Forests Should Be Front and Center in Lima #COP20, Part II

Part II: Increasing forest protection can set our climate on the right path.

Over the past couple of years, Dogwood Alliance has been working hard with our corporate partners, Southern landowners and technical experts through our Carbon Canopy Project to develop the tools necessary to help landowners reap a financial benefit from protecting Southern forest carbon sinks.

With 90% of the forests in our region under private ownership, these landowners play a critical role in the global effort to mitigate climate change.

A few months ago, Dogwood Alliance and our Carbon Canopy partners were out in the woods with technical experts who were re-measuring and re-calculating the carbon stored in one of our first forest carbon offset projects: a 9,200 acre forest in Southwestern Virginia. Verification on a second project will begin next month. In order for these landowners to capture the value of carbon offsets from this forest, they have had to go through a rigorous process to verify and validate that their offsets meet basic requirements.

Field Verification Heartwood Carbon Canopy
Field verification of Dogwood’s Heartwood Carbon Canopy Project near Dante, VA

First, the landowner had to show “additionality” — that they are actually increasing the amount of carbon in the forest beyond what would have occurred otherwise. In other words, you don’t get credit just because you have trees growing on your land. This particular landowner is changing the management plan on this forest to expand protected areas and reduce the volume of trees logged.

The bottom line? They are leaving trees standing that would otherwise have been logged, and that’s good for climate.

In addition, this landowner has had to ensure “permanence” — that the carbon they are selling will remain stored in the forest over the long-run. This particular landowner has committed to maintain the carbon in this forest for the next 100 years, and the forest carbon will be re-measured and “verified” via a third-party every six years. Because of the change in management, the long-term commitment and third-party verified proof of measured carbon stocks, this landowner will be able to sell over a million tons of carbon at a nice profit.

Unlike European utility companies, this landowner can’t take credit today for carbon that might be stored in the future; rather, they can only take credit for climate benefits that have already materialized. They can’t take credit for someone else’s forest growth either. They have to document that they own the forest. Moreover, credits aren’t valid unless they are tied to a legally-binding commitment to keep the carbon stored in that forest over the long-term. Finally, credit is only given after the carbon benefit claims have been verified and validated by an independent third party.

So, how is it that utility companies in Europe can get away with claiming offsets without having to verify and validate those claims? Why are they not held to the same globally-recognized set of standards as everyone else? Why do they get to take credit today for an offset that is not likely to accrue for decades into the future, if it even happens at all? Where is the legally-binding agreement to keep the carbon stored in the forest for 100+ years? And, perhaps most disturbing of all, how are the utility companies taking credit for (and reaping the value of) the carbon stored in someone else’s forests without paying the forest owners? This double standard is beyond troublesome.

The reality is that the carbon emitted today from the burning of Southern forests to generate electricity in Europe is not being “offset” by forest growth.

To be clear, these utility companies are increasing carbon emissions at the smokestack while degrading forest carbon sinks. They are taking credit for Southern landowner’s forest growth and not paying for it. All the while, they are calling it good for climate and for Southern landowners! This current biomass policy scam might be a sweet deal for utility companies and wood pellet manufacturers, but it’s a pretty rotten deal for forests, climate and Southern landowners.




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