Managing non-performance risks for nature-based carbon sequestration

Energy Systems; Agricultural and Resource Economics; Human Geography; Geographic Information Sciences

Nature-based carbon sequestration involve risks that projects will not generate genuine, permanent emissions offsets. The team will examine options for managing these risks.

Research Interests
  • carbon management
  • carbon accounting

On the basis of extensive and diverse modeling and analysis, an international consensus has emerged that preventing catastrophic climate change will require large-scale deployment of negative emissions technologies (NETs). Of available NET options, nature-based carbon sequestration solutions show special promise, as they can be implemented at relatively low cost while generating substantial co-benefits. However, nature-based solutions are also characterized by distinctive performance risks: that carbon captured into biological systems will not be stored permanently, but will later be released through accident, negligence, or deliberate action.

In this project, the team will analyze and quantify the types and sources of performance risks for nature-based carbon sequestration. With this understanding, the team will examine options for reducing and managing those risks. Risk management options can include changes in the project engineering, changes in incentives for developers, and the creation of new risk management products and solutions.

Desired outcomes

We aim to make progress towards answering several critical questions about the potential role of nature-based carbon sequestration in climate strategy:

  • How can incentives for nature-based sequestration be designed to mitigate or eliminate the problems of adverse selection and moral hazard that characterize many voluntary offset programs?
  • How can non-performance risks be managed?
  • What options are available for low cost, comprehensive systems to monitor and verify carbon flows into and out of nature-based sequestration settings?
  • How should the costs of monitoring and verification systems be shared between the private and public sectors?

During the period of performance, the team will undertake a literature review, a program of data analysis, and conceptual work on instrument design. 

From the beginning, the team will work to identify opportunities to generate external support to build on this program. The prospects are promising: nature-based carbon sequestration is currently an extremely high-profile topic. Initiatives in this area are currently being launched or are underway by the Commonwealth of Virginia, many other U.S. states, international organizations including the World Bank, and many commercial organization. We can expect funding opportunities from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, private foundations, and other agents looking for concrete, cost-effective measures to address the planetary threat of climate change.