How tribal nations create carbon credits

Sustainable management of land and natural resources can benefit tribal economies now and in the future

Farming, ranching, forestry

Tribal carbon projects develop carbon credits from agriculture (farming and ranching) and from forestry. Carbon farming (also known as carbon sequestration) is a system of agricultural management that helps the land store more carbon and reduce the amount of greenhouse gases that it releases into the atmosphere. Sustainable forest management practices do similar good by minimizing greenhouse gases.

Examples of carbon sequestration projects include:

  • Planting trees on lands that would otherwise remain non-forested
  • Installing a bio-digester to capture methane from dairy-cow manure
  • Managing tribal rangelands in a way that increases carbon sequestered below ground in roots
  • Preventing conversion of grasslands to croplands to avoid releasing carbon stored in the land

A carbon 'offset' represents a real reduction of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and results in the generation of a carbon 'credit.' The difference from a carbon credit is that the credit is generated as the result of a project with clear boundaries, title, project documents and a verification plan.

Long-term sequestration

Carbon credits are measured in metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, and a single carbon credit is a certificate that represents one metric ton of carbon that has been eliminated or sequestered. Carbon credits are measured and compared to what would exist in the absence of the carbon project. When landowners, including tribes, initiate a project that can mitigate the amount of carbon in the atmosphere through long-term carbon sequestration, they earn carbon credits which can then be sold, traded or retired.

NICC views carbon credit projects on Indian lands as opportunities for economic development that preserve tribal and individual Indian land ownership where the financial benefits go back into reservation economies and communities. Rather than earning income from the destruction of tribal land by outsiders, carbon projects protect tribal land and enable Indian people to control its use now and in the future.

The carbon credit market is complicated, and tribes need accurate, trustworthy information to make the right decisions about a potential carbon project on their land. NICC's role is to help tribes do this as efficiently as possible.

Picking the right partners

There is a lot of skepticism in Indian Country about the viability of carbon projects, as well as misunderstandings about these opportunities. Many tribal leaders are under the impression that land used for a carbon project will be tied up for 100 years and cannot be used for any other activities. This is not true. For example, tribes can manage their forestland in sustainable ways that generate substantial revenue from carbon credits while running logging operations on that same land. Although some forest projects are 100-year commitments, most projects operate on much shorter time frames, with some lasting as little as seven years.

When tribes are considering entering into a carbon project, the most important thing is to have accurate, unbiased sources of information available, not just the pie-in-the-sky projections and claims of private companies pitching these projects. NICC can be that trusted partner for tribal decision-makers.