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Redwood Coast forests may be involved in justifying higher CO2 emissions

By Lisa Song and James Temple, ProPublica, April 29, 2021

“Along the coast of Northern California near the Oregon border, the cool, moist air off the Pacific sustains a strip of temperate rainforests.

But forest ecologies vary, “and the actual amount of carbon on any given acre depends on local climate conditions, conservation efforts, logging history, and more.”

“California’s top climate regulator, the Air Resources Board, glossed over much of this complexity in implementing the state’s [carbon offset] program.

“That decision has generated tens of millions of carbon credits with dubious climate value, according to a new analysis by CarbonPlan, a San Francisco nonprofit that analyzes the scientific integrity of carbon removal efforts.

“CarbonPlan estimates the state’s program has generated between 20 million and 39 million credits that don’t achieve real climate benefits.

“While close observers are well aware of numerous problems with California’s forest offset rules, ‘they’re revealing a deeper set of serious methodological flaws,’ [“Daniel Sanchez, who runs the Carbon Removal Laboratory at UC Berkeley”] said.

“Supporters of forest offsets say no system is perfect, and that focusing solely on the carbon math overlooks the incentives offsets create for protecting forests.

“[I]f the societal goal is preserving forests, it would be simpler and more effective to describe it accurately and fund it directly, said [“Barbara Haya, who leads the Berkeley Carbon Trading Project at UC Berkeley and is a co-author of the CarbonPlan study”]. As soon as these forests get tied up in an offset program, the carbon math does matter, because every additional ton purportedly preserved in trees enables polluters to purchase the right to generate an additional ton of CO2.

The Yurok Tribe, and other Native American tribes further inland, have participated in forest carbon offset programs. “Thomas Joseph, an activist and a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe in California, said offset developers target tribal projects because tribes are in ‘dire need of revenue’ and own vast tracts of mostly intact forest.

“[“Cody Desautel, president of the Intertribal Timber Council, a Portland-based nonprofit consortium of native tribes”] sees it differently. When the issue comes up among tribal members, he explains that polluters under cap and trade need to pay either the state for permission to pollute, or landowners through carbon offsets.

“ ‘Forests really can be a part of the solution for the climate, but we haven’t gotten it right yet,’ [“said Zack Parisa, chief executive of the carbon offsets company SilviaTerra”].”

Read the full article here, including a cartoon guide to forest carbon offsets and maps detailing Redwood Coast offset projects. (~20 min.)

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