Nature-based climate solutionsWith well-designed protocols, Canada’s natural assets could provide significant carbon offsets

Publication - April 27, 2021 - By Morrigan Simpson-Marran, Jan Gorski, Nina Lothian

Human impacts on nature must be addressed if Canada and the world are to limit global warming to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius. While direct emissions reductions are the most effective way to safely limit warming, and there are concerns around the credibility of carbon offsets through nature-based solutions (NBS), these offsets have a role to play — if they are done right. Nature-based offsets can mobilize private capital to reduce emissions effectively in the short term, while we seek feasible solutions for emission sources that are currently difficult to abate.

Nature-based offsets can contribute to meeting biodiversity and conservation targets. They are also an important opportunity to support Indigenous communities by creating economic opportunities that draw on Indigenous natural stewardship and best practices. 

Long term, once current and historic land use emissions are mitigated and with further study, NBS could contribute to removing carbon from the atmosphere, which will likely be necessary to limit global temperature rise. 

But to successfully implement NBS offsets, Canada must develop credible protocols at the provincial and federal levels. These include strong rules around verification and quantification of outcomes that address the complexity and cost of monitoring and verification. Strict guidelines that accurately value the long-term carbon absorption properties of possibly impermanent assets must be put in place. This is particularly important for efforts in reforestation, which are susceptible to natural forces such as wildfire and insect infestation. Verification standards for offsets in the voluntary market will have to be consistent, not just in Canada but globally, to provide buyers with confidence. 

NBS offsets are one part of the solution to climate change. They cannot be approached as an alternative to mitigation, but must be considered as another prong in a multi-pronged approach. They are needed in the short term as the economy transitions to low-carbon energy. However, as Canada gets closer to achieving net-zero emissions, the role of offsets will diminish, and shift toward purely negative emissions offsets. In the interim, if correctly implemented and monitored, NBS offsets are an opportunity worth pursuing.


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