Biological Carbon Sequestration and Carbon Trading Re-Visited

G.C. van Kooten

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


Biological activities that sequester carbon create CO2 offset credits that could obviate the need for reductions in fossil fuel use. Credits are earned by storing carbon in terrestrial ecosystems and wood products, although CO2 emissions are also mitigated by delaying deforestation, which accounts for one-quarter of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. However, non-permanent carbon offsets from biological activities are difficult to compare with each other and with emissions reduction because they differ in how long they prevent CO2 from entering the atmosphere. This is the duration problem. It results in uncertainty and makes it hard to determine the legitimacy of biological activities in mitigating climate change. Measuring, verifying and monitoring the carbon sequestered in sinks greatly increases transaction costs and leads to rent seeking by sellers of dubious sink credits. While biological sink activities undoubtedly help mitigate climate change and should not be neglected, it is shown that there are limits to the substitutability between temporary offset credits from these activities and emissions reduction, and that this has implications for carbon trading. A possible solution to inherent incommensurability between temporary and permanent credits is also suggested.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)449-463
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number3-4
Publication statusPublished - 2009


  • co2 emissions
  • tillage
  • storage
  • agriculture
  • credits
  • offsets
  • forests


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