Soil Carbon Protocols

This page is focused on the development of a protocol for activities that increase or avoid the loss of organic carbon in non-forest soils.

Over the past several years, the Reserve has been evaluating opportunities to develop carbon offset protocols for activities that increase or avoid the loss of organic carbon stored in soils:

  • In 2010, the Reserve commissioned an issue paper evaluating a possible protocol for crediting soil carbon sequestration associated with the application of biochar. Based on the findings of the issue paper, however, we elected not to pursue protocol development.
  • In early 2011, the Reserve convened a workgroup to explore development of a Cropland Management Project Protocol for quantifying soil carbon enhancements due to changes in tillage practices. This effort was suspended after further analysis and consultation with stakeholders.
  • In November 2012, the Reserve adopted the Forest Project Protocol Version 3.3, which includes a methodology to account for net soil carbon emissions and sequestration in forests. This work may help to inform future development of soil carbon protocols for non-forest projects.

Continuing with these investigations, in early 2012 the Reserve commissioned an issue paper related to two types of land-use change activities: avoided conversion of grasslands and conversion of croplands to grasslands. Based on the completed issue paper, the Reserve has decided to move forward with the scoping process for a protocol to cover these activities in the United States. In addition, Reserve staff has been conducting research on the possibility of developing a peatlands protocol, which would provide credits for increased soil organic carbon storage achieved through the restoration or avoided conversion of peat soils.

The background research papers for soil carbon storage in grasslands and peatlands are available below for public review.

Public Scoping Meetings

The Reserve hosted two public meetings in Minneapolis, MN on February 26, 2013 and Sacramento, CA on March 6, 2013. The same content was presented at both meetings and the presentations are available below.

February 26
9:00 AM – 1:00 PM (CST)

The Nature Conservancy
1101 West River Parkway, Suite 200
Minneapolis, MN
Reserve Scoping Meeting Presentation
Meeting Video

March 6
12:30 PM – 4:30 PM (PST)

University of California (UC) Center Sacramento
1130 K Street, Lower Level Conference Room B
Sacramento, CA
Reserve Scoping Meeting Presentation
This meeting was not recorded as a webinar; please see the Minneapolis meeting video.


The request for proposals for the grasslands issue paper is available below, as well as general agriculture protocol development background papers, which may be applicable to grassland or peatland protocols.

If you have questions about the Soil Carbon Protocol, please contact Max DuBuisson at or the Policy Team at 213-891-1444 x.3 or