Forest offsets: California on the brink of a serious mistake

8 May 2019

Forest offsets: California on the brink of a serious mistake

Regulators of the California cap-and-trade system are debating the use of forestry carbon credits from activities outside the state to meet reduction targets. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) have warned against it.  

The Air Resources Board (ARB) is currently considering approval of a “Tropical Forest Standard” (TFS); if approved, the TFS would allow regions such as Acre, Brazil, to link their forestry programs to the Californian carbon market, where payments would generate carbon credits. 

This would be the first standard allowing international forest offsets for regulatory compliance; i.e., for use towards a legal rather than voluntary target. It is not, however, the first time such a move has been considered in climate policy.  

The EU Emissions Trading System (EU ETS) rejected the use of forestry credits to achieve the region’s climate targets; two Commission studies cite the difficulty of establishing accurate measurement methods, and concerns about the permanence of such offsets, since forests can start re-emitting carbon after a forest fire or pest infestation. The EU went a step further and is prohibiting the use of all international offsets after 2020; this forces the EU to reduce emissions domestically instead of relying on projects outside of the EU to achieve EU targets. 

MEPs representing all major EU political groups who worked on the latest reform of the EU ETS have written a letter to the ARB urging the board “to reject the [Tropical Forestry Standard] and consider other measures to curb deforestation rates”, explicitly referencing Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (FLEGT) and the EU Action Plan to Protect Forests and Respect Rights.  

Their concerns stem from the fact that forestry offsets would not address the drivers of deforestation, such as demand for agricultural commodities. It could also legitimise the use of such credits under the new carbon market for the international aviation sector (CORSIA).  

The allowance of forest offsets in the California cap-and-trade scheme has been under discussion since 2015, and the board has already punted a decision on approval of the standard from November 2018 to this spring. As California can no longer postpone reducing their own emissions, we must hope the board finally decides to drop the idea of forest offsets entirely. 

Categories: News, Carbon trading

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