Authored by Dougal Heap, Head of TBS
At the end of November, during COP28, there will be an unprecedented focus on technological methods of removing CO2 from the atmosphere. These Technology-based Solutions (TBS) have raced to the fore in the last few years due to technological breakthroughs, market demand for long-term CO₂ storage and our failure to reduce emissions, meaning we will have to remove more in the future. For many of their proponents, they represent a cure to the ills of the voluntary carbon market; promising precise measurement of CO₂ removed, permanent CO₂ storage and zero risk of reversals. To others, they represent costly long-shots that may play a role in the future but are taking resources from tried and trusted solutions that can be implemented at scale now. Since many of those solutions are Nature-based (NBS), this debate is often characterized as TBS vs NBS. At ecosecurities, we see this as a false dichotomy and believe that technology and nature-based solutions complement each other now and will continue to do so to net-zero and beyond.
While this is not a unique point of view (indeed a “portfolio approach” is a cornerstone of leading carbon removal buyers such as Microsoft), as a seasoned project developer ecosecurities is thinking about this at the project, rather than the portfolio level. That means looking for the ways NBS and TBS projects can complement each other on the ground rather than just in the sustainability report. “On the ground” really is the apt phrase in this case, because if there were a category that accurately described all the relevant projects it would be Land-based Solutions. Adding LBS to the abundance of acronyms is not our aim, but it is a useful way to think about seemingly disparate project types in a way that will enable and accelerate their deployment. The State of CDR report published earlier this year found that of all carbon dioxide removal happening today, 2 GtCO₂/yr comes from NBS and just 0.002 GtCO₂/yr from TBS. One way for TBS to reduce that discrepancy is to integrate with NBS activities that are already occurring on a gigatonne scale.
Soil Organic Carbon (SOC) and Enhanced Rock Weathering (ERW)
The synergies here go deep, and not just in terms of soil sampling cores. They center around one essential shared element; the farmer. Without the participation of farmers, neither of these project types would be possible and so one way they can be complementary is by opening the door to farmers who are already participants in a project. A farmer who has been part of an SOC project for a few years and has seen the tangible benefit of carbon finance is much more likely to be open to using their land for the spreading of rock for ERW and vice versa.
Another project component that is rife for collaboration between SOC and ERW is Monitoring, Reporting and Verification (MRV). MRV is a catch-all phrase that is increasingly catching more and more but in the case of SOC and ERW what they share is the on (and in) the ground measurement of what is occurring in agricultural soil. Some of the parameters being measured are the same and many are completely different but sampling plans, techniques and personnel could be shared. MRV is a major technical and financial component of both project types and one that is considered their weak link by many, so pooling resources and knowledge at the project level could reduce costs and risks.
Forestry and Biochar
The most obvious fit between forestry (whether it be planting, protecting or managing) and biochar is supplying the feedstock. Biochar projects need a reliable and sustainable source of biomass from which the biochar can be produced. While the tendency is to think of carbon forestry projects as solely about increasing the above ground carbon stocks, they can also generate a lot of waste biomass in the form of slash from the creation of fire breaks, remove invasive species and even mill waste from sustainable timber operations. These could all make suitable biochar feedstocks but the benefit goes both ways because by having the biochar project use the biomass residues the forestry project does not have to dispose of the residues themselves. This is usually done by either burning or decomposition, the prevention of which eliminates emissions that would have otherwise reduced the overall climate benefit of the forestry project.
There is also a large and growing body of evidence showing the ecological benefits of adding biochar directly to the forest floor which would support the forestry projects’ ultimate aim of increasing above-ground carbon stocks.
These are just two of many examples of how TBS and NBS can not only work hand in hand but can act as positive multipliers for the impact of each other. An approach combining NBS and TBS at the project implementation level takes advantage of this fact to deliver high-quality projects that can provide both the integrity and scale that the market demands today.
Next in our series on Technology Based Solutions (TBS), we will look at how combining NBS and TBS projects can accelerate the deployment of both in the Global South.