CARBON OFFSET PROJECTS

Dr Damian Walters, EWT’s African Crane Conservation Programme, DamianW@ewt.org.za

Gasses that trap heat in the atmosphere are called greenhouse gases (GHG) and include carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). Greenhouse gases resulting from human activities are the most significant drivers of observed climate change since the mid-20th century.  The Carbon Tax Act (15) was promulgated in May 2019 to give effect to the “polluter-pays-principle”, whereby large emitters of greenhouse gasses GHGs are penalised through taxation for their emissions.  The advent of the South African Carbon Tax Act (15 of 2019) has created a significant opportunity for biodiversity conservation and improved catchment management.  Apart from the obvious benefits of encouraging reduced carbon emissions, the Act has created a market for those able to sequester (lock) carbon.

The Endangered Wildlife Trust works with landowners, predominantly in the Grassland biome, to develop carbon projects on their properties to sequester carbon. A carbon project entails managing the landscape (e.g., a farm) in a manner that allows for the verifiable sequestration of carbon through a tangible improvement in veld condition. The carbon is typically locked in the soil through improved grazing and fire management of grasslands and wetlands, wetland rehabilitation, and improved management of agricultural lands through reduced tillage and careful fertiliser management. The verified carbon sequestered during such projects can be converted into carbon credits that can be purchased by liable entities, usually big carbon emitters, to reduce their tax liability, thus creating a revenue stream for those who develop carbon projects.

The EWT considers carbon project development and the revenue that the projects will generate as an important tool to enhance biodiversity protection, improve catchment management, and increase water security by providing financial incentives for landowners to improve their land management practices.  The EWT has committed decades of extension work to build partnerships with landowners and these trust relationships enable us to develop carbon projects by assisting them with long-term land management plans and associated ongoing extension support to improve the management of their grasslands, wetlands, and agricultural lands to better sequester precious carbon and ultimately curb the effects of global climate change. The ambitious, but achievable, goal is to create landscapes of sustainably managed grasslands, savannas, thickets and forests that not only provide agricultural and other essential products, but also provide critical ecosystem services and support the rich biodiversity that we, as South Africans, are so blessed to enjoy as fellow inhabitants of our thriving landscapes.