On 19 September 2019, the California Air Resources Board voted 7-4 to approve the Tropical Forest Standard. CARB is determined to convince us that this is not an approval of REDD offsets in California’s cap-and-trade scheme. In a presentation about the Tropical Forest Standard CARB staff point out that, “Endorsement of the Standard Does Not … Establish tropical forest offset credits for use in the California Cap-and-Trade Program”.
But that statement has a lot more to do with CARB’s enthusiasm for avoiding any discussion of offsets and the disastrous impact they will have on the climate crisis. That enthusiasm is shared by REDD proponents generally.
Offsets are counterproductive
Several organisations sent letters to CARB pointing out that offsets allow fossil fuel pollution to continue and therefore make the climate crisis worse.
Greenpeace USA, for example, wrote:
Offsets of any kind are counterproductive to the urgent action needed on climate change
The IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C, released on October 8, 2018, establishes that urgent, dramatic and unprecedented changes to all aspects of our society is needed now, if the planet has any hope of avoiding the catastrophic impacts of climate change. This level of urgency is fundamentally noncompliant with the concept of carbon emission offsets of any kind, but especially to jurisdictional international forest offsets. The best scientists in the world are telling us in no uncertain terms that we need to dramatically curb greenhouse gas emissions AND immediately bring down deforestation rates around the world. We do not have the luxury to choose between the two. We cannot simply allow polluters to keep on polluting and hope that forests in a far away place will make that ok. The numbers just do not add up. They don’t add up for California and they don’t add up globally.
Here is CARB’s response (in full) to Greenpeace’s letter:
When we turn to “Master Response 2”, we find it carefully avoids discussing the impact of offsets on the climate crisis.
Instead, CARB focusses on the argument that offsets would allow continued air pollution in California and lists the range of legislation in place in California to address air quality: State Implementation Plans; Diesel Risk Reduction Plan; Sustainable Freight Action Plan; AB 32 Scoping Plan; AB 1807; AB 2588 Air Toxics “Hot Spots” Program; and SB 605 Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Plan.
The Tropical Forest Standard is all about offsets
In fact, CARB denies that the Tropical Forest Standard has anything to do with offsets. CARB’s “Master Response 2” is full of statements like this:
[T]he TFS is not proposing, nor would it result in, any new offset credits being eligible for use in the California Cap-and-Trade Program.
Compare this to the first sentence of the Tropical Forest Standard:
The purpose of the California Tropical Forest Standard is to establish robust criteria against which to assess jurisdictions seeking to link their sector-based crediting programs that reduce emissions from tropical deforestation with an emissions trading system (ETS), such as California’s Cap-and-Trade Program.
So the purpose of the Tropical Forest Standard is to be part of an offsetting scheme. It will therefore make the climate crisis worse.
Offsets make global warming worse
Before yesterday’s CARB decision to approve the Tropical Forest Standard, REDD-Monitor spoke to Larry Lohmann of The Corner House. Lohmann summed up the argument against offsets in two sentences:
“Even if offset theory were correct, the most offsets could do would be to have zero effect on climate. No one denies this. But because that outcome would be possible only on the assumption of a number of scientific falsehoods (e.g. counterfactual history = actual history, fossil CO2 = biotic CO2 and all the rest), it follows that offsets make global warming worse.”
Lohmann talked about how offset proponents avoid talking about offsets:
“Pro-offset tacticians just loooooove to change the subject to how very very terrible climate change is for all of us precisely because to do so eats up time that could be spent discussing the central fact, namely that offsets make climate change worse. Offset proponents need to keep diverting the discussion away from this fact, because as soon as that topic is raised, they have lost the debate. Indeed, in my experience, when the topic does come up, no offset proponent has ever even bothered trying to deny that offsets make climate change worse, because it is undeniable.
“Accordingly, the only recourse that offset proponents have when critics do succeed in getting that fact on the agenda is (a) to say that, OK, from now on offsets will not be offsets but will be “retired” before they can be used, and (b) to jive about building in “margins for error” into offset calculations that might bring the efficacy of offsets verifiably up to the level of being “climate-neutral” or better.
“(a) is of course unavailable in the California case, while (b) depends on the same specious science as offset theory itself. Meaning that if the discussion gets this far, it’s a lost cause for offset fans.
“In addition to the lost-cause, last-ditch tactics (a) and (b) that offset proponents try to fall back on when critics do succeed in getting the climatic effectiveness of offsets onto the agenda, there is also:
“(c) to say that, OK, yeah, you’re right, offsets do indeed make climate change worse, but never mind that, because offsets will be a part of a larger program that will compensate for that fact by introducing unrelated policies that maybe might have some positive effect on climate change. So let’s change the subject and talk about that larger program rather than asking why offsets are a part of it.”