We know what The Nature Conservancy thinks about forest offsets. It loves them. It loves them so much that it has got into bed with the biggest coal-burner in the US, American Electric Power. Meanwhile, TNC has developed a “global mechanism proposal”, which includes a goal of 3 billion tons of “emissions reductions from REDD” by 2020.
These would be “fully fungible with emissions reductions from other sectors”. This is precisely what carbon traders, the timber industry and polluting companies like AEP want: forest carbon offsets.
At a side event at the UN Climate negotiations in Bonn earlier this week, TNC’s Greg Fishbein (whose job title, incidentally, is “Managing Director of Forest Carbon”) said, “We recognise that a goal like this needs to be combined with strict Annex I targets to ensure that these emissions reductions are in fact in addition to a contribution to overall emissions reductions and not just replacing emissions reductions that are taking place some place else.”
But when TNC talks about “strict Annex I targets”, what do they actually mean?
During the questions after the presentations, TNC inadvertently let slip that meaningful emissions reduction targets are not so important to them after all. In response to a question from Greenpeace’s Roman Czebiniak, TNC’s Duncan Marsh stated that TNC believes that a reduction of between 25 and 40% below 1990 levels is needed. So why on earth is TNC so enthusiastic about the American Clean Energy and Security Act (formerly known as Waxman-Markey) when it contains an emissions reduction target that is a pitiful 4% below 1990 levels?
TNC argues that “including REDD as an offset mechanism should induce deeper emission reduction targets for Annex-I countries”. The reality, as the Waxman-Markey experience indicates, is that the reverse is true. Countries in the global North can get away with emissions reductions targets that are so low precisely because they include offsets within their targets.
Here is a transcript of the questions from Greenpeace and REDD-Monitor and Duncan Marsh’s replies. A video of the full side event is available on UNFCCC’s website:
Roman Czebiniak (Greenpeace): Hi, I’m Roman Czebiniak from Greenpeace and thanks for the presentation and proposal. . . . You call on strict Annex I targets which is crucial for REDD and for protecting the forests. So what is the target that The Nature Conservancy is calling for on Annex I countries, and I guess the United States?
[ . . . ]
Duncan Marsh (Director of International Climate Policy, TNC): Thank you, Roman. You know this is not a presentation on the reductions for Annex I, but we favour the target range that flows from the IPCC [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] latest report which is 25 to 40% below 1990 levels for Annex I countries in aggregate.
[ . . . ]
Chris Lang (REDD-Monitor): My name is Chris Lang. I work on a website called REDD-Monitor. I have quite a simple question for you, which has a comment in brackets which may make it a little more complicated. The simple part of the question is: What is your opinion of the Waxman-Markey bill? And the slightly more complicated bit in brackets: Given that, for example, World Resources Institute has calculated that it has a domestic target of 4%, which is way under what the IPCC is recommending. So, are you happy with Waxman-Markey?
Marsh: I didn’t actually anticipate that question in this forum, but that’s OK. The Waxman-Markey bill is a positive development for the US. It’s the first time that a congressional committee has passed through a comprehensive climate change bill. It not only combines a cap and trade programme and a pretty fully developed one, it covers 85% of the sectors, economic sectors in the US emissions, but it also includes some pretty innovative and progressive energy policy along with that. It could even facilitate or allow the US emissions to do better that it would otherwise without those. That said, it’s not a perfect bill and we want to see bolder emissions targets than that bill has. We also want to see more international assistance for adaptation and technology transfer. I think the levels of assistance for forest carbon are pretty impressive in it. There’s a 5% set aside of the allowances through the US market which, as Greg pointed out, is quite a considerable number, running into the billions of dollars in some years time for international forest carbon, along with an offsets provision as well. So there’s some pretty important elements for the international forest side. But we want to see more assistance for technology transfer and adaptation which we also think are very critical to a Copenhagen deal. So those and stronger emissions targets are two areas we’re going to work to try to strengthen in the bill.
Did you have a follow-on question or does that answer?
REDD-Monitor: I guess what was in the question was that the fact that there are so many offsets within the bill is one of the reasons that they could get away with such a low target.
Marsh’s response to this was to shrug his shoulders and ask for the next question.