Nori's approach to soil carbon storage

In designing the marketplace, we reviewed the histories of traditional offset registries and projects, and the covenants or commitments intended to establish 100 years of carbon retention. Upon investigating these projects, we found that the contracts rarely provided the guaranteed permanence that they purport to. To date, more than 40% of the projects that have been certified in traditional offset registries appear to have already realized carbon stock losses, i.e. reversals of the claimed carbon reductions. This is to say, a large portion of projects that claim 100-year storage in fact do not do so, as they have resulted in carbon being released back into the atmosphere.

However, while 100 years may be a common standard for carbon storage, Nori purposely diverges from this because:

  • Most projects do not in fact represent the claimed level of 100-year storage, and Nori’s value in transparency is to always and only provide reasonable expectations and guarantees to stakeholders.
  • We see that the value farmers (and suppliers) place on their project practices is not attached to the carbon removal, but rather the soil, and they are not likely to want to reverse the restored quality of their soil.

The historic approach to carbon storage timelines

Established carbon offset markets, consistent with ISO 14000-series guidelines, have introduced the concept of carbon sequestration “permanence”. The half-life of CO₂ in the atmosphere is roughly 100 years. So, the concept goes, for removing one tonne CO₂ from the atmosphere and storing it in a natural or man-made reservoir to be equal to avoiding one tonne of CO₂ discharge, the captured carbon must be retained (not released back to the atmosphere) for at least 100 years.

The key problem is that, whether recovered carbon is retained in trees, lumber, soil, or deep saline reservoirs, there are continuing monitoring, reporting, and management costs associated with ensuring that the solid (organic or mineral) carbon will not return to the atmosphere before the end of the 100-year permanence term. Without continued revenue to pay for these services, projects can eventually result in carbon reversal before the 100 year term is complete.

Thus, if permanence for these 100-year terms are dependent on these services, the costs of these services through the 100 years must be paid. That is to say, the only way to truly achieve permanence is for carbon markets to generate repeated payments to land and building stock managers who deliver recovered carbon retention services.

How to ensure ongoing carbon storage

In order to ensure 100 years of carbon retention, the services of continuous monitoring, reporting, and management of the project are required. Because of this, Nori has designated one NRT to represent 10 tonne-years of carbon storage as a way to modulate the carbon removal and storage in a way that is honest to the reality of the carbon retention term (10 years, not 100), not claiming storage terms to be longer than can realistically be guaranteed.

Why Nori embraces a 10 year storage commitment for croplands projects

A ten-year retention term is a reasonable balance between the needs of buyers for long-term carbon removal and the needs for growers to have flexibility and agency to manage their producing croplands. If we look at the true intentions of growers enrolling in croplands projects into Nori’s carbon removal marketplace, growers’ intentions are to restore the quality and health of their soil so that they can increase their production and yields per acre over the long-term. Adopting these practices—investing in the changes and capital costs to make these changes–is a long-term investment and commitment for farmers to restore soil health. It is not their intention to revert to older practices and undo the years of work to ensure soil conservation. Higher quality soil is better for growers.

It is Nori’s hypothesis that a fraction of the lands from Croplands projects will result in some carbon retention losses, due to farmers making some changes in production practices after the project term is completed. Nori will share these numbers publicly (see the following section).

Nori commits to transparently record and report any carbon reversals

Because Nori was founded in late 2017 and began the launch of its marketplace with development of Croplands Projects, we have yet to have projects complete their 10 year term. However, as projects continue to enroll and are completed, Nori will continuously monitor and audit projects even after their 10 year retention term and provide public reporting on how much of the carbon removal over the project’s life was actually reversed once the contract was completed.

We will report the level of carbon retention that is reversed over what timeframe, and should we see significant reversals, Nori will provide public documentation on how we will address this in past and future projects (with new methodology requirements). Additionally, we project that in several years the monitoring and sensing technology for soil carbon will have drastically improved and will play a part in an improved methodology and process for monitoring of projects.