In February, I had the opportunity of participating in a discussion hosted by Sustainable Wine Roundtable where we debated and analysed a subject of great interest within the wine and grape industry: carbon insetting.
In a previous article, Carbon Insetting: Doing More Good Rather Than Less Bad, I provided a general overview of the main differences between carbon offsetting and insetting. In light of the growing interest within the wine and grape sector with regard to this method of neutralising industrial emissions, I would like to explain the concept of carbon insetting in more depth as a way of contributing to a more accurate and precise understanding of the term.
In order to do so, it is best to start at the beginning: what do we mean by the term “carbon insetting”?
Before answering that question, we must first define two basic concepts: carbon neutrality or net zero CO2, and net zero emissions.
We reach carbon neutrality by reducing CO2 emissions and compensating for any remaining emissions. Achieving net zero emissions means that all greenhouse gas emissions (GGE), not only CO2, are counterbalanced by the gases absorbed over a specific period of time.
For many organizations, carbon neutrality represents the first big challenge in a far-reaching transformation that brings a significant number of benefits, such as working proactively in response to the introduction of new regulations to implement the Paris Agreement, improving brand reputation among consumers who are increasingly aware of how their choices play a role in climate change, and offering economic savings and a key competitive and differentiating advantage for the company with regard to its competitors.
Achieving carbon neutrality by compensating for emissions or mitigating climate change outside of the value chain involves buying credits on voluntary carbon markets. to support projects that contribute to combating climate change. These are voluntary actions that demonstrate the climate commitment of the organizations and must be transitory and transitional actions that must go hand in hand with reduction initiatives.
It is important to ensure the credibility of these carbon credits, ideally by obtaining them from projects which have been verified and validated through international standards like Verra or Gold Standard. Through compensation measures, an organization can obtain carbon neutrality certification under PAS2060.
In order to reach net zero emissions, a company must neutralise its remaining emissions by removing CO2 from the atmosphere. Carbon removals can take place inside or outside of the value chain; in the latter case, this would be done through voluntary carbon markets. Carbon credits focus on projects aimed at solutions to capture carbon from the atmosphere.
It represents an opportunity to create projects that sequester CO2, either through nature-based solutions (reforestation) or new technologies.
Carbon offsetting is the most common solution to neutralise and compensate CO2 by purchasing carbon credits from third-party projects outside of the company and its value chain.
In contrast, carbon insetting involves projects focused on initiatives to neutralise a company’s remaining greenhouse gas emissions across its own value chain.
Carbon insetting-based projects are gaining ground, not only in the wine and grape sector but in many others as well, because of the increasing need for carbon credits among organizations to neutralise their remaining emissions. This is driving up the cost of carbon credits, which in turn is encouraging companies to find neutralisation alternatives within their own value chain.
So, what actions can a company in the wine and grape sector take in this area? How can a company identify neutralisation opportunities within its own value chain?
In order to answer this question, we must first understand the steps that went into the creation and development of carbon offsetting.
The term “compensation” has been around since the 1970s as part of the Clean Air Act, and “carbon compensations” became popular during the first decade of the 21st century as concern over climate change grew.
Carbon compensation went through different stages over the past 30 years, but it began with developing an initial set of rules and specific standards and tools to measure and analyse the process.
In the case of the wine and grape sector, the vineyards themselves offer a natural solution when it comes to carbon sequestration. At this time, researchers at ICVV (the Institute of Grapevine and Wine Science, part of CSIC, the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation’s scientific research council) are conducting studies to understand the variables that affect carbon sequestration in the vineyard.
These studies indicate how soil management practices like tilling, irrigation under the influence of climate conditions (precipitation and temperature), and the biological stage of the vine influence CO2 fluxes.
Tilling, for instance, causes slight increases in CO2 fluxes, because it allows for soil aeration. Likewise, studies show that during the later stages of the biological cycle of the vine, CO2 levels rise significantly, both in alleys (300 kg ha-1 day-1) and rows (270 kg ha-1 day-1). These increases in CO2 fluxes derive from both root respiration and microbial activity in the soil.
Among the most common indicators to quantify and analyse improvements in soil quality and carbon sequestration by the vines is the level of organic matter. Such an analysis involves methods that evaluate the production of biomass, the carbon absorbed by the plant through its leaves and subsequently stored in its permanent organs.
In recent years, the use of artificial intelligence has become widespread in this area, and current technologies make it possible to corroborate this increase in biomass through satellite photography and images.
According to scientific studies, biological soil activity is another important and representative variable of the soil’s capacity to sequester CO2. Soil health is directly related to increased microbial activity, which in turn improves its capacity to sequester carbon.
Considering the direct relationship between winegrowing and soil quality and health, the wine and grape sector offers enormous opportunities in terms of introducing decarbonisation strategies focused on initiatives within our value chain.
That said, it is necessary to start at the beginning: a study of specific reliable techniques aimed at measuring and analysing these strategies is as important as establishing standards that allow for official verification and avoiding the use of imprecise tools such as emission factors.
Marta Juega, PhD