Forests, grasslands, and other terrestrial ecosystems release into the atmosphere and sequester in their soils and biomass considerable amounts of carbon. The quantity of carbon sequestered, i.e., carbon stocks, depends on the natural carbon cycle and on the impacts of human activities that may disturb soils and vegetation and cause carbon to be released back into the atmosphere. Both protecting and expanding the world’s terrestrial carbon stocks in agricultural areas are thus critical components of global climate change mitigation and biodiversity conservation efforts.

Principle 2 provides guidance for livestock investment to contribute to the enhancement of carbon stocks in and around the proposed project area. This principle is relevant for all livestock species and production systems, and is applicable to project site selection and project design.

Enhancing carbon stocks through livestock investment is critical to sustainable development. Livestock production historically has been associated with the conversion of forests, natural grasslands, and other natural habitats to pasture and feed production. However, an increasing awareness of climate change and the importance of biodiversity has, in many regions, built support for livestock production practices that avoid land conversion.

Research suggests that halving global livestock-driven land use change rates over the next two decades could avoid an estimated 0.4 gigatons of equivalent carbon dioxide emissions each year. In addition, a growing body of literature has demonstrated the potential for improved grazing management practices to sequester carbon and conserve biodiversity on both natural grasslands and managed pastures. Studies estimate that, through improved management practices, varying amounts of additional carbon can be sequestered on about 28% of the world’s existing grasslands. In addition, increasing carbon stocks through vegetative buffers, especially near waterways, can help mitigate nutrient pollution from manure or fertilizer. Biodiversity conservation is also an important contributor to agricultural resilience to climate change.

Points of Consideration:

Are there forests, natural grasslands, and other natural areas in and around the project site? If so, in project design, incorporate incentives to enhance carbon stocks:

Incorporate incentives to conserve and restore natural areas into the project design, for instance, through:

     - Payment for environmental service programs (PES).

     - Carbon offset programs.

     - Conservation certification programs.

In grazing areas, increase the amount of biomass per unit of grassland and pasture area, for example, through:

     - Adjusting the grazing intensity and timing to maximize grass productivity.

     - Oversowing pasture with nitrogenfixing legumes or improved grass

     - Adopting silvopastoral systems.

Include a baseline and indicators in project M&E to track and capture the benefits.


Approaches and Tools:

To preserve carbon stocks in forests and other natural areas, incentivize natural habitat conservation and restoration. Project sites that include or lie in proximity to forests, natural grasslands, and other natural habitats can include incentives and regulations for conserving and restoring them. These may include support for livestock production systems that can thrive on existing pasture and cropland, as opposed to land converted from natural areas. Further incentives may include PES, forest carbon offset programs, and the promotion of certification programs for higher-value, zero-deforestation products. For an effective reduction of land conversion rates, such incentive programs should be combined with policies that control land use change (ref to Brazil programs).

To enhance grassland carbon stocks, increase biomass per unit of grassland area. Adoption of specific management practices will depend on the context of each project location. A key practice from the literature includes optimizing grazing pressure and timing to maximize grass productivity. Both increasing and decreasing grazing intensity can achieve this goal. Sowing nitrogen-fixing legumes over a portion of pastureland has also shown to increase sequestration while providing nutrient-rich legumes to grazers. Silvopastoral systems, in which trees and fodder shrubs are cultivated on managed pastures, can significantly increase biomass while generating the co-benefits of supplemental forage sources, shade, fencing (in the case of live tree fences), and habitat creation.

Carbon sequestration has important limits to consider. While carbon sequestration is an effective mitigation strategy, it also faces certain limits: saturation and reversibility. Over time, rates of carbon sequestration decrease as soils approach the point of saturation. In addition, it is possible that current, improved practices that enhance carbons stocks will at a future point be reversed. In the project design phase, teams may consider the current estimated rate of sequestration and the potential for improved practices under the project to be adopted and supported past the project lifetime. Nonetheless, even limited amounts of carbon sequestration contribute significantly to long-term climate change mitigation due to the long life span and thus persistent warming effect of carbon dioxide relative to the other greenhouse gases that livestock production emits.

Variables to Consider:

Hectares (ha) of forest, natural grassland, and other natural area that remain protected.

Ha of forest, natural grassland, and other natural area restored.

Estimated annual rate of carbon sequestered during the project, including project capitalization.

Number of improved production practices integrated into long-term environmental governance.


Potential remote environmental impacts. Global trade enables livestock producers to import feed grown across the world. Production systems that import feed to avoid land conversion locally may thus contribute to biodiversity and habitat loss in other countries. In such cases, projects may consider incentives to source feed sustainably (Principle 4).

Limited suitability for livestock production. In some regions, the prevalence of natural areas and lack of an existing feed base may render the initial project site unsuitable for livestock production. In such cases, teams may seek alternative locations for the project or alternative food sources for investment.