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  • Writer's pictureSophia Beausoleil, Alicia Sosa Escalada, Emma Rodney

Bridging the gap between wildlife protection and the carbon market

Updated: Mar 6

At Whale Seeker we believe in supporting the next generation's thought leaders. Through the Alan Shepard Residency Program, by District 3 Innovation, we allowed a group of multi-disciplinary students to take over our blog, this post is the result of that supervised collaboration. Happy reading!

In the years since the industrial revolution began, there has been an increasing concern about the environment, particularly due to the growing carbon emissions from urbanized manufacturing processes. In response to increasing emissions, several global measures have been recently implemented to encourage sustainable development. One initiative is the carbon market: a framework that gives companies an emissions allowance called carbon credits which can be acquired and traded for monetary compensation. Carbon credits have been commonly used in forestry because it's easy to quantify carbon in trees, as opposed to quantifying carbon in moving animal communities. But what's easiest may not have the largest impact. A tree, for instance, absorbs only 3% of the carbon that one whale does. The potential for reducing carbon through whales is significant, but the problem is devising metrics to monetize the carbon value of whales.

Managing carbon with carbon credits

The current carbon market consists of a solid framework that involves many actors (policy makers, verifiers, industry, etc.) to ensure carbon credits are based on measurable and real activities.

Who’s involved in the phases of a Carbon Offset Project?

Methodology & Project development: To obtain carbon credits from a project, the requirements and regulations of policy makers must be satisfied. To ensure this, specific companies develop effective methodologies and programs to help facilitate the process of project development. Aster Global Environmental Solutions is a great example for this kind of consulting through their Carbon Offset Project Development service.

Verification & Validation: After project development, carbon offsetting portfolios are validated by third party verifiers or accreditation boards. This allows the project to be registered as a “carbon credit project." Companies like Verra provide a platform of registration for projects that follow their standards and frameworks for carbon offsetting activities.

Implementation & Carbon Credit Issuance: Once a verified project is executed, carbon credits are issued and can then be used or traded in the market. Industry has an essential role in the implementation process, and there are different ways in which companies can implement carbon offsetting portfolios. A company may choose to integrate carbon sequestration or removal into their processes or projects. Alternatively, companies can choose to support carbon offsetting activities unrelated to their operations simply to support climate action and to obtain carbon credits. Shopify, an e-commerce platform, is an example of a company that partakes in the carbon market, investing $5 million annually in innovative and promising solutions for climate change.

The carbon market has been well established in recent years, but it may require some improvement if its goal is to support sustainable development.

Moving Biodiversity Offsets to the Carbon Market

The alternative “market” of biodiversity offsetting involves wildlife protection activities that could translate into the carbon market. Biodiversity offsets (BO), unlike carbon credits, are not allocated to be tradable. However, they are both designed with the goal to mitigate environmental impact. BO activities are implemented to compensate for the impact a project or process may have on surrounding natural ecosystems and wildlife.

Biodiversity protection & impact minimization are core ideals to BO: Countless organizations in the conservation and environment sector have researched the impact of human activity on distinct ecosystems and have invested in projects that help reduce that impact through innovative technologies. Take the MERI Foundation for example: an organization mandated to support sustainable development and protect marine ecosystems. MERI collaborates with tech companies to create a smart buoy system to better manage marine traffic in accordance with whale movement.

Supporting BO through policy development: To complement research and development efforts, organizations like Oceana  are working towards the adoption of new policies for biodiversity conservation by conducting campaigns and collaborating with many actors, from governmental bodies to different industry sectors.

Why bring BO to the carbon market? Looking into the research from the conservation and environment sector, it is undeniable that marine animals provide valuable carbon services and that they are an essential part of the carbon cycle.

In brief, biodiversity protection activities seem to be the missing piece to building a unified carbon offsetting system that has true impact.

Assigning Value to Marine Animals

Whales have not yet entered the carbon market due to the gap between project methodology development and the program requirements for biodiversity conservation. In other words, the metrics to evaluate whale-protection activities in terms of carbon credits are not yet defined.

The concept of fish carbon: Understanding the nature of carbon services from marine vertebrates (fish, whales, turtles, etc.), can help us develop metrics to use in carbon offsetting projects. Through this concept, we see that there are different ways in which marine wildlife provides carbon sequestration services. Incorporating fauna into the carbon market would likely consist of monitoring, safeguarding, and monetizing these services.

Why focus on whales? Blue carbon (the carbon captured by marine ecosystems) projects are a growing interest and have accelerated awareness of ocean environment carbon. Particularly, the role of mammals such as whales is an emerging topic. Whales play a big role in the carbon cycle and bring great value in terms of carbon sequestration.

Understanding whale activity would be key to defining the metrics that would allow biodiversity conservation activities to be converted into measurable offsetting services to be adopted by the carbon market.

Making room for change:  We often hear that the development of new programs, especially those that involve new technologies, may generate a financial concern. Multiple organizations, including governmental bodies and organizations, are investing particularly into the protection of the marine environment.

This may be the potential window for collaboration between policy makers and R&D companies that have innovative solutions for the issue at hand.

Moving Forward

Overall, we know that there is an established and functional carbon market and that it involves a multitude of stakeholders. The potential to expand this market into wildlife carbon sequestration and removal services rests on the development of metrics that would allow its integration. Collaboration between policy and program developers with research and tech companies may be key to define the missing metrics. Ongoing investments from policy makers and organizations into blue carbon and marine conservation are driving factors for project development. Businesses who support the research and implementation by investing into marine carbon credits not only receive a boost in reputation, but are ultimately contributing to the healing of our ecosystems.


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