To create and be credited for a voluntary carbon offsets, the developer must show that the offset meets the required "additionality," meaning the emissions reduction must not be required by law. It should also face hurdles in terms of financing, technology and institutional barriers such as cultural hurdles that can only be overcome with the funding that comes from selling a carbon credit.
There is also a final barrier. The practice that results in reduced emissions, creating the offset, shall not be common practice.
That what makes the news stories streaming out of the U.S. Midwest so curious. Farmers are selling offsets for practicing no-till agriculture, which leaves roots and therefore sequestered carbon in the soil. In Iowa, a state agency helps roll up the various farmers' credits into manageable contracts for offsets that are sold on the Chicago Climate Exchange. The Quad City Times described it this way:
For 30 years, Steve Berger has been a no-till farmer of corn and soybeans on his 2,200 acres in Wellman, Iowa, as a way to protect his soil from erosion and keep organic matter in the ground to aid the growth of his crops. Berger also qualifies to sell carbon credits — credits that businesses and others buy to offset their own self-imposed emission caps from those who trap or keep carbon in the ground. That is secondary to the benefits the no-till method offers to his land, he said.
“Last year, I made almost $3,000 from selling them, a little extra spending money for when my wife goes to Chicago,” Berger said. “But I’m not really sold on the whole thing. This is something I would do anyway, and some company is using me so it doesn’t have to clean up its own act.”
It's hardly surprising Berger isn't convinced. Does this really qualify as an exceptional practice?
Iowa expects to have 1.5 million acres generating about offsets for about 1 million tons of carbon emissions.