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Fostering voluntary, nature-based GHG offsets through cost-efficient MRV tools | Part 2


To fully unlock the potential benefits of voluntary GHG markets, suitable nature-based solutions have to be identified

To fully unlock the potential benefits of voluntary GHG markets, suitable nature-based solutions have to be identified, matched to local conditions, and implemented in suitable places. In such a scenario, satellite-based Earth Observation (EO) offers the necessary fine-granularity, constant and cost-efficient monitoring capacity to monitor and verify the correct implementation of nature-based solutions and to quantify the carbon stocks.

For example, EO permits to detect in almost real-time deforestation within the tropical forests but also removal and conversion of mangrove forests. Such drastic changes in land cover generally cause huge releases of GHG into the atmosphere while negatively impacting biodiversity and other ecosystem services. Similarly, satellites permit to monitor the correct implementation of projects aiming to convert (degenerated) pastures in carbon absorbing agro-forestry systems. Using satellites, it is possible to quantify methane emission from rice cultivation by tracking the growth cycle and in particular the time span and duration the paddies are watered. Methane is an important GHG which needs to be addressed alongside carbon dioxide to reach net zero and climate neutrality. Using their advanced sensing technologies, remote sensing satellites moreover are able to quantify the biomass of pastures and thereby optimizing the grazing regime for maximum carbon uptake while limiting the land needed for pastures. Last but not least, using satellites it is possible not only to directly quantify the amount of carbon absorbed by agricultural soils (e.g. the humus content) but also to verify good agricultural (regenerative) practices such as no-till, cover crops and crop rotations.

EO also offers the possibility to identify suitable areas for nature-based project implementation and permits the establishment of baseline scenarios. EO data is also suitable to demonstrate the necessary additionality of the implementation. Clearly, the steadily increasing data availability further sustains the huge potential for cost-efficient EO-based MRV solutions across the globe.

The huge potential of satellite-based EO system is the result of several unique observation capabilities:

  • Global and constant coverage of the entire Earth at very high revisit frequencies to detect changes in the land surface in almost real-time
  • Generation of images at high spatial resolution to detect even small elements on the Earth surface
  • Advanced cameras and sensors that measure the reflected/emitted radiation in many information-rich wavelengths not even visible to the human eye
  • Close link between the satellite-measured spectral signature and the properties, characteristics and (bio)chemical composition of the observed soils, forests and agricultural systems
  • Extremely low costs per square kilometre area
  • Freely available data archive going back to the 1970s

Together with the general advancement of the science of remote sensing as well as machine learning/AI, and the and the availability of IT solutions for processing the big data, satellite-based EO provides a unique and unmatched capability to implement cost-efficient and reliable MRV solutions.

But ideally, such a system should not only be reliable and cost-efficient, but also allow participation of interested individuals. Engagement not only increases trust in the voluntary markets but potentially also enables improved monitoring and verification results. Individuals could for example participate through crowd-sourcing and by providing valuable local information for fine-tuning and calibration of the machine-learning/AI tools. Probably, it is also motivating for credit buyers to see – from space – their projects developing over time. Credit sellers, on the other hand, have needs with respect to privacy while welcoming any information supporting, facilitating and de-risking the tedious land management. EO, together with crowd sourcing, agronomy and forestry, can provide such feedback to the land owners for improving their land management, while informing all stakeholders in the voluntary markets about project status and compliance.