And collaborating with their customers to cut emissions and retain the value of any carbon sequestered within the supply chain, rather than selling the offsets to other sectors, could be a safer bet for the farming sector.
The findings came from a two-part report produced for the Oxford Farming Conference which begins its online run today. While the research shows there will be new opportunities for farmers to earn additional income from carbon markets, the area still remains full of pitfalls.
“It's important that farmers and land managers understand that, once they sell carbon offset credits, they can't then count them towards the farm's own efforts to cut carbon,” said James Elliott, one of the report’s authors who advocated that retaining control of the credits could prove the best long-term strategy.
"If done badly, carbon offsetting could be counter-productive, with poorly operated schemes leading to more emissions than if no offsetting was done,” he said. “People may be taken in by clever accounting and overstated claims by carbon off-setters, but you cannot trick the atmosphere.”
The report argued that strong standards were required within the sector to ensure that carbon credits from the agriculture sector were accurately measured and that the carbon remained stored in the long term.
And it also said that those buying and using credits should not see buying carbon credits as an easy option to do little themselves, stating that they too should be doing everything they could to reduce their own emissions in line with limiting global heating to 1.5C, before relying on offsets.
The two-part report, commissioned and funded by the WWF and Tesco partnership, calculated that the market potential value of UK land-based carbon credits alone could equate to as much as £1.7bn annually. Part one of the report – The opportunities of agri-carbon markets: A summary – was led by the Green Alliance and researchers from Manchester University and SRUC, Scotland's Rural College.
Using research to show which land management interventions, such as agroforestry and incorporating crop residues into soils, had the most potential for sequestering carbon on working farms in the UK, the report provides recommendations for developing a credible, domestic on-farm agri-carbon sequestration market.
Part two – Natural Capital: The Battle for Control – looks at how the emerging carbon and natural capital markets and the associated income could be optimised for social and public good. It recommends that the government puts in place a land use framework and Office for Carbon Removal in order to avoid a 'dash for carbon' leading to undesirable consequences for food production, local communities and nature recovery.
The findings also recommend that the right safety nets will be required to prevent an overly dominant focus on areas currently viewed as holding the greatest potential for a ‘quick fix’ in terms of emission reductions, such as afforestation and peatland restoration, to the exclusion of equally important areas such as food production and biodiversity gain.