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by mhowell last modified 2012-12-07 15:36

Why are carbon trading markets developing?

           There is unequivocal evidence that the concentration of CO2 is increasing in the atmosphere.  This increase is being driven by the burning of fossil fuels and the conversion of forested to non-forested land uses.  CO2 is a greenhouse gas, which means that CO2 molecules literally trap heat that is trying to leave the earth’s atmosphere, and in so doing has the potential to increase the temperature of the earth.  This potential for increasing temperatures is typically referred to as global warming and many negative feedbacks such as increased hurricane or drought intensities are often subscribed to this increased warming.  (See IPCC for more)


            Decreasing the rate of increase in the concentration of atmospheric CO2 can be achieved through reducing use of fossil fuels as well as the rate of forest land conversion.  More pro-active options for actually removing CO2 currently in the atmosphere are also available and typically involve increasing the amount of forest land or changing the way forests and soils are managed (i.e., limiting tree harvests or soil tillage).  Some engineering approaches such as injecting CO2 deep into the earth or into the ocean have also been proposed.


            In an effort to limit the rate of CO2 increase in the atmosphere carbon trading markets are developing to incentivize individuals to contribute to CO2 sequestration.  As an outgrowth, a diversity of carbon registries and carbon trading protocols are rapidly developing in the USA.  The general objective for these registries is to provide guidelines to interested parties about quantifying their carbon emitting or sequestering activities with the intent of fostering carbon trading. 


How can forest landowners get involved?     

            The forest lands of the USA offer significant opportunities for accumulating (i.e., sequestering) carbon as well as limiting additional emissions to the atmosphere from forest land conversion.   In the simplest case, landowners can accumulate carbon by planting trees where no trees currently exist (i.e., afforestation).  The carbon accumulating in trees can potential be sold as carbon credits.  Agreeing to conserve forest rather than converting forest land to other uses may also serve to generate tradable carbon credits.  Enhancing the growth of your forest to accumulate carbon more quickly (i.e., fertilization) may also generate tradable carbon credits as can the accumulation of carbon in forest soils. 

Below are some links with more information about Atmospheric CO2, the global carbon cycle, and global warming.

Atmospheric CO2

Global Carbon Cycle

Global Warming, Union of Concern Scientists