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South Carolina forest landowners learn about carbon market

The carbon credit market is taking shape across the globe and South Carolina forest landowners are learning how they can take advantage of this new revenue stream while helping slow climate change.

A group of forest landowners met at a recent workshop at Clemson’s Belle W. Baruch Institute of Coastal Ecology and Forest Science to hear a South Carolina carbon market success story and learn what they need to do to write their own success stories. Marzieh Motallebi, an assistant professor at the institute who organized the workshop, said the carbon market can be a valuable asset for South Carolina forest landowners.

“We want to show forest landowners how they can benefit by participating in the carbon trading market,” Motallebi said. “We want to help them learn how they can be successful and make money by carbon trading.”

Carbon trading, also known as carbon emissions trading, is a market-based tool to help limit greenhouse gas emissions, which scientists say contribute to global warming and climate change. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a heat-trapping greenhouse gas, released through such activities as burning fossil fuels and such natural processes as respiration and volcanic eruptions.

Forests can help reduce carbon dioxide levels by providing carbon sequestration, when leaves and roots absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and the ground. Carbon dioxide is stored in the leaves, limbs, roots and soil. Trees and plants use carbon dioxide, water and energy during photosynthesis to make glucose, which they use for food, releasing oxygen into the air.

A cap-and-trade system is one approach used to control greenhouse gas emissions. Under this system, a cap is set on emissions. Companies must hold enough emission allowances to cover their emissions. Companies pay penalties if they exceed the cap and do not buy additional allowances. California’s cap-and-trade program has been highlighted as a premiere program and is often referred to when talking about carbon credits.

Carbon offsets generate carbon credits as well. Common carbon offset projects include wind farms, supporting truck stop electrification projects and planting trees or preserving forests.

“This is a great project that will benefit many, but, as a forest landowner, you have to be sure this is what you want to do before you do it, because once you agree to use your land as a carbon offset project, this land is tied to that project for 100 years,” said Hunter Parks, a forest carbon offset project developer and founder of Green Assets Inc.

Michael Dawson knows South Carolina forest landowners can benefit from carbon trading. Dawson is center director for The Audubon Center and Sanctuary at Francis Beidler Forest, a 17,000-acre forest near Harleyville. About 5,500 acres of the forest have been registered as carbon offsets with the California cap-and-trade program. The offset area contains 450,000 metric tons of carbon registered as credits.

“This project has netted about $3,400,000 for us,” Dawson said. “This money is put in to our long-term management account to protect and keep the sanctuary forever. I encourage forest landowners to consider participating in a carbon offset project to help generate additional revenue. But remember, to fully benefit from participating in a carbon offset project, it’s important to work with a carbon project developer.”

When searching for a carbon project developer, Parks said it is important the developer understands all of the laws and regulations associated with carbon projects.

“What people need to look for when hiring a carbon project developer includes hiring someone who has experience in the type of project they are doing and the type of carbon system they’re interested in developing,” Parks said. “You want to hire someone who has experience and has done several projects.”

The workshop held at the Baruch Institute is part of a three-year collaborative project between Clemson and the South Carolina Forestry Association, funded by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. Additional workshops are planned to be held in other parts of South Carolina in 2018.