Mission-Linked Carbon Offsets

Forest management, carbon capture and sequestration, and community projects...


Mission-linked Offsets is a Neutrality goal in the Cornell Climate Action Plan (CAP).



Implement broad-based, mission-linked carbon management strategies such as forest management, carbon capture and sequestration, and community projects to offset unavoidable university emissions.

Goal: The annual carbon sequestration rate on 9,500 acres of Cornell forest land is approximately 11,260 tons of CO2; through active management practices, it is possible to significantly increase the carbon sequestration rate of these lands. If the university does not actively plant new trees and manage its mature forest stands, the carbon abatement capacity of these lands will diminish over time. The current sequestration rate is trending downward and will be near zero by 2050, because the existing forest is aging. Fully realized, mission-linked offsets could account for an annual carbon abatement equivalent to the University’s current total commuting and business travel footprint – roughly 59,000 tons (CO2 equivalent) and about 27% of the targeted reduction of 218,000 tons.

Cornell faculty and the Cornell Land Use Management Committee continue to investigate the potential to “afforest” or convert about 3,000 acres of Cornell’s land holdings from idle pasture or cropland to forest by planting trees. Sequestration via advanced forest management is a generally acceptable carbon offset practice; however, Cornell would need to develop a methodology that can be third-party verified and audited. Afforestation and active forest management can enhance the carbon-storage capacity of Cornell lands, as well as enhance the educational and research mission of the university. For example, a demonstration nut grove on Cornell land currently serves as a research site for a practicum in agro-forestry.

Faculty and the CALS (College of Agriculture and Life Sciences) Forest Advisory Committee continue to refine estimates for the carbon-capture potential for Cornell lands and seek ways to make these efforts economically feasible.

Future regulation of carbon emissions would provide a compelling incentive for Cornell to move forward with afforestation and active forest management. But changes in the regulation of carbon emissions at the state, national, and global scale are difficult to predict. In the absence of a price on carbon, we will continue to seek ways to preserve our forested lands and to optimize the carbon storage services they provide.

Land application of biochar (charcoal produced from the slow pyrolysis of organic biomass) has been proposed as an effective method for long-term capture and sequestration of carbon. Cornell researchers continue on-going efforts to understand and quantify the short- and long-term effects of biochar application for carbon sequestration.

Next Steps

  • Actively seek public and private funding for research and demonstration projects utilizing Cornell lands to sequester carbon and create viable, value-added products.
  • Closely monitor the regulatory climate over the next decade to identify favorable conditions needed to make afforestation and active forest management projects economically viable for the university.
  • Refine estimates for the carbon-capture potential for Cornell lands.
  • Reserve a portion of Cornell lands for sequestration and develop a plan for active forest management and afforestation.

Resources

This action is dependent on favorable economic and regulatory conditions to mobilize investment on the part of the university.