McGill-AMARIE Carbon Offsetting Project
Through a unique partnership, McGill is supporting the creation of a fair-trade carbon offset mechanism with Indigenous communities in eastern Panama, establishing tree plantations. It is a joint initiative between the University, the Asociacion de Mujeres Artesanas de Ipetí Emberá (AMARIE), and the traditional authorities of Congreso General Emberá de Alto Bayano.
Through this project, McGill University seeks to take accountability for its institutional flying emissions by contributing to its own dedicated research-driven offsetting project, thus contributing to its long-term target of carbon neutrality by 2040.
By sequestering carbon, the project will help reduce McGill's institutional carbon footprint while strengthening its environmental and social sciences research, and providing benefits to collaborating local communities.
The project is lead by the McGill Office of Sustainability and AMARIE in collaboration with Dr. Catherine Potvin, professor in the Department of Biology and Canada Research Chair in Climate Change Mitigation and Tropical Forests, who will oversee the project through her Panama Field Study semester (PFSS). PFSS students will gain hands on experience by monitoring progress during their studies.
McGill community members wishing to compensate for the greenhouse gases emitted as a result of their travels will have the ability to voluntarily buy into the program, in addition to the funding committed by the University. These contributions will go to purchasing seedlings and providing the finances needed to maintain the reforested area over the long-term.
A Governance Committee, composed of individuals representing each organization involved in the partnership, will ensure a fair-trade price is maintained, that local communities are consulted, and that the project respects all agreed-upon principles.
Frequently Asked Questions
The project has initially been set up for three years (2020-2022) with local tree maintenance commitments lasting 25 years. During that 3-year period, McGill has committed to provide funds towards the provision of a fixed minimum volume of offsets. Beyond 2022, project parties could renew the original Agreement up until 2045, as per McGill’s offset needs and strategy.
Carbon offsets are reductions in greenhouse gas emissions that are achieved as part of carbon offset projects, typically developed beyond the offsetting institutions’ physical boundaries by third parties. Offsets are generated and sold through the voluntary market, and fall outside any regulatory requirement. Carbon offsets are outputs of projects which have been set up with clear boundaries, project documentation, a verification plan and various criteria, such as additionality, in mind. Investing in offset projects is a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions outside of ones’ immediate emission reduction efforts, in a way that often times leads to many collateral benefits (co-benefits) associated with offset project communities.
Carbon credits refer to instruments typically linked to regulated markets such as cap-and-trade, whereby countries or companies have allowance of credits that can be used toward their cap. These can be sold, held, or traded to other entities who may be producing emissions above their given limits. Credits represent reductions in metric tonnes of CO2e achieved from activities within the company.
Both offsets and credits have the same reduction in CO2e and benefits to the planet in terms of climate impact.
As part of the project agreement, various levels of verification are planned to ensure the project integrity. Local project coordinators for instance are tasked in Year 1 (2020) to verify measurements of sampled trees and check carbon accumulation calculation for each plot following regular visits to reforestation sites. Research students also participate in monitoring activities and ensuring that project participants’ involvement is given due care to ensure compliance with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous Peoples through a Free, Prior and Informed Consent (FPIC) process. A representative of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) also brings additional scientific perspectives on local carbon modalities. Finally, further opportunities to have part of the project verified as a whole by third parties are under investigation.
Beyond the University’s financial contribution, members of the McGill community who travel by air on behalf of McGill University will be invited to contribute to the Project over and above the University’s financial contribution. This will be enabled through a McGill-hosted web-based payment platform to collect funds to further enhance the project. Suggested contributions will be aligned with voluntary carbon market-based offsets prices, with offsetting activities relatable on a metric tonne of CO2e basis.
In addition, in order to reduce emissions caused by flying in the first place, members of the McGill community contributing to this offsetting project will be invited to sign a Sustainable Traveler’s Pledge. This Pledge is aimed to increase members’ accountability in their institutional carbon footprint share and ultimately help to reduce flying-related emissions and the related need to offset them.
About Asociacion de Mujeres Artesanas de Ipetí Emberá (AMARIE)
The AMARIE association is an organization founded by the women of the indigenous Ipeti Embera community, residing in Eastern Panama. The organization produces and sells unique, handmade handicrafts that are the result of months of intensive labor.
It all starts in Atto Bayano where the Emberá women walk for hours to the most remote parts of the Panamanian jungle where the women collect the plants that give natural color and life to this art. This tradition of making crafts that symbolize and preserve the essence of the Emberá culture has been passed down through generations of daughters, mothers, and grandmothers.
About the Panama Field Study Semester (PFSS)
The PFSS attempts to achieve a specific educational goal. We, as North American citizens, view the environmental "problems" of the world through our western eyes. People from other countries will have a very different assessment of important environmental issues.
By bringing our students in contact with another reality, we will help them build a new, more pluralist vision of the world's environment. We will thus help prepare them to play a positive role in tomorrow's society.
About the Governance Committee
The project will be overseen by a Governance Committee, composed of members from all project partners. They include:
- Three individuals from McGill University;
- Three individuals representing the communities: the Noko (local chief) from both Ipeti and Piriati, and the Cacique general (Chief);
- One individual representing AMARIE; and
- One individual representing the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.
The Governance Committee will meet three times per year to review, among other subjects:
- The price of a tonne of carbon dioxide equivalent to ensure a fair-trade price is maintained;
- Previous year's plantations;
- Community participation and feedback; and
- Updated scientific research relevant to the project.