Sean Penrith, The Climate Trust
Weekly Policy and Finance Update – October 16, 2017
|Bottom line | Forest carbon capture should not be regarded as an “offset,” but rather as “natural scrubber technology.”|
Best Available Science. I recently read through the stakeholder comments submitted in response to questions posed to the work groups that have been formed ahead of the introduction of SB1070, the cap-and-invest bill slated for the 2018 legislative session in Oregon. There seems to be general agreement that we should call on the best available science to deliver real reductions.
The role of forests has featured prominently across the globe. Article 5 of the Paris Agreement encourages Parties to support results-based payment systems to incentivize using forests in the fight against climate change. The USDA acknowledges that the ability for U.S. forests to serve as a carbon sink equivalent to 10-20% of annual emissions may be compromised by climate change.
It’s ironic to see the opposition argument against incentivizing forest carbon offsets in the proposed cap and trade mechanism. Opponents argue that measuring carbon is an inexact science. In fact, forest carbon projects require a detailed forest carbon inventory that is updated at least every 12 years for 100 years after the last credit is issued. The inventory methodology is rigorous and respected, it is field-tested and recreated by an accredited third-party verifier, and then reviewed by a registry and the regulator at least every six years.
The well-worn point is also made that given fire and disease, one cannot guarantee forests will be around for 100 years. The forestry protocols are very cognizant of this truth. Any loss of sequestration from fire or disease is accounted for and paid for out of the forest project buffer pool. Permanence is therefore guaranteed for at least 100 years. On the issue of potential leakage, the protocol conservatively discounts emission reduction credits to account for the potential for leakage.
Another argument often trotted out is the one around additionality. Here, the point is made that forests participating in a carbon incentive program would have been conserved absent a carbon pricing mechanism. The additionality of the existing protocols in California was challenged in 2012. In January 2013, the San Francisco Superior Court ruled that the Air Resources Board (ARB) had “used its experience, expertise, and judgment in arriving at the appropriate methodology to determine additionality… based on extensive research, stakeholder input, public input and fact-based analysis.” This decision was subsequently upheld by the Court of Appeal, which the California Supreme Court let stand. In short, while these issues are nuanced and complex, they have been considered and thoroughly tested. There is no compelling case that the legislature, ARB, and the courts all got it wrong before.
A recent research report by Stanford reinforced the credible and positive impacts of forest carbon concluding, “California’s forest offsets – by design – account for a small percentage of emissions reductions but simultaneously provide an important opportunity to supply meaningful carbon sequestration and multiple co-benefits.”
Implementing a cap and trade system gives Oregon the opportunity to draft an appropriate forest protocol that defines sustainable forest management in a way that considers current Oregon forest practice rules. While this does not guarantee Oregon participation and the associated jobs and rural community benefit, it opens the Western Climate Initiative market to Oregon forests, which hold significant potential. According to Greg Latta at the University of Idaho (Forest Economics) over the first ten years of a cap and trade program, forest carbon projects in the Western Cascades would generate between $667 million and $1.93 billion of offset credits.
The national Forest Carbon Working Group frames up the appropriate perspective of forest carbon. They posit that forest carbon capture should not be regarded as an “offset,” but rather as “natural scrubber technology that directly captures carbon dioxide emitted from power plant smokestacks, in the same way that sulfur or ash emissions are captured by scrubbers located at the power plant.” Forests are an integral part of our natural air quality system. Science backs that.
Forest Offsets Partner Climate Change Mitigation with Conservation
Stanford Woods, August 14, 2017
Forest Carbon Solutions for Mitigating Climate Change
Forest Climate Working Group, December 2015
Why Forests Matter in Oregon’s Cap-and-Trade Study
Pacific Forest Trust, December 16, 2016
How do Trees and Forests Relate to Climate Change?
The Guardian, February 11, 2011
A Missed Opportunity in California’s Climate ‘Victory’
Mik McKee, July 31, 2017
A Carbon Copy of California’s Cap and Trade for Oregon?
Sheldon Zakreski, May 31, 2017
An Increased Commitment to Green Causes Since Trump? Sheldon Zakreski, October 9, 2017
Oregon Should Create its Own Rules Peter Weisberg, October 2, 2017
The Dwindling Hourglass for Oregon Climate Policy Sean Penrith, September 25, 2017
Image credit: Flickr/Bemep