In our Systems Change Deep Dives video podcast series, we take a systemic look at some of the greatest social, economic and environmental challenges that we are facing as a global community and the ideas and projects that have the potential to catalyze systems change. For our first deep dive topic, Beyond Carbon Capture, we spark conversations with people leading carbon capture initiatives around the world to discuss the benefits and challenges of their work and how it fits into the wider paradigm of systemic change.
In the first episode, we spoke with Niklas Kaskeala, Chief Impact Office from Compensate, a nonprofit addressing the current voluntary carbon market from within. Niklas oversees Compensate’s sustainability approach, carbon capture portfolio, and advocacy efforts to reform the voluntary carbon market. He is also the founder of Protect our Winters Finland, the Finnish affiliate of the International Protect Our Winters movement, and has more than 15 years of experience in development, sustainability and climate change.
Keep reading for the the key points from the discussion with Niklas:
According to Compensate’s recently published white paper, focusing on the need for reform in the voluntary carbon market, 90% of carbon capture projects certified by international standards do not pass their evaluation process. The most prominent reason for this is the lack of additionality, which is a crucial aspect of a good carbon project or a good carbon credit.
“If you don’t have additionality, the buyer of the carbon credit is paying for something that would have happened in any case and so is paying for nothing basically (…). If you then use that carbon credit to offset (…) some emissions and you want to neutralize them using a non additional carbon credit, the climate impact won’t be there.”
Environmental and Social Impact
Biodiversity is one of the other essential factors influencing the success of a carbon capture project within the organisation’s framework. For example, a forestry project will be rejected on the grounds of having a harmful impact on biodiversity if it is based on a plantation or uses pesticides.
Similarly, projects are assessed for social impact: “You can have negative social impacts where it is unclear how much the revenue of the sale of carbon credits flows back to local communities. You might even have forced evictions from project areas, community conflicts, all kinds of things. So, this criteria is quite holistic in that sense, it looks at different aspects.”
Reduce Emissions Before Offsetting
Despite a big part of Compensate’s work being based on carbon credits and offsetting, Niklas highlighted that the highest priority of any individual or institution in their endeavour to address the environmental impact of their activities should be to radically reduce their carbon emissions. However, as it is not possible to achieve zero emissions immediately, the carbon market exists to redress the balance.
“You should never start by thinking, how can I offset emissions? You need to radically reduce emissions. Think about how you can avoid them, how you can minimize them. And then the last option on the table is our carbon credits. And then you have me to make sure that you use good quality, transparent credits.”
Regulation and Responsibility
“We’re going to need more regulation in the EU. We have a proposal from the commission to start regulating carbon removals. We need corporate responsibility standards, like the science-based targets and others who are already taking a good stance on how to make sure that we define the role offsetting has in corporate climate action so that it has the right role and that we always emphasize the importance of emission reductions.
If you’re a buyer of carbon credits, read the studies and white papers that are out there and ask the right questions from the sellers of carbon credits. If they’re unable to answer or you’re not satisfied with the answers, then don’t buy from them.”
Risks of Nature-Based Solutions and Overcompensation
“One of the big risks with these nature-based projects is the permanence of the carbon. (…) Obviously it’s impossible to fully guarantee that carbon will be stored in some kind of biomass for no more than some decades or hundreds of years at max.”
Since it’s impossible to have those types of assurances with nature-based offsets, Compensate advocates for overcompensation, an approach where ” …we use more carbon credits than would be technically necessary to offset a certain amount of emissions. We make sure that we do more than would be necessary to achieve a one-to-one ratio of offsetting.”
“If you reduce emissions, it’s real, there are no risks. You’ve avoided adding CO2 into the atmosphere. But when you use carbon credits, there are always these risks involved and you need to make sure you understand them and communicate them to your stakeholders or customers or whoever so that you’re not creating a false image of the climate impact.”
In spite of the risks associated with nature-based carbon sequestration solutions, Compensate has focused on them because the current technology-based solutions, such as Direct Air Capture, are not likely to be scalable in the near future. However, 20% of their offset payments support what they call Innovative Carbon Capture Solutions, such as biochar production, which is capable of storing carbon for hundreds of years and has the added benefit of improving soil quality wherever it is used.
For those inspired to do more, Niklas recommends looking more deeply into the subject and reading some white papers from those analyzing the field in order to start asking the right questions and participate in initiatives for meaningful carbon market reform.
“There are a lot of initiatives right now to reform the market, and many of them are very good initiatives. (…) a lot of them have open consultations where anybody can take part and contribute with their views, so really engage yourself.”