What's a Carbon Credit?
A carbon credit represents either the permanent removal of a tonne of CO2e from the atmosphere, or the avoidance of one tonne of CO2e being emitted in the first place, through changes in land use or energy generation.
One of the most effective ways of removing carbon from the atmosphere is planting trees, which as they grow turn CO2 into solid carbon stored in their trunks and roots.
Carbon credits can also be generated by taking an action that prevents the emission of CO2 in the first place – through what is called avoidance. In the UK, an example of natural emissions avoidance is the restoration of peatlands, which release large volumes of greenhouse gases when they are in a degraded state.
Additionality & Permanence
The principle of additionality is one of several that underpin the legitimate generation of carbon credits.
In order to generate carbon credits from emissions removals or avoidance, a project must be demonstrably additional to what would have otherwise occurred. This means that if a woodland creation or peatland restoration project would have gone ahead without income from the sale of carbon credits, no credits can be generated.
While it is still possible to quantify the carbon that will be captured, the key difference is that if carbon credits are to be generated and sold, the investment by the buyer of those credits must have been instrumental in allowing the project to proceed. Otherwise that investment did not, in reality, enable the project to happen or reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere above and beyond what would have happened anyway.
The removal or avoidance must also be permanent. In the UK, the permanence of woodland creation is safeguarded by a risk buffer of carbon credits held by the Woodland Carbon Code’s administrators. Projects are also protected from being felled by UK legislation such as the Environmental Impact Assessment Regulations (1999) and The Forestry Act (1967).
The principles of additionality and permanence underpin all reputable carbon standards, including those operated globally by companies such as Verra and Gold Standard. These standards exist to verify carbon removals and reductions around the globe with robust methodologies and third-party auditing. They are essential for creating and maintaining confidence in the voluntary carbon market.
Carbon Credits in the UK
The UK is one of only a few countries to have domestic carbon standards in place for woodland creation and peatland restoration: the Woodland Carbon Code (WCC) and Peatland Code (PC).
The WCC and PC adhere to the same core principles as global standards, including permanence and additionality. However, they are also tailored to the UK, based on research that is specific to UK woodlands and peatlands, and relate to domestic legislation such as the UK Forestry Standard (UKFS) to ensure each project is compliant with the relevant UK regulation.
A Long Term View
Nature-based climate solutions are not an instant fix, but they are one of the few proven negative emissions technologies that can be truly sustainable. All Forest Carbon projects are carefully designed by experienced foresters or peatland restoration experts, to ensure that they are delivered in a responsible, environmentally-sensitive fashion.
The trees planted now will not only draw down carbon, but will also contribute to rewilding the landscape, restoring priority habitats, supporting biodiversity, providing amenity and recreation for local communities, and in some cases generating sustainable timber and other wood-based products, which we will require if we want a future less reliant on steel, concrete, and plastic. New woodlands will therefore provide a whole host of benefits as they grow, beyond the carbon stored in the trees.
Restored peatlands also provide a host of ecosystem services in addition to storing carbon. These include supporting and biodiversity, water filtration and flood mitigation.