The extensive body of work carried out by the UNFCCC and related agencies serves to guide policy designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in an effort to mitigate climate change. Policy implementations have evolved around projects that reduce rates of anthropogenic emissions. Features include mechanisms to ensure a rising price on emissions, and a corresponding pressure to push rates of emissions ever lower, implemented through baseline scenarios and financial additionality constraints.
In regards to carbon sequestered, biochar is not precisely a reduction in the rate of an anthropogenic emission. The decomposition of biomass is not human caused. Rather, it is an anthropogenic sequestration of carbon. The implications of this subtle difference, which may be significant, become clear as we examine details. From a variety of perspectives, biochar does not seem to fit well within an emissions reduction market paradigm. For example, financial additionality constraints on eligible projects are designed, in part, to pressure emission rates lower over time. If financial additionality is applied in its current form to biochar, it pressures overall sequestration rates lower over time.
It seems reasonable that policy mechanisms should rather apply upward pressure on anthropogenic sequestration rates. Other such inconsistencies reveal themselves when we attempt to shoehorn biochar methodology into existing carbon market mechanisms, which were designed essentially to dissuade emissions, rather than persuade sequestration. Practical methodologies for long term anthropogenic sequestration of carbon were not on the table as these policy mechanisms evolved, so it seems little provision currently exists for them. Because of the administrative complexities and high costs involved in implementing the emission reduction paradigm, within the CDM for instance, carbon market revenues are much less likely to reach the rural poor.
Although both research and basic scientific understanding demonstrate that biochar is an excellent means to mitigate climate change, from financial, practical, and environmental standpoints, it seems biochar will likely remain on the sidelines of carbon market efforts to stimulate behavior that mitigates climate change unless policy approach is adapted. If existing policy is modified so that it is designed to both dissuade anthropogenic emissions and persuade anthropogenic sequestration (that is widely distributed), the full potential of biochar to sequester gigatonnes of carbon annually may evolve sooner rather than later.
Early seeds planted as we grapple with developing effective means to deal with climate change may be crucial to the spread of this approach. From an economic perspective, it may be much more effective and viable to stimulate a profitable, sustainable, multi-purpose practice in the areas of agriculture and bioenergy that is beneficial to climate, than it is to dissuade to nil the well-entrenched practice of using fossil-based energy. A balance of these two approaches seems to have a much better chance of overall success.
Presentation on Additionality
Nando Breiter gave an oral presentation to the 2008 Conference of the International Biochar Initiative in Newcastle, England, outlining an argument for modifications to additionality constraints in carbon markets in regards to methods that facilitate an anthropogenic sequestration of carbon like biochar.