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Chevrolet Invests in Grasslands Conservation Carbon Credits


Public-private partnerships are proving to be instrumental, effective and affordable means of addressing carbon emissions and climate change.

On Nov. 17, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced that Chevrolet purchased third-party-verified carbon credits from working ranch grasslands in North Dakota's Prairie Pothole region. The first transaction of its kind, the voluntary carbon credits were ushered into being by a public-private partnership and a Conservation Innovation Grant (CIG). Totaling $161,000, the grant was provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Chevrolet, a division of General Motors, has set a voluntary goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 8 million tons, “comparable to the annual carbon reduction benefit of a mature forest the size of Yellowstone National Park,” the Agriculture Department highlighted.

Grasslands conservation and climate change mitigation

Awarded the CIG in 2011, Ducks Unlimited used the funds to develop a methodology to quantify the carbon stored in soil by avoiding grassland conversions, USDA explains in its press release. The avoided CO2 emissions resulted in the creation of carbon credits that can be sold in voluntary markets.

"This announcement is the first-of-its-kind. The amount of carbon dioxide removed from our atmosphere by Chevrolet's purchase of carbon credits equals the amount that would be reduced by taking more than 5,000 cars off the road," Secretary Vilsack said. "This public-private partnership demonstrates how much can be achieved with a modest federal investment and a strong commitment to cut carbon pollution."

USDA outlines how the climate change mitigation program works

  • Landowners voluntarily place lands under a perpetual easement but retain rights to work the land, such as raising livestock and growing hay;

  • The carbon storage benefits of this avoided conversion of grasslands are quantified, verified and formally registered resulting in carbon credits;

  • The carbon credits are made available to entities interested in purchasing carbon offsets.

Ranchland owners are compensated for not converting their grasslands for agricultural purposes. As Secretary Vilsack elaborated:

"Ranchers benefit from new revenue streams, while thriving grasslands provide nesting habitat for wildlife, are more resilient to extreme weather, and help mitigate the impact of climate change."

Besides USDA and Ducks Unlimited, the Climate Trust, American Carbon Registry, TNC (the Nature Conservancy), EDF (Environmental Defense Fund) and Terra Global Capital were instrumental in making the project a success, the Agriculture Department noted.
Part and parcel of President Barack Obama's efforts to reduce emissions and combat climate change, USDA is helping “America's farmers, ranchers and forest owners adapt to new challenges caused by a changing climate – ranging from more intense weather events, to increased risk of wildfire, to a greater prevalence of invasive species.”

The CIG program “supports the development of new technologies and approaches to agricultural conservation on private lands,” USDA explained. The grasslands conservation project was one of nine greenhouse gas mitigation and carbon market projects the Natural Resources Conservation Service funded in 2011.

For more information on the CIG program and GHG mitigation initiatives in the agriculture sector, check out USDA strategic partner Coalition on Agricultural Greenhouse Gases. More information on USDA's support of President Obama's efforts to reduce CO2 and GHG pollution is available on the department's Climate Solutions page.

Image credits: 1) Nature.org; 2) USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

Andrew Burger headshotAndrew Burger

An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.

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