Building a global carbon market

Steve Hinton
3 min readDec 31, 2020


One community at a time

Photo by Juanita Swart on Unsplash

In a world where climate change looms like Damocles sword over the head of future generations we, now more than ever, need to consider ways to turn the tide and start accounting for the true costs imbedded in our daily economic decisions. One salient way to accomplish this is by accounting for carbon and treating it like a currency in ALL our daily transactions.

Consider this framework

A reasonable approach to addressing this problem is to adopt policy frameworks establishing annual carbon budgets creating targets for balancing. The Paris climate accord works toward this very goal.

Having a global budget for targeting has rightfully been the first order of business. Now comes the hard part- implementation.

If we can accept that the annual global budget is roughly 40 gigatons, and that ecological processes play a significant role in removing carbon emissions, then we can rather easily set targets for all nations with some focused funding and some agreed upon principles for accounting. Can we agree on rules in time to make a difference? We believe this goal is possible if we focus on basic building blocks first and steer away from trying to hard definitions that lack local sensibilities.

To illustrate: In general terms the total annual global output of carbon into the atmosphere is roughly 40 gigatons. Ecological systems are capable or roughly removing ½ of those emissions (~20 gigatons) through natural processes. Leaving us with an annual carbon surplus of 20 gigatons. This annual surplus continues to compound an existing surplus of over 400 gigatons already in the atmosphere (Lindsey, R. 2019) .

We believe there are three practical elements to handle the accounting. First there is the problem of breaking the global budget down to the local level. This challenge can be solved by creating local carbon budgets. Because carbon plays such intricate role in our natural world, we need to execute this budgeting element at a scale that makes ecological sense. Therefore, we would first propose linking our local carbon tracking on a watershed basis worldwide.

Second, we need to agree upon a common vernacular for the accounting. This could be the most difficult step. However, a great deal has been accomplished to date, therefore we believe this objective is within reach. How we assess each watershed for its contributions for or against the global budget needs to be evaluated in a common currency. On the ecological side of the ledger this accounting would likely involve such metrics as; square meters of wetlands, natural areas, and standing timber for example. On the emissions side of the ledger we might expect such things as metrics for the number of vehicles registered within the watershed, industrial emissions, and specific types of land use as surrogate sources for emissions. For purpose of our illustration here we need to only make one distinction regarding each watershed; is this watershed a carbon “sink” or a “source” watershed?

Third, we would propose to start by linking the local carbon budget to local taxation systems. These taxation mechanisms already exist in many different forms such as property taxes, sales taxes, use taxes, etc. All depending on the local jurisdiction, culture, and tradition of taxation in that locale. The key here would be how to accomplish this shift in assigning valuation without diminishing the goods and services being performed by local governments? The pathway we have in mind is to reward those watersheds that provide opportunities as carbon “sinks” with taxation revenues from those activities and watershed that prove to be carbon “sources”.

We believe incentivizing and rewarding actions that create “sinks” as opposed to “sources” will have an additive economic benefit shifting us away from the socio-economic influences that favor “source” activity.

This pathway deserves consideration.



Steve Hinton

Advocate for the environment and sustainability. Pacific Northwest prodigy seeking strength in diversity and local community.