Monetising the natural capital benefits of peatland restoration
Natural capital finance and wider conservation financing is set to go mainstream, with the demand and potential for carbon offsetting markets set to explode over the next few years. Globally, well in excess of $52 billion is currently invested in conservation funding.
This is only set to expand and grow, with the New York Stock Exchange for example recently announcing they have created a new listing vehicle called a natural asset company (NAC) which allows landowners of natural capital to transfer the ownership of the natural capital benefits of their land (like carbon sequestration or clean water) to a NAC which the investing public can then invest in. The capital received will then be used to conserve further, creating a perpetual virtuous loop of value. Whereas finance and conservation once seemed disparate, we are now seeing the markets wake up to the vast potential of natural capital finance and carbon offsetting.
The first three articles in this series focused on the ‘what, how and why’ of peatland restoration. This final article will focus on the prospect of monetising the ongoing natural capital benefits of peatland restoration. Beyond the generous public funding and assistance from bodies like Peatland ACTION, how do Scottish landowners capitalise on and market the benefits of their peatland restoration projects?
This is where The Peatland Code comes in.
The Peatland Code
The Peatland Code (the Code) is a voluntary standard for UK peatland projects wishing to market the natural capital benefits of peatland restoration. The Code provides assurances to voluntary carbon market buyers that the natural capital benefits being sold are real, quantifiable, additional and permanent. It is a similar scheme to that of the Woodland Carbon Code, which deals with monetisation of the natural capital opportunities from new woodland creation projects.
Essentially, registration and verification of your restoration project under the Code enables you to sell what are commonly known as ‘carbon units’ to third parties. The third parties buying these carbon units can range from individuals to the largest multinational companies looking to offset their emissions to meet their corporate ‘green’ pledges. The Code, along with the Woodland Carbon Code, is at the forefront of the nascent natural capital carbon market in the UK. Other nations are developing their own codes and systems to market their own natural capital benefits – we eagerly await COP26 in the hope that further co-operation and integration of national carbon markets is announced.
Is my proposed project eligible?
Eligible projects will include those aimed at restoring either blanket or raised bog with a minimum peat depth of 50cm. A project must have a duration of at least 30 years – this is a long-term undertaking with long-term benefits, both to the environment and financially.
How does it work?
To provide assurances to carbon unit buyers, all Code projects will be independently registered, validated and verified on an ongoing basis. Once a project is registered with the Code, a site survey must take place to allow for the creation of an extensive Restoration Plan. The validation process involves the review of the Restoration Plan as well as a Code site visit to ensure the project meets the Code requirements. Once validation is provided, work enacting the Restoration Plan can begin on the ground.
Verification will continue throughout the life of the project. The project will be monitored to ensure ongoing compliance at years 1, 5 and every 10 years beyond that.
Once the project is fully validated and work has begun, the project can begin selling carbon units via the UK Land Carbon Registry, which is an online database connecting sellers with those seeking to buy carbon units. The allocated carbon units can either be sold in one go or throughout the project. As markets for these carbon units are (currently) small and self-regulated, the benefits are often realised through upfront bilateral agreements between the buyers and the peatland landowner/manager, where buyers are willing to pay a defined amount for a prescribed benefit.
This series of articles has detailed the importance of peatland restoration and the emerging opportunities associated with it and why there has never been a better time to restore. Of the 32 restoration projects listed on the UK Land Carbon Registry, 60% of them are based in Scotland with the potential for so many more. The Code allows for restoration to become a new revenue stream for landowners, placing them in a sector of the economy that is set for considerable growth in the coming years.
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