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Climate Adaptation and Resilience: A forest carbon offset bonus

Published: December 21, 2020 by Editorial Team

Forest carbon offsets offer much more than GHG mitigation.

As 2020 draws to a close, the United Nations projects our present greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will result in a 3 to 5-degree Celsius increase in global temperatures. Even with the most aggressive possible course of action, we can only limit this change to an aspirational 1.5 degrees; we are locked into climate change having significant adverse impacts on the planet and its ecosystems. Incentivizing climate adaptation and resilience will help prepare for these inevitable impacts. We’ve got a head start with the forest carbon offset market, which – along with its obvious GHG mitigation benefits – already incentivizes adaptation and resilience.

Consider the fact that the “menu” of climate adaption strategies developed by the USFS’s 2016 Forest Adaptation Resources publication includes many practices that also store and sequester carbon. These practices are frequent features of forest carbon offset projects but are often generalized as “co-benefits” and not recognized for the critical climate adaption actions that they are. In particular, many of the approaches listed below simultaneously create climate mitigation and climate adaptation benefits:

  1. Sustain fundamental ecological functions by maintaining or restoring riparian areas through the establishment of forest riparian buffers,
  2. Reduce the impact of biological stressors by improving the ability of forests to resist pests and pathogens through the creation of a diverse mix of age classes and stand structures,
  3. Reduce the risk of long-term impacts of severe disturbances by promptly revegetating sites after disturbance,
  4. Maintain or create refugia by prioritizing and maintaining unique sites and sensitive or at-risk species communities, and through the retention of networks of group and individual tree reserves, protecting old-growth, and minimizing harvest in key areas,
  5. Maintain and enhance species and structural diversity by retaining biological legacies and establishing reserves to maintain ecosystem diversity,
  6. Increasing ecosystem redundancy across the landscape by expanding the boundaries of reserves to increase diversity and,
  7. Promoting landscape connectivity by reducing landscape fragmentation, and maintaining and creating habitat corridors through reforestation or restoration.

Many forest carbon offset projects are already implementing these climate adaptation practices as part of their climate mitigation efforts. Yet, the market only quantifies mitigation. It’s time to formally recognize the role forest carbon offsets play in climate adaptation and begin providing more direct incentives.

This will be our last scorcher of 2020. We wish all of our readers happy and safe holidays. You can look for our next installment in mid-January.

News + Resources

Swanston, Christopher, et al. (2016) Forest Adapation Resources: Climate Change Tools and Approaches for Land Managers, 2nd ed. USFS Northern Research Station.

United Nations Climate Change Key Findings