Friday, November 13, 2009

Indigenous Forests and Carbon Offsetting

The paragraph below summarizes the Public Radio treatment of a conflict in thinking through the use in "cap and trade" of trees/forests as sinks for carbon.  The paragraph and a connection to the radio show is at http://www.hereandnow.org/2009/11/rundown-1110/.  My notes and comments are below.


Buying and Selling Carbon Offsets


As world leaders prepare for next month’s UN Climate Change Conference, we look at what’s known as “avoided deforestation credits”. Mark Schapiro took a look at one use of these credits in Brazil, where General Motors, Chevron and American Electric Power purchased 50,000 acres of Brazilian forests nearly a decade ago. They agreed to preserve the forests, with the understanding that they have the rights to sell carbon offset credits based on how much carbon the forest is storing. Schapiro documents what he found in Mother Jones magazine.

It seems to me that this discussion summarizes one of the struggles in formalizing things into policies, rules, laws, and formal agreements.  On one hand, we need to see incentive structures to reward nations and local people to protect and save their forests.  As a highly-educated man from Borneo noted, his tribe could not have afforded his education without harvesting timber on a large parcel (not a large percentage) of its land.  So there needs to be a way to get cash to such people to enable them to participate in the international sphere if they wish to do so, but without damaging their forests or the ability of those forests to sequester carbon.  On the other hand, simple rules can be gamed by powerful, wealthy stakeholders.  That of itself no too serious a problem, but such gaming can lead to bookkeeping that indicates a net carbon sequestration, while the reality is more carbon in the atmosphere.  The debate is about how to do this right.
 
Here are some of my notes as I listened to the radio program.
 
NPR - Buying and Selling Carbon Offsets -- 091110


Trees are one of the most contentious issues leading into the climate change meetings in December. Companies such as General Motors have invested in such as 50,000 acres of Brazilian forest land to obtain “Avoided Deforestation Credits.” This leads to protected forest areas similar to those of thousands of years ago with rich flora and fauna that often are not seen in forests that are harvested or destroyed. One key issue is how much carbon a tree pulls out of the atmosphere. How do you measure the carbon in a tree? [I know from Geroge Woodwell and the Woods Hole Research Center that researchers regard the amount of carbon sequestered in typical forests of various types to be a known quantity.  However, the issue may revolve around the particulars.]  For example, a researcher walks around with rangers to measure the girth and height of a sample of trees. About 50% of a tree is carbon. By this tally, 50,000 acres is not enough sequestered carbon to offset all that GM produces. But then another issue is that this commoditizes the forests, something that many people, including indigenous people, dislike. The trees can be bought and sold. International body: buying and selling of existing trees is not acceptable for carbon credit. Avoided deforestation is not acceptable. Reasons: ambiguity of the amount of carbon in trees, leakage (move tree harvesting to somewhere else with no net positive effect). Brazil objects strenuously to selling off its forest in this way. Repoerter is Mark Shapiro of Center for Investigative Reporting.

What happens to the indigenous people who live there, that is in or near GM's 50,000 acres? Actually, they do not live on the 50,000 acres.  The outer boundary of the reserve is lined with villages. They are restricted in their use of the land. They basically cannot harvest or hunt. Thus, people end up in cities, unemployed. Some people are pushing for informed consent by indigenous people before such land can be converted like this.

Large companies have established a lobby to push for forest offsets. Nature Conservancy is involved with this on the same size. Some other environmental groups are involved on the opposing side.  Cap and Trade bills allow for this. Emission reduction at home would cost $50B and is much less expensive if companies such as GM can claim carbon offsets by purchasing such land.



EU does not allow forest offsets. Collision course with American approach. Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth do not like American approach.



Deforestation contributes to about 20% of the carbon in the atmosphere. Important to restrain this process. This yields carbon in the atmosphere the same way that fossil fuel burning does.



Important to avoid delusion. Some of this may work logically, but it is important not to fall into believing that this way of offsetting is as simple as presented by the current players.

1 comment:

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