in Mexico, USA

Critical views of California’s carbon offsets from the USA and Mexico

Two views of California’s new cap and trade programme, both looking at problematic forestry offsets. The first looks into carbon offsets from forestry operations in California. The second looks at the impact of REDD-type projects in Chiapas, Mexico.

Last week, NBC Bay Area broadcast a short investigation into the risks of using California’s forest operations to generate carbon offsets by “improving forestry management”. Bruce Castle, an activist with Ebbetts Pass Forest Watch tells NBC Bay Area, “This is a bonus to them to be collecting millions of dollars for the carbon offsets that they were going to do anyway.”

Sierra Pacific Industries (SPI) has a carbon offset proposal that, if approved by the Air Resources Board, could see SPI earning millions of dollars for trees that were planted 15 to 20 years ago.

Brian Nowicki of the Center for Biological Diversity explains how the rules have been weakened to accommodate the timber industry:

“Under earlier versions of the California Carbon Offset programs forest clear cutting was not allowed to qualify as a reduction, as a carbon offset program… This most recent version (of the Cap and Trade law) that we are using now has as part of the carbon offset program a written cooperation with the timber industry in order to accommodate their current business practices and that explicitly includes forest clear cutting… “By saying that business as usual forest practices should qualify and not putting in criteria that would improve forest management in California, or don’t forget other states, as well, because the program exists outside our borders is a tremendous missed opportunity.”

Click on the image below to watch NBC Bay Area’s report:

NBC Bay Area Investigates California's new Cap and Trade Law

REDD projects could be included in California’s cap and trade scheme[*], including from the forests of Chiapas in Mexico, under the Governors’ Climate and Forests Taskforce, an agreement signed when Arnold Schwarzenegger was Governor of California. Global Justice Ecology Project has documented the impacts of REDD-type forest conservation on local communities in Chiapas since visiting the area in March 2011.

Sustainable Rural Cities

A couple of days ago, an article was published in La Jornada about a report by the Network for Peace Chiapas (the report can be viewed or downloaded below in Spanish) critical of two state programmes that are closely linked to the REDD-type activities in Chiapas: the Productive Reconversion of Agriculture (that aims to stop farmers growing subsistence crops like maize in favour of industrial products like rubber and oil palm), and the Sustainable Rural Cities Programme (that moves peasant farming communities into prefab housing settlements supposedly as a way to “improve their economic conditions”). It’s difficult to imagine a more Orwellian title than “Sustainable Rural Cities” to describe the rows of badly built, badly designed shacks that rural communities are being moved into.

The commodification of forests justifies displacing communities in Chiapas

By Hermann Bellinghausen, La Jornada, 20 May 2012
San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas., May 20. Among the main economic motives for displacing communities from their forest homes is the sale of carbon credits, say civil society groups belonging to the Network for Peace Chiapas (SIPAZ, Desmi, Frayba and others). At COP 16 (Conference of the Parties) in Cancún in December 2010, Mexico entered the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD Plus) program, whose basic idea is that countries that are willing and able to reduce carbon emissions from deforestation should be financially compensated.
In a 122-page report, critical of the Sustainable Rural Cities project and the environmental policy of the state of Chiapas, released this week, civil society groups recall that the state governor signed an agreement with his then-counterparts in California (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and in Acre, Brazil, (Arnobius Marques de Almeida), which initiated a market for buying and selling carbon credits as part of REDD Plus.
In 2009 the Action Program on Climate Change in Chiapas (PACCCH) was established with support from the British Embassy, Conservation International, conservation NGOs (“acting as intermediaries with the communities”) and academic institutions such as El Colegio de la Frontera Sur, which have worked with the National Forestry Commission to implement REDD Plus. There have been recent attempts by some of these groups to publicly distance themselves from the project, but these efforts have not been undertaken with sufficiently clarity.
The governor of Chiapas, the report notes, “is convinced that taking part in ‘payment for environmental services’ is a project of life,” and he quotes the president: “Your children and grandchildren will thank you because they will live, they will receive money for taking care of the environment, we are placing this bet for them, for the little ones, so you can be certain that your children will live in the future, will live from conserving the reserves, from tourism and from the production rubber or oil palm.”
The “ecological” interests of these development plans involve the commodification of forests, for which the authorities deem it necessary that “the communities within the reserves be relocated, or not use the land for farming, as they have agreed to do in El Triunfo, the reserve with which the Chiapas state government entered the market for carbon credits.” But the crown jewel in this market would be the Montes Azules Biosphere Reserve in the Lacandon jungle.
The report of the Network for Peace says: “As is well known to Indigenous Peoples, corn, grown in Chiapas for thousands of years, has great nutritional and cultural importance.” Nevertheless, one of the government’s proposals for conserving biodiversity is for communities to stop planting corn. The president has said that corn “does great harm to the planet, while the Reserve, which is the great wealth of its inhabitants, is being destroyed.”
REDD Plus promotes “productive reconversion” to urge peasant farmers to stop producing their own food, like corn, and to cultivate products for fuel or building materials (such as rubber, and oil palm). The transnational sale of carbon being established in the forests of Chiapas also involves the displacement of communities to carry out another government project: the sustainable rural cities.
Translation from Spanish by Jeff Conant, for GJEP


Download here:

De La Tierra Al Asfalto
The report mentioned in the article can be downloaded here (in Spanish) (11.0 MB).

CORRECTION – 28 May 2012: I’ve re-written this sentence to make clear that REDD credits are not currently part of California’s cap and trade scheme. Thanks to the commentator below for pointing this out.

There is also a legal challenge to California’s cap and trade scheme. In their complaint (filed on 28 March 2012), Citizens Climate Lobby and Our Children’s Earth Foundation argue that the California Air Resources Board’s tests of whether an offset project is additional are subjective and uncertain.

On 13 March 2012, the American Carbon Registry held a webinar titled, “Update on Key Elements of California’s Compliance Carbon Offset Market”. (A video of the webinar is available here and the transcript can be downloaded here.) In her presentation, Rajinder Sahota of the California Air Resources Board explains the current situation as follows:

“I have one slide on sector-based offsets. We do have a framework established for accepting sector-based offsets from developing countries. Our regulation at this time does not include any approved sectors or programs. On REDD, we are awaiting recommendations from the offset working group. The adopted resolution clarifies a sublimit on the use of sector-based offsets for compliance. From the first and second compliance period, no more than 2% of an entities compliance obligation can come from sector-based credits and in the third compliance period no more than 4% of an entity’s compliance obligation can come from sector-based credits. We would have to initiate a new rulemaking to add in any sector-based credits. At the time, we don’t have any specific program identified in our regulations.”

I’ve extracted the parts of the webinar in which REDD is mentioned here (pdf file 68.7 kB).

In April 2012, Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, said that international forestry offsets will not play a large role in the California carbon market:

“[W]e have to be pretty careful about not letting people think that the California compliance market is going to be the place where huge volumes of offsets are going to trade from international forestry projects, because we’re just not big enough and we’re not going to be adding that many offsets.”


Leave a Reply

  1. Chris,

    Can you provide the source that says Chiapas or other GCF REDD projects are accepted in California’s cap and trade program?

    As of mid-march only credits from the United States were approved for the market. ( REDD is something they are working on and awaiting guidance from the GCF Working Group. As far as I can tell international REDD credits are not in fact accepted in California’s program and they dont anticipate any international credits entering the market until 2015 at the earliest.

  2. @An Observer (#2) – Thanks very much for this (and especially for the document in the link). You’re right. I’ve re-written the sentence to clarify that REDD projects are not yet included in California’s cap and trade scheme.