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Chloris Biomass Map aims to boost nature-based voluntary carbon market integrity

27 January 2022 IHS Markit Energy Expert

A US technology startup believes its solution to measuring natural capital could go a long way to addressing the issue of integrity in the voluntary carbon market (VCM) if participants embrace it.

The Chloris Biomass Map was unveiled earlier in January by Boston-based Chloris Geospatial. The global dataset of aboveground biomass shows changes in carbon stocks during the 2003-2019 period. It measures both growth and degradation of biomass on land.

"The map is a demonstration of a technology that can help the voluntary carbon market by providing transparency on the performance of landscapes," Chloris co-founder and CEO Marco Albani told OPIS.

The former Harvard researcher said in an interview that there are concerns about the environmental integrity of the use of terrestrial carbon in offsetting programs. He said these are concerns that have been expressed by various parties, some of which have merit.

"A lot of these questions on integrity hinge on what is really happening—is carbon really being removed from the atmosphere, or is what we are seeing happening in one place is just the consequence of something happening somewhere else?" Albani said.

Integrity in VCM

Improving confidence in VCM became more prominent in the last year, as more corporate buyers have purchased credits as part of meeting their environmental, social, and governance (ESG) commitments and prices have soared to record levels in the US, Europe, and Australia. China's entry last spring into carbon trading also showed how carbon markets are seen across the globe as crucial to meeting future climate goals in a cost-effective way.

Environmental data provider Ecosystem Marketplace confirmed to OPIS that the value of global VCM transactions surpassed $1 billion in 2021 for the first time. The value of deals totaled about $320 million in 2019.

More growth can be expected, particularly through the work of the Taskforce on Scaling Voluntary Carbon Markets (TSVCM), headed by Mark Carney, a former governor of the Bank of England. TSVCM last fall set up the Integrity Council for Voluntary Carbon Markets, with the intention "to bring high-quality, transparent and consistent meta-standards to the supply of carbon credits."

TSVCM says that the market needs to grow 15 times by 2030 and 100 times by 2050 to help limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared with pre-industrial levels.

As the offsets market grows, it's also shifting, according to IHS Markit. "Renewables have historically dominated offsets when carbon financing was needed for new technologies. However, as renewable energy costs continue to fall, offset standards such as Verra and Gold Standard have decided to phase out offsets related to renewables," it said in a report.

Aboveground biomass credits—that is, carbon sinks from agriculture, forestry, and other land use offsets—are emerging as the primary supplier of credits. The UN-REDD program, which manages and encourages such programs, estimates that halting deforestation can reduce annual CO2 emissions by more than 5 gigatons/year.

The Chloris solution

Keeping track of how aboveground biomass has changed is precisely what Chloris does. Albani said the mapping technology addresses the challenges project developers and other stakeholders face: verifying and monitoring activities in inaccessible locations, measuring and reporting on natural changes in biomass stock vs. impacts of human activity and accurately identifying which countries are contributing to—and being affected by—GHG emissions.

The program currently offers a 5x5-km (3x3-mile) map, freely available to the public for noncommercial use through Microsoft's Planetary Computer, while a higher-resolution version of 500 meters (1,640 feet) is available to clients.

The company can also produce 30-meter (98 feet) maps of the tropics on demand. Albani said that will take about six weeks, but Chloris should be able to create them in a matter of hours from the second half of this year.

The company is also working on turning its products into a software so that customers can get the insights from its analytics through a platform. The first version in expected later this year or early 2023, Albani said.

During November's COP26 climate summit in Glasgow, Chloris was one of 12 companies chosen to join the UpLink Innovator Network of the World Economic Forum. The same month, Chloris raised $2.5 million in a first-round seed investment.

Technology fusion

Chloris, named after the Greek goddess of spring and nature, was launched in early 2021, but the technology behind the map had been under development for nearly two decades.

The company uses the remote-sensing method known as light detection and ranging (LIDAR) along with wall-to-wall satellite imagery as well as machine learning and deep learning data fusion to measure the biomass.

The methodology was developed by Alessandro Baccini, a co-founder and chief scientific officer of Chloris and a research professor at the Center for Remote Sensing at Boston University. "Chloris wanted to develop a technology that is actually able to provide a comprehensive measurement of carbon change over the landscape from the local level to the global scale because that is the type of issue that we are facing," Baccini said during a recent webinar, referring to the climate crisis.

Both Baccini and Albani believe the Chloris map offers better accuracy because it is not based on land use/land cover methodology, which is often beset by an endless debate on what is a forest.

"We are not saying what is the forest and what is not the forest. We are measuring how much carbon is in vegetation in a certain place," Albani explained.

Full of surprises

The map revealed several surprises.

It found that China had become a "terrestrial carbon sequestration giant" over the past two decades despite being the world's largest emitter of GHGs.

The map showed that carbon stocks in China continuously increased during the study period, storing 15.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent (GtCO2e). At an average sequestration of 1.2 GtCO2e per year, Chloris estimates this carbon sink is larger than the global emissions from aviation.

"I was surprised to see how much sequestration is there in China. I did not expect China to be the largest," Albani said.

China's annual GHG emissions passed the 14-gigaton threshold for the first time in 2019, rising to 27% of global emissions, according to research firm Rhodium Group.

Another finding is that forests are recovering fast from past disturbances in central and southern Europe, and not in Scandinavia where the carbon stocks have been more stable.

The vegetation of the European Union stored over 3.4 GtCO2e during 2003-2019, equivalent to almost the entire emissions of 2019 for the 27 member states. France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and Greece saw net increases in aboveground biomass, while Latvia, Austria, Sweden, and Finland witnessed net decreases.

The Chloris Biomass Map also captured the devastation caused by the Vaia storm in northeastern Italy on 29 October 2018, when more than 280 million cubic feet of wood was knocked down. That showed both the accuracy of the map and the size of the storm, Albani said.

--Primary reporting by Abdul Latheef, OPIS. Contributions by Kevin Adler, Net-Zero Business Daily.


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