over policies to reduce the carbon emissions and atmospheric carbon that are causing climate change is rapidly coming to a head. Although the debate has shifted from whether or not global climate change is occurring to what strategy should be pursued to reduce or eliminate the threat, this debate is still largely focused on how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its sources, not how to reduce these gases, most significantly carbon dioxide, currently in the atmosphere. Further, the switch away from fossil fuels and towards the use of renewable, non-emission energy sources will be gradual, not immediate, thereby allowing atmospheric carbon to continue to build. In terms of the reduction of atmospheric carbon, "[v]ery little carbon is removed from the atmosphere and stored, or sequestered, by deliberate action"1 and the current policy debate is forgetting, or avoiding, this very important aspect of atmospheric carbon reduction. Colloquially, the domestic reduction policies currently under debate focus on reducing "new" emissions, particularly from large, stationary sources, such as power plants, but ignore the "old" emissions already iri the atmosphere that are currently impacting the climate.

Any policy to combat climate change must also focus on the removal of atmospheric carbon, as there are enough greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere for climate change to continue even if zero-generation of emissions was immediately achievable, or achievable at all. Since 1850, approximately 500 gigatons [gT] of carbon have been released into the atmosphere globally, about three-quarters of which are from the burning of fossil fuels, about five percent from cement production, and the remainder from land use changes; of this, an estimated 150 gT is absorbed by the oceans and 120-130 gT by terrestrial ecosystems, leaving 120-130 gT of man-made carbon in the atmosphere.2 It is this remaining atmospheric carbon that is causing current climate changes and must be addressed. "Even if the concentrations of all [greenhouse gases] and aerosols had been kept constant at year 2000 levels, a further wanning of about 0.1 [degrees] C per decade would be expected."3 Overall, the atmosphere contains 100 parts per million more carbon than before the Industrial Revolution, carbon that must be removed to reduce the effects of climate change.4 A study by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) concluded that carbon will remain in the atmosphere for perhaps one thousand years, while other gases, even the potent greenhouse gas, methane, will naturally dissipate more quickly.5 While this does not diminish the need to reduce other gases, it shows the urgency of reducing carbon already in the atmosphere. Many scientists agree that the planet is close to, or has reached, a "tipping point" after which cutting emissions, even to zero, will not slow the effects of climate change. …