Costs and benefits of supplying carbon from rangeland and pasturelands: Insights from the west African Sahel
The emergence of markets for mitigation of climate change presents new opportunities for increasing economic and ecological returns to rangelands in developing countries. Improving rangeland management is a potentially significant source of mitigation from sequestration. It is appealing due to the likely links to sustainable agricultural development and poverty reduction. Many of the changes needed to sequester carbon are also associated with improved rangeland productivity and incomes. We provide an overview of the key issues that arise in determining the potential of carbon markets to support improved rangeland management focusing on West Africa, an area where pastoralism is a major economic activity with extensive rangelands that offer considerable potential for sequestering carbon. Estimates of the potential for increasing sequestration through improved rangeland management are summarized. Per hectare amounts are low, but aggregate potential is high. Carbon emission reductions are generated by reducing or avoiding land degradation, rehabilitating degraded lands, and increasing native carbon stocks by increasing aboveground and belowground biomass. Avoiding degradation and rehabilitating lightly degraded lands are the least costly and can generate significant carbon emission reductions. Carbon offsets from agricultural sources are currently limited under regulatory cap and trade regimes, and prices in voluntary markets are relatively low. Low returns to carbon offsets per hectare mean that significant co-benefits in the form of increased rangeland productivity and incomes would be necessary to induce participation. High transactions costs can be a problem in carbon markets and in adopting improved rangeland management practices, highlighting the need for institutions to provide effective coordination, monitoring, and enforcement. Evidence from Burkina Faso suggests the potential for existing local-level institutions to play an important role in future carbon payment programs, should they emerge.
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