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2 groups plan to focus on carbon credits from urban forests

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

We know trees can help with climate change. That's because a forest sucks carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. And that can be sold as a carbon credit to companies looking to offset their environmental impact. But the way those credits are calculated has long been scrutinized. And two groups want to put focus on urban forests. Bellamy Pailthorp of member station KNKX explains.

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BELLAMY PAILTHORP, BYLINE: This is the sound of carbon credits being made at an urban forest north of Seattle.

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PAILTHORP: The Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust recently cleared out 2 1/2 acres of invasive weeds here and planted nearly 2,000 trees. Restoration projects manager Dan Hintz is grinning ear to ear as he looks up at a fast-growing black cottonwood, admiring how it soaks up carbon pollution.

DAN HINTZ: You can kind of see some of those really, really big leaves at the top of the tree there that are just soaking up sunlight, you know, going through the photosynthesis process and, through that, taking a lot of carbon dioxide out of the air.

PAILTHORP: The project is similar to many the group has done over the years, but this one is certified by a carbon registry for the service the new trees are providing, removing carbon from the atmosphere over the next 25 years.

HINTZ: A lot of the project funding you get for sites like this, you know, is maybe only for three or four years. But to have these credits coming in over a handful of years throughout that 25-year process will generate revenue for us to continue to maintain and take care of the site.

PAILTHORP: He has to monitor it and provide data to earn those credits over the life of the contract. A certain number of trees is expected to die. If the rest grow well, the value of the credits goes up, and their sales fund the conservation work. A Seattle-based nonprofit called City Forest Credits is the registry that calculated how much carbon is absorbed here. While the bigger registries tend to capitalize on large rural projects, City Forest Credits focuses exclusively on smaller urban forestry projects. Mark McPherson is the founder and executive director.

MARK MCPHERSON: Unlike almost every other kind of carbon credit, these are credits that have a community impact. I mean, these are right where people live and breathe, recreate, work. And there's a place for a smaller volume, really valuable and hopefully higher-priced credit.

PAILTHORP: That vision was realized in June, when the credits for this growing forest and 12 other projects fetched some of the highest prices ever for carbon capture. A company called Regen Network Development paid more than a million dollars to buy up all of the City Forest Credits available. That was nearly double the going rate for rural forest carbon credits.

Regen is a blockchain company. It uses decentralized computer networks to provide permanent records that can't be altered. Carbon markets have been rife with questions about accountability. Regen's founders think blockchain technology can create more trust. They're building a new marketplace focused on smaller projects like urban forests. Anyone with questions about the credits can find the answers, says the company's Sarah Baxendell.

SARAH BAXENDELL: All of the credit information, the science methodology information, is both transparent and publicly available because all blockchain information is a permanent public record of anything that is added on to a blockchain.

PAILTHORP: How much value they've added will become clear once the new Regen Marketplace launches around October 10.

For NPR News, I'm Bellamy Pailthorp in Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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