Sarah Federman, PhD

Director of Landscape Decarbonization

In December 2021 Boulder County experienced one of the most destructive wildfires in state history. Over the course of two days, the Marshall Fire destroyed over 1,000 residential and commercial buildings, forced major highways to close, damaged public drinking water systems, and halted or slowed much of the Boulder County economy.

The fire and its aftermath are a reminder that, while the causes of climate change are global, the burden of managing and planning for climate-related events is left to states, counties, and cities. In response, Boulder County’s Office of Sustainability, Climate Action & Resilience (OSCAR) is working to mitigate the impacts of climate change on local communities, ecosystems, and economies on multiple fronts. Understanding that reducing emissions is only part of the solution, they are taking action by incorporating carbon removal projects that prioritize innovation and resilience into their local sustainability plans, and they’re encouraging other local governments to do the same.

In a joint report with Carbon Direct and the 4 Corners Carbon Coalition, Boulder County has published Best Practices Playbook for Local Carbon Removal and Resilience Projects (Best Practices playbook). The playbook offers other local leaders a four-part framework for selecting and implementing high-quality carbon removal projects that take into account community resources, local needs, and effective carbon removal.

Download the Best Practices Playbook >

Why high-quality carbon removal belongs in local sustainability plans

For most organizations, public and private, investing in carbon removal means buying carbon credits to fund removal projects somewhere across the country, continent, or globe. Boulder County is proving why regional governments can take a different approach by investing in carbon removal projects that take place in their own community.

By adopting a local approach to carbon removal, Boulder County is able to leverage unique regional resources and target local needs by selecting carbon projects that have priority co-benefits such as wildfire resilience or job creation in addition to carbon removal. For Boulder County, selecting local projects that remove carbon through landscape management aids drought and fire resilience, increases agricultural productivity, fosters local innovation, and provides local job opportunities, among other benefits.

Meeting community needs with carbon removal

Carbon removal projects may leverage a variety of solutions—nature-based, engineered, or hybrid—offering government leaders a diverse list of scientifically valid carbon removal options with a wide range of added community and ecosystem benefits. For example, some projects support local economies through education and job creation, and others may improve ecosystem or urban resilience to climate change by reducing fire risk and bolstering local agricultural systems.

Land and soil health was top-of-mind for Boulder County, which boasts both diverse topography and 25,000 acres of county-owned agricultural land. Before project selection, Boulder County worked with the local stakeholders to understand their unique resources and needs in order to prioritize projects that offer solutions that address community issues.

With leaders in Boulder County setting an example, the Best Practices playbook offers guidance to help other local decision-makers and sustainability practitioners adopt carbon dioxide removal policy and support community members looking to drive the creation of local carbon removal programs. From there, the framework can serve as a tool for designing and tracking projects to ensure both climate and community objectives are met throughout the process.

The role of technical partners for place-based carbon removal

A firm grounding in scientific theory and best practices is a must for local carbon removal projects and programs. Ensuring that funding goes to support projects that are technically rigorous reduces reputational risks and facilitates actual climate impact. While the role of determining value to the community lies with local leadership, implementing successful carbon removal projects demands technical expertise that many government organizations don’t have on staff.

Boulder County consulted subject matter experts at Carbon Direct to evaluate projects based on scientific merit and to identify the necessary metrics, monitoring, and reporting standards to help track and verify project outcomes. The Best Practices playbook recommends that other organizations follow their example by consulting experts through an advisory firm, an academic institution, or a science-based nonprofit to help reduce risk and improve project performance.

Putting best practices in action

With recent IPCC reports showing why carbon dioxide removal is necessary to meet global emissions targets, more action is needed by public and private sector organizations, including governments at every level. To help local leaders take effective action, the Best Practices playbook offers a four-part framework to help local leaders engage with the community and implement innovative solutions to climate change, and a companion report, Carbon Removal Strategies for Local Communities, Communities, and Economies makes a case for both the necessity and benefits of local carbon removal.

While each municipality across the United States is unique, with diverse landscapes, economies, and populations, the breadth of carbon removal options available means that opportunities for local innovation in the form of high-quality carbon removal projects are universal.