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What is Additionality in Carbon Markets?

Many people wish to improve the environment by reducing their carbon footprint.  There are several ways to reduce the carbon footprint of everyday life, such as reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Common approaches are: 

  1. The organization or individual cuts back on their GHG emissions.
  2. The original GHG emitter pays someone else to reduce emissions for them.   
  3. A combination of both 1 and 2. 

An example of the first strategy would be choosing to walk, bike, or ride the bus, rather than driving your car. An example of the second strategy would be to calculate the carbon footprint of driving your car, and purchasing carbon credits to offset that footprint.  

How can you know that the carbon credits you purchase are really making a difference? The standard for high-quality carbon credits is that they represent reductions in GHG emissions that are permanent, additional, and verifiable. In this article, we talk about additionality, and why it is a concern for the carbon marketplace.  

What is Additionality? 

One of the most important but trickiest concepts to understand is additionality. “Additionality” means that by purchasing the carbon credit, you are actually adding to the carbon reduction in the world. That is, the money you pay for the carbon credit is making an environmental improvement that would not have occurred otherwise.  

It is easier to understand additionality by thinking about things that are not additional. For example, a factory might be required by law to install a smokestack scrubber to reduce GHG emissions. Generally speaking, the factory cannot then sell carbon credits based on those reduced emissions, because the credits would not be additional. In other words, the purchase of credits did not enable the GHG reductions; those reductions were already mandated.  

When you buy carbon credits with “Additionality”, you know your carbon credits are actually making a change to the environment. You can read more about additionality here.  

What does Additionality look like in the agricultural carbon market?

Some carbon-reducing decisions can be made once: if I buy a more fuel-efficient car, that car will continue to emit less carbon dioxide over its lifetime.  Other carbon-reducing decisions are made over and over: every time I choose to walk instead of driving my car, I’m making an additional contribution to the environment.  

The same thing is true of farming practices:  once a more fuel-efficient tractor has been purchased, it will continue to deliver benefits. But decisions to rotate crops, plant a cover crop, or reduce fertilizer application are made year after year, and each decision makes an additional contribution to the environment.  

Additionality in CIBO’s Carbon Credits 

At CIBO, we realize that growers make many decisions on an annual basis and that many of those decisions provide additionality. Agricultural systems themselves are not permanent and must adapt annually to the weather and economic conditions of the season. To maintain and grow soil carbon over time, a grower must make the annual decision to adopt regenerative practices, like cover cropping. Therefore, each season that a farmer enrolls in CIBO Impact and chooses to adopt a practice, that choice provides additionality. 

At CIBO, we believe in helping every grower connect with the land in a new way. Regenerative agriculture is part of the solution farmers are adopting to address sustainable farm management and promote long-term productivity and profitability. That’s why we’ve developed technologies that help farmers reap the benefits of doing the right thing. 

Whether you are a farmer looking to get paid for your practice or an organization looking to become carbon neutral, CIBO can help. Get started with CIBO Impact.