Improved Management Activities in Blue Carbon Projects 


Improved management activities aim to change how a site is used over time to reduce carbon emissions and increase carbon removals. There are two key types of improved management activities relevant to blue carbon ecosystems: Improved Forest Management and Agricultural Land Management. Where applicable, both can be combined with mangrove restoration and conservation activities. 


Improved Forest Management (IFM) 

Improved Forest Management (IFM) projects avoid future emissions by preventing degradation in forests used for commercial timber production. A timber plantation is an area where trees are grown specifically to be cut down to produce timber. When the trees reach a certain size or maturity, plantation managers cut them. The period from tree planting to the tree being cut is called the cutting cycle.


Conventional logging generates emissions through fossil fuel-powered machinery, construction of logging infrastructure such as access roads, decomposition of leftover woodchips and branches, and soil disturbance. In addition, the trees in a timber plantation do not grow to maturity as they would naturally because they are cut before they reach the end of their life cycle. In this way, harvesting trees for timber reduces the amount of carbon that the trees would normally sequester were they left to grow over time. 


The forestry industry provides crucial building materials and wood products, which may be less carbon-intensive than their concrete or plastic-based counterparts. The forestry sector also supports millions of jobs globally, which may benefit from IFM. IFM practices improve job safety by carefully planning tree cutting and making it safer as the forest vegetation is well-managed. IFM projects can also lead to increased pay and job creation, as IFM requires more technical training (i.e., spatial analysts and planners, specialised foresters) and potentially more staff to execute. 


There are, however, legitimate concerns that IFM allows the conventional logging industry to green-wash  

The forestry industry is currently a substantial source of greenhouse gas emissions. Over half of forest degradation emissions come from timber harvesting in developing countries. Consequently, IFM has the potential to contribute significantly to climate mitigation. 


How IFM Reduces Emissions 

Forests sequester carbon through photosynthesis and store carbon in soils and their biomass. This storage potential often makes forests—including timber plantations—carbon sinks. However, timber plantations do not sequester as much carbon as non-commercial forests, and occasionally plantations can even become carbon sources. Non-commercial forests have a greater diversity of tree and other plant species, which leads to better soil health and carbon storage. Plantations (which are often a monoculture or a single species of tree) can have unhealthy soils, which release more carbon into the atmosphere. 


IFM carbon credit sales ensure that forest managers produce timber sustainably while improving the health of their forests and reducing emissions from their operations over time. IFM projects utilise one or more of the following intervention types: Reduced Impact Logging, Low to High Productive Forestry, and Extended Rotation Age 


Reduced Impact Logging (RIL) encompasses many practices that reduce emissions created during timber harvesting. Some RIL practices improve forest health by removing fire fuels, using lower-impact logging equipment, and mitigating impacts from logging infrastructure such as roads. RIL projects may also improve the rate at which trees grow by watering trees or removing vegetation that grows too thick.

Figure 1: Before and After Reduced Impact Logging


Low to High Productive (LtHP) forestry projects are essentially afforestation projects, planting additional trees within a plantation to increase the carbon the forest captures and stores. 

Figure 2: Before and After a Low to High Productive Project


Extended Rotation Age (ERA), also called Cutting Cycle, projects to increase the time between tree cutting. Forest managers wait to harvest trees to allow them to grow larger before removing them, thus allowing trees to sequester and store carbon for longer.

Figure 3: Extended Rotation Age Projects


Forest Conservation vs. Improved Forestry Management

Some commercial logging forests may opt to cease timber harvesting in a specific site, converting the plantation to a protected forest—called Logging to Protected Forest (LtPF). Similarly, some non-commercial forests may also be eligible for protection from degradation or harvest and qualify as a Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD+) project.

LtPF is a conservation activity that exclusively applies to commercially managed forests but is distinct from REDD+ projects and uses a separate methodology. For more information, see our article on Conservation vs Restoration. Both LtPF and REDD projects prevent future emissions by protecting the forest, which can be cost-effective since it may require less active management than other IFM projects.

Forest conservation, however, is not always preferable to IFM. Increasing timber harvest can create a risk of leakage, where the timber harvesting moves outside the project area. Non-permanence may also become an issue for forest conservation if the forest does not remain protected after the project ends.

Agricultural Land Management (ALM)

Agriculture accounts for 15-20% of global greenhouse gas emissions, projected to grow as demand for agricultural land increases. More than half of all agricultural emissions originate in livestock management, with the remainder due to the conversion of ecosystems to agricultural use. The two main categories of agricultural lands are croplands, where plants are grown for food, and rangeland, where livestock are raised for food or animal products.

Sustainable agricultural practices reduced the climate impacts of agriculture while improving ecosystem services provided by cropland and rangeland. Agricultural Land Management (ALM) carbon projects make changing to sustainable practices easier for farmers by providing financial support to overcome technical and other barriers.

Conventional agriculture often requires heavy machinery, soil disturbance through tilling, field flooding, and crop mono-cultures, which cause emissions and degrade soil health. Cropland ALM projects may adopt practices such as:

  • Reducing fertilizer use, which reduces soil carbon emissions
  • Reducing cropland tillage (or soil digging to plant seeds), which increases soil health and storage of soil carbon)
  • Planting cover crops or "inter-cropping", which can increase soil health, biodiversity, and carbon storage
  • Crop rotation, which increases soil health and carbon storage
  • Composting, which reduces emissions from plant decay

Figure 4: Picture of Intercropping in Practice

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Intercropping is one type of ALM activity where multiple crop types are grown together. This practice increases soil health and the amount of carbon soil can store over time.

Conventional livestock management emits carbon through methane released by livestock, manure, and degrades the soil through overgrazing or poor grazing practices. Rangeland ALM projects may utilise the following improved practices:

  • rotational grazing, or changing the frequency that livestock graze in an area, which can improve soil
  • changing livestock feed or supplements, such as switching to a feed that reduces livestock methane emissions
  • sustainable manure management, such as composting manure or capturing methane produced by manure
  • improved bedding material, such as switching to a less emissions-intensive livestock bedding

Figure 5: Picture of Methane Digesters

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Methane digesters capture methane produced by livestock manure, preventing carbon emissions.


ALM Practices are Challenging to Implement

ALM practices can come with significant trade-offs for farmers and livestock producers. Many sustainable practices are technically challenging, time-consuming, and labour-intensive compared to conventional approaches. For example, inter-cropping or cover cropping make harvest and irrigation more complex. Similarly, many improved grazing practices require moving livestock more frequently or splitting livestock herds into smaller groups. ALM practices may lead to a decline in agricultural productivity. For example, reducing the amount of fertilizer input may lead to a short-term reduction in crop productivity, but yields generally recover in the long run.

ALM projects must consider whether these challenges outweigh the additional income from carbon credits and the long-term benefits to soil health and biodiversity. ALM practices build healthy, carbon-rich soils, which retain more moisture and have better soil structure. Healthy soils are less likely to erode and are more fertile and nutrient-dense, making cropland and rangeland more productive and resilient to stresses in the long-term, including those from climate change.

For project developers, the challenge of ALM activities lies in managing soil carbon. One of the significant carbon pools (places where carbon is stored) for ALM projects is within the soil in the form of trapped organic matter and soil microbes, called soil organic carbon (SOC). SOC stocks increase slowly and are prone to re-releasing into the atmosphere in response to minor changes, such as vegetation or precipitation changes.

If ALM practices are not maintained after the project is completed, any SOC gains may be lost, making non-permanence a challenge. In addition, ALM projects must account for more than carbon dioxide emissions in the project area: the presence of fertilisers, livestock and/or manure means that methane and nitrous oxide must be accounted for in carbon inventories and monitoring, adding complexity to project management and design.

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Suggested Citation: Francis, E., Wilkman, A. "Improved Management Activities in Blue Carbon Projects." Geneva, Switzerland: Fair Carbon, 2023.