23 November 2023 by Georgie Tugwell

There are several key markers of high-quality carbon offset and biodiversity gain projects, these include: Additionality, Permanence, Transparency, Integrity, Scalability and Co-Benefits. Here the concept of ‘Permanence’ will be explored in the context of carbon and biodiversity projects. So, what exactly is permanence and why is it so important? 

 

What is Permanence? 

The permanence of a unit of carbon removal or biodiversity gain refers to the likelihood of the CO2 sequestered, or biodiversity gained being maintained into the future (CCC, 2022). Long-lasting project permanence goes hand in hand with the quality of the credits that it produces and is critical to ensuring long term impacts that either reduce green-house gas (GHG) emissions or increase biodiversity. Project permanence can also be considered as a matter of additionality; if interventions do not persist over time, then the rigor of additionality is compromised.  

Considering permanence can be difficult when there is ambiguity over the exact duration of a ‘permanent’ impact. According to the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement, carbon offsetting projects should have ‘long term benefits related to climate change’ (Osborne, 2022). So, exactly how long is ‘long term’? It is widely accepted that intervention impacts designed to persist for 100 years are permanent (Sulivan, 2023). 

Permanence has mostly been considered with respect to carbon credits as the biodiversity credit market is still being developed, but for the many projects where the two are inextricably linked, we might ask: How do we ensure the permanence of Nature-based Solutions (NbS)? 

 

How Can We Ensure NbS are Permanent? 

NbS leverage natural species or ecosystems to increase carbon storage, biodiversity and support a full range of ecosystem services, including provision of water and food, and adaptation and resilience to the growing impacts of climate change. Environmental and social gains from NbS can be reversed by human impacts such as land-use change, over-extractive practices, natural disasters or extreme weather events. 

Actions can be taken to avoid intervention reversal risks that NbS projects for carbon removal and biodiversity uplift projects can face. Projects must consider permanence throughout design and implementation to mitigate reversibility risks of interventions and achieve long-term carbon capture and ecosystem resilience. 

Engaging local communities is essential for project permanence, if their interests are aligned with a given project then it is more likely to last. rePLANET projects are usually focused in rural areas where communities have low incomes and adaptive capacities and are acutely impacted by external shocks and fluctuations. rePLANET commits to channelling at least 60% of the issuance price of credits to local communities and taking a participatory approach to adapting local practices to make rural communities more sustainable, prosperous and resilient. A Sustainable Business and Livelihood Fund is a staple of rePLANET projects that provides the finance to implement a Community Development Strategy (CDS), designed collaboratively with the local communities. The CDS helps to balance short-, medium- and long-term economic gains and may support a range of activities including value-chain development, income from sustainable alternative products (such as honey), development of eco-tourism and associated businesses and enhancement of local infrastructure and services. This holistic approach is key to enhancing community resilience and well-being, while supporting climate adaptation and provision of ecosystem services. Promoting local ownership, leadership and self-determination throughout carbon or biodiversity projects is a central tenet to achieving project permanence beyond 25+ year project periods.  

 

How are Reversal Risks Mitigated?  

Comprehensive risk mitigation and reversal compensation mechanisms are often factored into NbS projects. For example, standard bodies often include NbS buffer provisions, and a percentage of credits are retained in a buffer pool to allow for and mitigate such impacts (McKinsey, 2020). Designing NbS projects to have strict permanence standards upholds the integrity of carbon and biodiversity markets, however at present, there are few guidelines in place outlining how to monitor project permanence beyond set project periods. Addressing this issue by developing management and monitoring protocols that persist beyond project periods to 100+ years will be the next step to improving NbS permanence. Improving measures of permanence will facilitate project comparability and reward those projects with the best long-term impacts. 

 

Key Points 

Carbon and biodiversity project interventions must have lasting impacts to combat biodiversity loss and keep the 1.5°C target in reach (CCC, 2022). Key permanence considerations are: 

  • Whilst there is significant urgency in getting projects up and running, permanence must always be carefully factored into design.  
  • Having an agreed permanence timescale and post-project monitoring procedures will likely improve how permanence is addressed in the future.  
  • Better methods of monitoring permanence are needed, there are several frameworks under development, it will be interesting to see whether these are adopted by the carbon or biodiversity credit markets (Balmford et al., 2023).  

rePLANET are constantly looking to employ cutting-edge technologies and methods and are dedicated to ensuring carbon offset and biodiversity uplift permanence across our projects.  

 

References: 

Balmford, A., Keshav, S., Venmans, F., Coomes, D., Groom, B., Madhavapeddy, A., & Swinfield, T. (2023) Realising the social value of impermanent carbon credits. Cambridge Open Engage. Available at: https://www.cambridge.org/engage/coe/article-details/642d90d10784a63aee952c01 

Climate Change Committee (2022) Voluntary Carbon Markets and Offsetting. Available at: https://www.theccc.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Voluntary-carbon-markets-and-offsetting-Final.pdf 

McKinsey (2020) How the voluntary carbon market can help address climate change. McKinsey Sustainability. Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/capabilities/sustainability/our-insights/how-the-voluntary-carbon-market-can-help-address-climate-change 

Mohamed, O. A., Gamal, E. M., Hameedi, M. S., Paleologos, K. E. (2023) Chapter 2- Carbon capture and utilization. Moving toward reducing environmental impact, 67-113. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-823418-1.00001-9 

Osborne, A. (2022) Carbon: Built To Last? Reversibility And The Importance Of Permanence. Dendra Systems. Available at: https://dendra.io/blog/carbon-permanence/ 

Sulivan, N. (2023) Permanence considerations when buying carbon credits. Carbon Better. Available at: https://carbonbetter.com/story/carbon-credit-permanence/#:~:text=In%20the%20context%20of%20carbon,natural%20processes%20or%20human%20activities 

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