Four Members of the California State Assembly have written to the California Air Resources Board to recommend that “ARB should endorse the TFS [Tropical Forest Standard] while committing to vigorous and proactive monitoring of any jurisdiction that decides to utilize it.”
The Tropical Forest Standard is part of California’s proposed REDD carbon trading scheme, that would allow the state to buy international REDD credits to offset continued emissions from burning fossil fuels in California.
The Assembly Members’ letter supports the Tropical Forest Standard, but emphasises the risks associated with California’s proposed REDD carbon trading scheme.
In November 2018, an Air Resources Board hearing postponed making a decision on whether to endorse the Tropical Forest Standard.
During the November 2018 hearing, the Air Resources Board asked Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) to get further stakeholder and legislative input.
In summer 2018, Garcia, together with Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica), Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), and Eloise Gomez Reyes (D-San Bernardino), travelled to Acre, Brazil. The Environmental Defense Fund, which supports REDD, carbon trading, and the Tropical Forest Standard, organised and paid for the trip.
Concerns still remain
The four Assembly Members organised three stakeholder meetings in California.
The first meeting was with opponents of the Tropical Forest Standard. The second meeting was with REDD proponents “to respond to opponent arguments”.
After the second meeting, the Environmental Defense Fund drafted changes to the Tropical Forest Standard, in response to opponents’ arguments.
The third meeting, to discuss these proposed changes, was open to both sides of the debate.
The Assembly Members’ letter notes that,
Concerns raised about additionality, permanence, leakage, verification, and human and indigenous rights in the first meeting still remained in the final meeting.
In other words, the REDD proponents could not satisfactorily answer these concerns, and they are not addressed in the most recent draft of the Tropical Forest Standard (not least because these are structural problems with REDD that simply cannot be addressed).
An amber warning light
On its website Environmental Defense Fund announced the Assembly Members’ letter under the headline, “California Assembly Gives CARB Green Light on Tropical Forest Standard”.
She points out that,
“The legislators’ letter is not a green but an ‘amber light’, warning of the great risks and responsibilities that California would be taking on if it pursues linkages based on the Tropical Forest Standard.”
McAfee also notes that if the Air Resources Board decides to endorse the Tropical Forest Standard at one of their future meetings, this would not be the start of California buying REDD carbon credits from tropical jurisdictions.
As the Air Resources Board states on its website,
This proposed standard would not result in any linkage with any jurisdiction, nor would it allow any tropical forest offsets into the Cap-and-Trade Program without a future regulatory amendment process and Board consideration to incorporate the standard into the Cap-and-Trade Regulation and conduct linkage findings pursuant to Senate Bill 1018.
“A lot of uncertainty on whether TFS will be successful”
The Assembly Members’ letter states that,
While many improvements to the TFS have been made to account for lessons learned from similar mechanisms, there is still a lot of uncertainty on whether the TFS will be successful in protecting forests and the people who inhabit them.
That’s quite an admission. After billions of dollars thrown at REDD over more than a decade, the Assembly Members cannot say whether a REDD carbon trading scheme will protect people and forests.
The Assembly Members’ letter acknowledges that if the Air Resources Board were to endorse the Tropical Forest Standard, that would entail taking a position on an “internationally-contested strategy” (i.e. REDD):
By endorsing the TFS, the Board is taking a position on an internationally contested strategy, and as such must consciously and enthusiastically take on the responsibility of ensuring that our actions do not do further harm to our important, shared goals of preventing catastrophic climate change.
California has a choice. It could work on finding ways of leaving fossil fuels in the ground, or it could expand its cap and trade scheme to use REDD carbon credits to allow continued pollution in California.
As the Assembly Members admit, there is no guarantee that the REDD scheme will actually protect people and forests. There is a huge risk of “doing further harm” by pursuing this REDD carbon offsetting scheme and increasing the chances of catastrophic climate change.
If implementation goes awry…
The Assembly Members also acknowledge that if things do go wrong, California can do no more than “sound the alarm”.
The reality over the past decade is that things have gone wrong in many REDD projects, yet those with a vested interest in promoting REDD have far too often kept quiet about the problems. Abuses have been exposed by investigative reporters, NGOs, and academic researchers.
In order to monitor the implementation of the Tropical Forest Standard, California would have to monitor what is happening in very large areas of forests.
In their letter, the Assembly Members glibly refer to having “access to the data and technology necessary”.
Barbara Haya, a research fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, told ProPublica that, “To say that you can monitor these programs with satellite images flies in the face of all that has gone wrong with international aid in the past.”
The state of Acre, for example, covers an area of more than 150,000 square kilometres. Exactly how California would monitor such a vast area is not explained in the Assembly Members’ letter:
We know that California holds no diplomatic role with other states or countries to allow for formal enforcement, but think that we have access to the data and technology necessary to monitor the implementation of the TFS in a way that would enable us to “sound the alarm” if implementation goes awry. Such responsibility is implicit in an endorsement action, which is publicly understood to serve as a “green light” to any jurisdiction or corporate entity seeking to use these credits to further their mitigation work. The Board must consider its endorsement in tandem with its ability to commit to such monitoring work moving forward.
McAfee notes that,
“The letter states explicitly that if the Air Resources Board decides to endorse the Tropical Forest Standard, it will need to ‘commit’ to substantial ‘monitoring work’, which the ARB is in no way prepared, competent, or mandated to carry out.”
While the Assembly Member’s letter gives no reasons why the Air Resources Board should endorse the Tropical Forest Standard, it does give a list of reasons why endorsing it would be an extremely bad idea.