University of Cambridge: Cambridge-built carbon credit marketplace will support reforestation

The Cambridge Centre for Carbon Credits (4C) – based in the Department of Computer Science and Technology, and the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute – has two primary goals: to support students and researchers in the relevant areas of computer science, environmental science, and economics; and to create a decentralised marketplace where purchasers of carbon credits can confidently and directly fund trusted nature-based projects.

The Centre will build its decentralised marketplace on the energy-efficient Tezos blockchain because it operates sustainably and allows third parties to verify all transactions, in line with the Centre’s vision to support a sustainable future through technology. The goal of the marketplace is to exponentially increase the number of real nature-based conservation and restoration projects by channelling funding towards them via market-based instruments.

Nature-based solutions, particularly forests, have a vital role to play in mitigating the worst effects of climate change. Pressure is mounting from governments and the public to rapidly roll out a global programme of well-executed nature-based solutions (NbS) to sequester several gigatons of carbon each year and protect biodiversity. However, current NbS projects are hampered by chronic underfunding.

“Current accreditation systems that measure and report the value of carbon and related benefits like biodiversity conservation and poverty reduction rendered by NbS are costly, slow and inaccurate,” said Centre Director Dr Anil Madhavapeddy. “These systems have undermined trust in NbS carbon credits. What is needed is a decentralised marketplace where purchasers of carbon credits can confidently and directly fund trusted nature-based projects. And that’s the gap the Centre is aiming to fill.”

The Centre will support 12 PhD students and postdoctoral fellows, and investment to prototype a scalable, trusted NbS marketplace. Researchers funded from the Centre will come from the Departments of Computer Science and Technology, Zoology, and Plant Sciences, as well as from the Centre for Doctoral Training in Artificial Intelligence for the study of Environment Risk.

Professor David Coomes, Director of the University of Cambridge Conservation Research Institute, said: “Conservation strategies are increasingly broadening to include large datasets, remote sensing technologies and computational approaches. The Centre for Carbon Credits is a ground-breaking initiative that will bring together computer scientists and conservation scientists in a new way.”

Andrew Balmford, Professor of Zoology, said: “The recent announcement at COP26 of the new commitment to halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030 demonstrates the crucial role forests play in carbon capture and the health of our planet. The new Centre has a significant role to play in supporting crucial research to develop new, trusted mechanisms to support reforestation projects.”

Speaking on the collaborative nature of the Centre, Professor Ann Copestake, Head of the Department of Computer Science and Technology, said: “In the last few years, we’ve been expanding our emphasis on the use of computer science techniques and technologies to help address the climate emergency and the crisis in biodiversity. We are delighted to be bringing our research strengths together with the expertise in environmental science across the University of Cambridge. We hope the work resulting from this interdisciplinary collaboration will lay the foundation for tangible solutions to some of the environmental challenges facing the world.”

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