Duke Research Brings Far Carbon Offset Home

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Duke University’s continued path to net carbon neutrality by 2024 now includes an investment focused on Duke’s research to help preserve coastal habitats more than 4,000 miles from Durham on the west coast of the Africa.

The university has invested in the protection of carbon-sequestering ocean mangroves – shrubs and trees in wetlands – along the coast of Guinea-Bissau, by supporting an “avoided deforestation” project implemented by the Institute for the country’s biodiversity and protected areas (IBAP) with communities.

In addition to preventing the release of carbon into the atmosphere, the project contributes to the conservation of globally significant biodiversity and the long-term economic prosperity of the country’s coastal communities.

“It’s a small investment for Duke, and Duke’s investment is a small part of the overall effort in Guinea-Bissau,” said Matthew Arsenault, director of the Duke Carbon Offsets initiative. “But it’s so important for an institution like Duke to invest in a project like this which is also linked to Duke’s research.”

The wetlands are home to a rich biodiversity and are a source of livelihood for the surrounding inhabitants who use them for agriculture, oyster farming and fishing. Through the purchase of carbon credits generated by this project, Duke enables IBAP and local communities to continue to manage these wetlands in a sustainable manner, thus keeping carbon safely in the soil.

“The investment by Duke and other potential funders under this initiative will have a global impact on combating the effects of climate change and conserving the national park’s dry forests, tropical rainforests and mangroves. from Cacheu and the natural park of Tarrafes do Rio. Cacheu, ”said Queba Quecuta, director of Catanhéz National Park. “It will improve the living conditions of local populations who depend heavily on the goods and services of these ecosystems.

Mamadú Camará, the traditional chief of the village of Cadiqui, said the project continues the work that its people have been doing for generations.

“We have traditionally protected our forests forever,” Camará said. “We are currently working with IBAP to strengthen the protection and conservation of the ‘Matas de Cantanhéz’ and I agree with this new initiative, which will further encourage the conservation of forests that support the well-being of my community, and from which we extract medicines to cure diseases, foodstuffs and allows us to have good rains to be able to cultivate our land and have good harvests.

Since adopting a climate action plan in 2009, Duke has reduced its own emissions by about 34%, mainly through investments in reducing energy emissions and changing modes of transportation brought about by the pandemic.

These reductions will continue over time as existing buildings are made more energy efficient and new buildings and other more sustainably designed projects come online. Among them is a set of solar power farms in North Carolina in which Duke is a partner that will soon produce the equivalent of 50 percent of the electricity needed to power the campus.

But the university has also turned to the carbon offsets market to mitigate the carbon it cannot reduce on campus. The offsets market allows investors to buy carbon credits by contributing financially to environmental projects – including conservation efforts – that keep carbon trapped in natural ecosystems and prevent its release into the atmosphere.

“The university wanted to set an ambitious goal of carbon neutrality, to respond to the climate crisis by going above and beyond,” said Tavey Capps, director of sustainability at Duke. “We’re as aggressive as we can get on campus with cuts, but we knew carbon offsets should be part of reaching that goal as well. The Duke Carbon Offset Initiative was created to ensure that all carbon offset projects the university has invested in are of the quality and standards that we set for ourselves. ”

It was Duke’s research – “Green Payments for Blue Carbon” in 2011 – that helped establish a market for coastal habitat carbon offsets.

Brian Murray was the lead author of this research while leading the environmental economics program at the university’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. Now acting director of the newly merged Nicholas Institute and the Duke’s Energy Initiative, Murray was working in the carbon market for the preservation of terrestrial forests when he learned that the carbon-rich peat soil of coastal wetlands contained more carbon than terrestrial forests. =

Peaty soil is the largest natural reservoir of carbon, and deeper and deeper layers of sediment accumulate in wetlands.

“There’s more carbon per hectare, so you get more for your money,” Murray said.

Investors can also establish new mangroves, Murray said. “But protecting those that already exist has a much greater biophysical and economic potential, because the carbon is already there and you avoid releasing it into the atmosphere,” he said.

John Virdin, Director of the Ocean and Coastal Policy Program at the Nicholas Institute, briefed the university on the Guinea-Bissau project, which he worked on with the World Bank before coming to Duke. Virdin also co-authored a 2020 Nicholas Institute report assessing the feasibility of creating carbon offsets to protect mangroves elsewhere in West Africa.

Mangroves in several of Guinea-Bissau’s neighbors have been lost to lucrative shrimp fishing and other coastal developments. Building on the work of the local office of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and other leaders in the country, the government of Guinea-Bissau, with support from the World Bank and other donors, has established a system of national parks and protected areas that now covers 26 percent of the country. Along with this, a social fund was launched to help park residents build schools and other infrastructure, and adopt sustainable livelihood technologies in what Virdin called a “parks for people” approach.

“Innovative projects like these are a high priority for the World Bank, as they not only meet people’s immediate needs, but also promote long-term green and inclusive growth,” said Tanya Yudelman, management specialist. of natural resources and the environment for the World Bank.

Securing the long-term future of this network of national parks requires more investment. The World Bank realized, through the work of Murray and others, that IBAP could sell carbon offsets for the mangroves that the parks preserve. The Avoided Deforestation Project was designed to support this approach and is implemented in partnership with the BioGuinea Foundation, a conservation trust fund established to help ensure the long-term sustainability of the park system. It is hoped that Duke, one of the first buyers, will encourage other institutions to get involved.

“For the BioGuinea Foundation, Duke’s participation is a strong signal for others to join the effort for the visibility and sustainability of this project,” said Fenosoa Andriamahenina, Executive Secretary of the BioGuinea Foundation.

Guinea-Bissau isn’t the only overseas project Duke has bought offsets for. Another is a community carbon market protecting forests in Oaxaca, Mexico. But the bulk of the investment has been in the Carolinas, from urban forestry, to turning pig waste into energy in North Carolina, to a new project in South Carolina that will help rural households become eligible. for energy improvements.

The Guinea-Bissau project provides only 2,000 of the roughly 80,000 credits Duke believes he needs to achieve carbon neutrality. Each credit represents one metric tonne of carbon dioxide emissions. The university currently has around 15,000 credits in total and remains on track to meet its goal by 2024, Arsenault said.

“We are currently in the process of deciding which specific projects will constitute the remainder of these estimated 80,000,” he said. The investment in Guinea-Bissau is a model for the projects in which Duke seeks to invest.

“Guinea-Bissau’s protected areas are co-managed with the human communities living in and around them,” said Justino Biai, director of IBAP. “The ecological, social and above all economic benefits should first and foremost return to these communities. Projects of this nature and partners like Duke are essential to achieving these goals and helping to protect local, national and planetary interests. “

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