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Debate: Should California cap and trade use forestry offsets?

The debate about whether California should allow REDD carbon offsets in its cap and trade scheme (AB 32) continues. Over the weekend, the Sacramento Bee published two opinion pieces, one opposing REDD credits and one in favour.

Jeff Conant, International Forests Campaigner for Friends of the Earth, argues against REDD credits. In favour of REDD are Dan Nepstad, director and president of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM), and Tony Brunello, the executive director of the Green Technology Leadership Group, partner at California Strategies and former California deputy secretary for climate change and energy.

So far, the discussion in the comments on the Sacramento Bee website following these two articles is dominated by climate sceptics. What follows is a summary of the arguments in the hope of generating a more sensible discussion (either here or on the Sacramento Bee website).

Conant argues that AB 32 is “one of the most forward-thinking pieces of climate legislation in the country”, but one that is already undermined by the inclusion of carbon offsets. It would only be undermined further by the inclusion of REDD credits from a “dubious and untried scheme to protect rain forests in Mexico and Brazil”.

Conant has visited the state of Chiapas and carried out research with local communities there. The agreement between California and Chiapas, “set in motion a dynamic that has increased social conflict and led several peasant farmer and indigenous organizations to rise up in protest”. While conflict has increased, so has deforestation. Californians should stay out of this mess, he argues.

Brunello and Nepstad don’t go into any detail about what’s happening in Chiapas.

Nepstad is a forest ecologist who has carried out more than two decades of research in the Amazon rainforests. Brunello and Nepstad write that Acre started to develop laws and systems to switch from forest clearing to forest maintaining 13 years ago. “It is working,” they write. “It has already achieved emissions reductions of more than one-third of California’s mandate by 2020.”

Not so, according to Conant. The Union of Rural Workers of Xapuri, academics and indigenous peoples’ organisations argue that since Acre’s Payments for Environmental Services Law went into effect, “logging has more than doubled and the number of cattle has tripled”. Payments for carbon have led to increased land prices, further concentration of land in the hands of cattle ranchers who protect token areas of forest and clear the rest.

Poorer communities have received some carbon payments. These are on condition that they do not cut trees, burn or plant in the forest. Conant argues that this shuts them out of their lands, reducing them to welfare recipients, without supporting long-term solutions.

According to Brunello and Nepstad, REDD credits can only be generated in accordance with strict rules, which include statewide deforestation baselines and targets, an assurance that local communities’ lives are improved and respect for indigenous peoples’ rights

Brunello and Nepstad argue that there are three reasons why Californians should care about tropical deforestation:

  • “We are part of the problem”: through consumption of products that contain palm oil, which is often planted on recently cleared forest; and through consumption of timber from tropical forests.
  • “Tropical forests are part of the solution”: because they store large amounts of carbon, which is released when forests are cleared. “Reducing emissions from tropical forests is one of the cheapest ways for the globe to reduce its carbon footprint.”
  • “California can help tropical partner states where the world has largely failed”: by sending a signal to tropical nations and states that California wants to help stop tropical deforestation.

Brunello and Nepstad claim that the 16 tropical states that have been in negotiations about REDD with California have already reduced deforestation to the tune of 3 billion tons of CO2. “But they have seen only a trickle of positive incentives,” Brunello and Nepstad write. “Their political will is flagging.” Therefore, California should accept limited international forest offsets.

“Offsets don’t reduce pollution,” Conant writes. Emission reductions in Chiapas and Acre would be displaced by continued emissions in California. “It’s more effective – and more just – to cut actual carbon emissions here at home.”

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  1. Greetings community!

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