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Forecasted offset crediting for reforestation projects promises to incentivize tree planting and assuage wood supply fears.

Published: January 22, 2020 by Editorial Team

Climate Forward’s Reforestation Project Forecast Methodology is currently in review after receiving public comments in 2019.  The methodology will award Forecasted Mitigation Units (FMUs) to reforestation projects after planting rather than after tree growth has occurred. This new methodology promises to increase funding, through carbon offset sales, for the massive amount of reforestation needed to combat climate change. As was discussed in our May 28, 2019 Scorcher, forward crediting for reforestation projects not only better incentivizes the planting of trees, but helps to address the timber industry’s concerns regarding long-term timber supply. This methodology should be adopted by any new cap-and-trade bills, whether in Oregon or elsewhere.

Reforestation has the greatest climate mitigation potential of any US-based natural climate solution at 307 million tons of CO2 equivalents per year (Fargione et al. 2018). However, funding reforestation projects is challenging because of high planting costs and incentives needed to change private land use. Carbon offsets offer a way to meet part of that funding challenge.  By awarding credits early in a carbon project’s life, costs can be recouped early and landowners more effectively incentivized to change land use practices. This can make all the difference in determining the feasibility of reforestation projects.

The new methodology awards credits “ex ante,” or before the sequestration takes place, by relying on projected growth and a variable crediting period that accounts for potential future harvests and/or deed restrictions on rotation length. The crediting period depends on region, forest type, and landowner class. Tonne-year accounting scales the typical 100-year permanence period of CAR credits to each project’s crediting period. For example, if a project is reasonably assured to secure CO2 for 30 years and grows 1 tonne annually, 100 future tonnes would be credited at 30 tonnes today.

The new methodology, similar to other recent Climate Action Reserve methodologies such as the Grassland Protocol, makes credit calculations a cinch. Rather than needing to use complicated forest growth-and-yield models, the methodology is paired with a straightforward Reforestation Communities Datafile that estimates credits based on simple inputs like landowner type, forest type, acres, and site preparation intensity. Many of the older carbon protocols, especially forest protocols, are arcane and require expensive analysis. The simplicity of this new methodology is significant and will likely result in higher levels of use. New protocols should continue to follow suit with easy-to-use designs.

Reforestation is critical to reducing emissions and fighting climate change. With this new methodology, carbon offsets can be a much more effective tool in financing reforestation projects. As Oregon works to pass cap-and-trade, this new offset methodology should seriously be considered for adoption, particularly in light of the timber industry’s concerns about fiber supply.