Greenpeace targets forest carbon offsets in California's cap-and-trade

September 25, 2012

California's forest conservation-based carbon offsets in its climate change legislation may not lead to net reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and could exacerbate social conflict in places like southern Mexico, argues a report released Monday by Greenpeace. But the activist group faced sharp criticism from backers of California's initiative.

The report, titled Outsourcing Hot Air, looks at a project in Mexico's Chiapas state which could potentially generate carbon credits under California's climate law by protecting forests against future clearing. The credits could be used to "offset" some greenhouse gas emissions from activities in California, such as emissions from Chevron's oil refinery in Richmond. By buying such carbon credits, a company could effectively reduce the amount of emissions they would be legally obliged to cut.

The Greenpeace report takes exception to both the concept of carbon offsetting, as well as the process California and states and provinces in Mexico, Indonesia, Brazil, Peru, and Nigeria are using to establish criteria for the forest projects that would qualify as sources for carbon credits. California’s process is driven by the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF), a body that was established in 2008 by then Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, and involves policymakers, experts, and a panel of top forest scientists.

“Greenpeace opposes the inclusion of sub-national forest offsets in California’s new emissions trading scheme, whether they’re from Chiapas or elsewhere. The scheme cannot guarantee that Mexican forests are protected, meanwhile Californian emitters are allowed to continue polluting,” said Roman Czebiniak, Greenpeace Senior Political Advisor on Climate Change & Forests.

Czebiniak told mongabay.com that Greenpeace instead favors the creation of a global forest fund that would be funded via taxes.

"We have major concerns about fungible sub-national REDD credits being openly traded against fossil fuel emissions in the carbon market," he added.

The Greenpeace report argues that forest-based carbon credits are undermined by a lack of national greenhouse gas emissions accounting. So while a conservation project may reduce deforestation in one area, generating credits, forest clearing might just be displaced to another part of the country, resulting in no net reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.

"The impermanent nature of forests combined with lack of a continuous source of funding means that forests could be destroyed during the lifetime of California’s emissions in the atmosphere, resulting in no decrease in emissions," he said. "Rather than advocating for false solutions like offsets, the GCF should focus on promoting and adopting effective, people-centered forest protection policies among its members."

The Greenpeace report notes that historical land conflicts remain unresolved in Chiapas, potentially hindering the stability of any carbon project that generates offsets for California companies.

But scientists and policy experts involved with GCF sharply criticized the report as well as Greenpeace's lack of participation in the GCF process.

Dan Nepstad's response to the Greenpeace Report: Greenpeace report threatens climate change mitigation and tropical forests.
Dan Nepstad of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) called the report "a disservice to both climate change mitigation and tropical forests," arguing that it overlooked progress made in reducing deforestation in GCF-member states and failed to understand "the emerging emission offset system that is in the early stages of development and years from implementation".

"Projects such as the one in the Lacandon Maya forest would not qualify for offsets unless there is a measurable, verifiable impact on emissions reductions," he told mongabay.com.

GCF's Senior Advisor William Boyd, a professor at the University of Colorado Law School, agreed.

"This report makes clear that Greenpeace does not understand the GCF, much less its ongoing work to assist states and provinces around the world in their efforts to build robust jurisdiction-wide programs for low emissions development," Boyd told mongabay.com. "I am glad to see that some representatives from Greenpeace will be at the GCF annual meeting here in Chiapas this week. Next time, they should come to the meeting first to learn about the GCF before they write their report. A fact-based discussion about REDD+ and low emissions development is long overdue."

Mariana Pavan, GCF Coordinator for Brazil and a REDD+ policy expert at IDESAM, an NGO in Brazil's Amazonas state, added that the report seemed to show "some misunderstandings about the GCF and what it does."

"First, the GCF is a platform to support the states in their efforts to move forward with their jurisdictional REDD+ regulations as a whole and these systems are looking at a wide variety of funding sources, both related to the market and non-market. Second, if you look at the REDD+ regulations that are more advanced in Brazil (Acre, Amazonas and Mato Grosso), all of them are closely related to deforestation control policies (such as the Deforestation Prevention Plans) and sustainable development policies, and some of the goals [Greenpeace] cites at the end of the article are goals of the states themselves."

"These programs are being built with a wide and open process of consultation and discussion with civil society and forest communities," she added.

The GCF meeting runs through September 28 in Chiapas. Outsourcing Hot Air is available at greenpeace.org/international/outsourcing-hot-air.

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Commentary: Greenpeace report threatens climate change mitigation and tropical forests

(09/25/2012) From 2008 through 2010, deforestation in the states of the Brazilian Amazon declined steeply, lowering reductions in CO2 emissions to the atmosphere by approximately 1.5 billion tons. During this same period, the 30 nations that participate in the world’s largest carbon market—the European Union’s “Emissions Trading Scheme” (EU ETS)—reduced emissions by about 1.9 billion tons (Figure 1). There is an important difference between these two extremely important steps towards emissions reductions. The first was achieved through climate-related donations of approximately US$ 0.47 billion. The second involved financial transactions of US$ 411 billion—roughly 875 times more money. Greenpeace’s new report , Outsourcing Hot Air, could help to slow—or reverse—the progress of tropical states and provinces around the world in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD).

mongabay.com (September 25, 2012).

Greenpeace targets forest carbon offsets in California's cap-and-trade .