Opinion: The systems we rely upon to reduce the country’s emissions should be robust and not based on guesswork, chief executive of Green Artificial Intelligence Technology (GAIT) global, Saurav Bansal writes.
How does it feel to learn most responses to the greatest challenge on Earth are currently calculated by guesswork?
Miscalculating emissions doesn’t mean less carbon is present in the atmosphere. It just means we’re setting the planet on fire quicker than we think. Blissful ignorance you could call it.
Traditional carbon monitoring methods, the ones that underpin which carbon credits the government sells on the Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS), are all done by guesstimate.
Global markets aren’t exempt either, with most global carbon trading mechanisms founded on similar principles.
These methods don’t put definite numbers on how much real carbon sequestration is happening through forestry growth or carbon emissions through forestry or agriculture.
In fact, I’ve found examples where estimates are five times greater than reality. It’s greenwashing on the grandest scale.
These methodologies use a look-up table to assume standard sequestration rates for an area size and apply the baseline to a specific project.
For example, say you have 50 hectares of pine on your farm, and you want to use them to sell carbon credits within New Zealand’s ETS.
Traditional methods would use look-up tables to assume how much carbon dioxide pine trees of similar age and size sequester.
Based on the outcome of the flow chart you’d be issued a certain number of carbon credits to sell on the carbon market.
Voila! Additional income without needing to account for soil carbon fluxes, understory presence, or measuring the carbon of the specific forest.
The systems we rely upon to reduce the country’s emissions should be robust and not built on a sum of averages.
Let me demonstrate the difference with a personal example.
One of GAIT’s current carbon projects is a 50,000-hectare deforestation aversion project in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia on behalf of a local company that owns the land.
Indonesia has one of the highest deforestation rates worldwide and is home to a network of richly diverse forest ecosystems that provide food, fresh water, shelter, and medicine for local and Indigenous people and is a guardian of many wildlife species.
Ideally, something we want to conserve.
This local company had engaged consultants to understand the impact of continued deforestation over time, and what afforestation could look like in terms of carbon offset creation.
GAIT was also engaged to provide an alternative estimate with our own technology and methodology.
The resulting numbers were a shock.
Our baseline deforestation measurements were a fraction of what the alternative box-tick carbon methodology estimated.
Essentially, through assumption-based calculations, similar projects adopting these methodologies could sell considerably more carbon offsets than what their deforestation aversion project would genuinely produce.
If your jaw didn’t drop at that, it should have.
There’s no balanced equation here. There will be more emissions produced than offset by this project which goes against what we’re trying to achieve. It’s essentially the oxygen fuelling the climate change fire.
Continued gross overestimation by carbon consultancies means we aren’t going to hit our global climate goals, nor our national goals here in Aotearoa.
Listen to Jamie Mackay’s interview with Saurav Bansal on The Country below:
But it’s no wonder Aotearoa’s historically food-producing farms are quickly turning into pine plantations when they’re selling for five times their actual value. And this is standard practice with current carbon methodologies.
We need to be more robust and back up the reality of what our forests realistically sequester. Not use carbon sequestration as a system to dupe and maximise profits to the environment’s detriment.
Technology does exist to make carbon calculating more robust, it’s just not yet widely deployed. But it’s vigorous, reliable, and in use across the globe.
I would know because I invented it and we are using it across carbon projects globally.
At GAIT Global we use data from a network of GAIT-owned real-time flux sensors along with satellite imagery, remote-sensing techniques and machine learning to analyse land area.
We determine canopy cover and distribution of trees and species through satellites as well as track atmospheric and physical fluxes on the ground with sensors.
This comprehensive data allows us to track carbon emissions or sequestration quickly and robustly. There’s no guesswork or assumptions. It’s real data in near real-time.
This gives us a balanced equation to understand the true number, nothing inflated or assumed.
To suffocate the fire and slow the climate change burn, balanced and robust emissions calculation is a vital arrow in our quiver to get us there.