Just what REDD needed. Carbon offsets and another abbreviation. Welcome to “R20″

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The Governator is back. “Action is needed now, and action is what we’re taking with R20,” said Arnold Schwarzenegger at a meeting this week at the University of California, Davis. But there may be less to it than meets the eye. China did not sign on. The Guardian reports that a Dutch official, who did sign on, said he thought it was just another empty promise.

R20 stands for the Regions of Climate Action. R20′s first action was to announce two sub-national REDD projects, one in Chiapas in Mexico, the other in Acre in Brazil. Under the R20 deal, the two states will be able to sell carbon offsets through California’s cap and trade scheme.

Schwarzenegger, Governor Arnobio Marques de Almeida, Jr. from Brazil and Governor Juan Jose Sabines Guerrero from Mexico signed a Memorandum of Understanding to set up a REDD working group to develop recommendations aimed at bringing sub-national REDD projects into California’s cap-and-trade scheme, which is due to start in 2012. Up to 8% of California’s emissions reduction targets can be met by carbon offsets, including from REDD projects.

The first meeting of the REDD working group will take place during the COP 16 meeting in Cancun and the first set of recommendations are expected by October 2011.

The meeting at the University of California, Davis was the third Governors Global Climate Summit. On the Climate Summit website, is the following statement explaining why the governors believe that action should take place at the sub-national level:

As progress on climate change has stalled at both national and international levels, there is growing consensus that new actors must help tackle the climate challenge. Subnational governments are key actors for many reasons:

  1. According to the UNDP, most investments to reduce GHG emissions and adapt to climate change—50 to 80 percent for reductions and up to 100 percent for adaptation—must take place at the subnational level;
  2. Subnational governments implement national policies, and can also provide solutions to climate change when national-level action stalls;
  3. Subnational governments, such as California, are global leaders in reducing emissions and creating green jobs and these efforts could be replicated and scaled up in both developed and developing countries;
  4. Subnational governments are politically close to where projects must be implemented yet remain sufficiently elevated to achieve wider benefits by integrating projects into regional planning; and
  5. Subnational governments provide a perfect interface for addressing both urban and rural issues and thus cover all key aspects of the fight against climate change.

To say that the whole endeavour is fundamentally flawed would be too generous. Before AB 32 was signed, Schwarzenegger said

“I say the debate is over. We know the science. We see the threat. And we know the time for action is now. Global warming and the pollution and burning of fossil fuels that cause it are threats we see here in California and everywhere around the world.”

Which sounds great. Except that AB 32 only requires reducing California’s greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020. And it allows carbon offsets to create loopholes in an already weak target. Currently, REDD credits are the only offsets specifically proposed in the regulations.

There is an explanation of California’s Air Resource Board proposed regulations to implement the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (AB 32) on the Tropical Forest Group’s blog. Tropical Forest Group outlines the requirements for REDD credits to be traded under California’s cap-and-trade scheme as follows:

Proposed California Sectoral Requirements for REDD

  1. Historical deforestation emissions must be calculated for “gross” deforestation over the past 10 years.
  2. Jurisdictions & ARB [Air Resource Board] must approve plans to lower emissions below historical emissions by 2020.
  3. Forest carbon inventories must follow IPCC guidance, likely at Tier 2 or higher.
  4. Jurisdictions that use nested-REDD projects must have accounting systems to reconcile nested project-based GHG reductions with sector-level accounting.
  5. Jurisdictions must plan to retire and ensure permanence of the REDD credits.
  6. Mechanisms must be in place for public consultation and participation in the program design.

In other words, the loophole (carbon offsets) is full of loopholes. Leakage will be a serious problem – as deforestation might be reduced in one province or state, but could increase in neighbouring states or in other countries. Calculating deforestation baselines is almost inevitably fraught with error, estimates and room for fraud. Ensuring permanence of REDD credits is particularly difficult. REDD-Monitor looks forward to reading the reports written by experts fitted with 20/20 future vision goggles who can accurately predict the future for us – particularly in a changing climate, where the likelihood of the Amazon going up in smoke is increasing rather than decreasing.

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13 Comments

  1. I can see that there are problems with improperly used carbon offsetts, especially when combined with weak reduction targets, but this issue of permenance of REDD confuses me. Are other types of offsett, for example renewable energy projects, also required to demonstrate permenance?
    Presumably this would mean it would have to be demonstrated that any fossil fuels that were not burnt because of the alternative energy source would remain in the ground. This seems a little unlikely.
    At best any offsett represents a delay in emissions (that oil will get burnt one day regardelss of how many wind farms there are) rather than an avoidance. So why is there so much concern about permanence of REDD?

  2. @Nick – Thanks for your comment. I’ll try to explain why permanence is such an important issue in REDD. Forests store carbon which would be released to the atmosphere if the forest were cut down. Under an offset scheme the amount of carbon not emitted is traded, allowing fossil fuel emissions to happen somewhere else. Excluding permanence for a moment, if all goes according to plan (i.e. the baseline is accurately measured, the amount of carbon is accurately measured, there is no leakage and the counterfactual story made up to justify the sale of the credits is something like what actually happened – all of which amounts to more or less a miracle) then the carbon emitted by the company buying the carbon credits is equal to the carbon stored in the forest (that would otherwise have been emitted if it wasn’t for REDD). And the result is zero emissions reductions.

    No we come onto permanence. If the forest ends up being cut down, burnt or converted to a eucalyptus plantation then there are the emissions from the burning forest plus the fossil fuel emissions from the sale of the carbon credits. Bad news all round.

    I’m no fan of any carbon offsets. I’m not even sure that REDD offsets are the worst type of offset – there’s a lot of competition out there. But I am sure that the permanence issue is crucially important with REDD.

  3. @Chris and Nick, the issue of permanence is exceptionally critical when considering REDD. The overarching objective is to focus upon the conservation of resources that absorb or mitigate the damage we do when burning both renewable and non renewable energy resources. Additionally, we can also say that in many instances preservation of resources in terms of REDD objectives also leads to the conservation of habitat biodiversity for many threatened species. However; one has to feel that Nicks observations are quite correct. We should not fail to understand that we should be aware that the burning of any carbon based fuel (renewable or not) has to stop if we are to avaoid the predicted disasters associated with climate change caused from the combustion of carbon.

  4. Permanence of forest carbon is a little misleading. The idea is to tie up some carbon in the trees and soils only long enough to bridge the time needed to develop better energy sources than fossil carbon, not forever. In theory for sure, and in practice if done well, the role forests play in the carbon cycle is taken best advantage of to buffer the worst effects of emissions based climate change. As a tree guy, I will go out on a limb here and predict that it will soon be discovered that forests mitigate and buffer climate change at many more levels and in ways hitherto not known to us…Go REDD!

    The issue of permanence is also addressed by retaining say, 20% of the credits in a pool, insurance style, on the theory that probably less than 20% of the forests in projects will be compromised.

  5. @Ric Thanks for your comment. You state that “The idea is to tie up some carbon in the trees and soils only long enough to bridge the time needed to develop better energy sources than fossil carbon, not forever.”

    This sounds, at least in theory, like a good idea. But let’s think through what REDD offset credits do in practice. The offset credits will be bought by companies that do not want to reduce their emissions, but would rather pay to be allowed to continue polluting. Other companies might buy carbon credits at a time when the price is cheap (for example during the freefall stage of the ongoing economic and financial crisis) in order to build new coal-fired power stations at some point in the future. So what REDD (and other carbon credits) are actually encouraging is the locking in of dirty technology. REDD credits provide no incentives whatsoever to develop clean energy.

    Incidentally, Jago Wadley has a couple of questions for you on a different comment thread (click here).

  6. Tropical Forest Group has posted the MoU between Acre, Chiapas and California, on the TFG blog. The MoU is dated 16 November 2010:

    MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING ON ENVIRONMENTAL COOPERATION BETWEEN THE STATE OF ACRE OF THE FEDERATIVE REPUBLIC OF BRAZIL, THE STATE OF CHIAPAS OF THE UNITED MEXICAN STATES, AND THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

    The State of Acre of the Federative Republic of Brazil, the State of Chiapas of the United Mexican States, and the State of California of the United States of America, hereinafter referred to as “the Parties”:

    ACKNOWLEDGING the friendship and excellent cooperation among the governments of the Federative Republic of Brazil, the United Mexican States, and the United States of America;

    TAKING INTO ACCOUNT the global nature of environmental problems and the ability of joint efforts to enhance joint policies for environmental protection and sustainable natural resources, especially reducing emissions from deforestation;

    RATIFYING the willingness to promote new mechanisms of dialogue and agreement that lead to the strengthening of relationships and productive mutual action;

    CONSIDERING the opportunities for collaboration between the State of Acre, the State of Chiapas, and the State of California in combating climate change;

    RECOGNIZING the importance and value of implementing climate mitigation and adaptation actions at sub-national levels, both in their own right and as a means to furthering national and international efforts;

    Recognizing further the importance of focusing on issues of common interest between the Parties, such as reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the forest sector by preserving standing forests and sequestering additional carbon through the restoration and reforestation of degraded lands and forest, and through improved forest management practices;

    Recognizing further that the Governors’ Climate and Forests (GCF) Task Force is a unique subnational collaboration between 14 states and provinces from the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Mexico that seeks to integrate Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) and other forest carbon activities into emerging greenhouse gas (GHG) compliance regimes in the United States and elsewhere. As such, the GCF represents an important foundation for identifying enhanced partnerships.

    EXPRESS their willingness to cooperate, in the search of joint actions that improve environmental quality and optimize the quality of life in the State of Acre, the State of Chiapas, and the State of California.

    ARTICLE 1

    This Memorandum of Understanding is intended to promote broader cooperation regarding environmental issues among the Parties within their respective purview and based on principles of reciprocity, information exchange and mutual benefit.

    ARTICLE 2

    The Parties will coordinate efforts and promote collaboration for environmental management, scientific and technical investigation, and capacity building, through cooperative efforts focused particularly on:

    a. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and land degradation – otherwise known as “REDD” – and sequestration of additional carbon through the restoration and reforestation of degraded lands and forests, and through improved forest management practices.

    b. Developing recommendations together to ensure that forest-sector emissions reductions and sequestrations, from activities undertaken at the sub-national level, will be real, additional, quantifiable, permanent, verifiable and enforceable, and capable of being recognized in compliance mechanisms of each party’s state.

    ARTICLE 3

    In furtherance of the priorities referenced in Article 2, the Parties will develop the following method of cooperation, among others:

    a. The states will develop a Sub-national REDD Working Group that will convene monthly between December 2010 through October 2011 to begin the process for developing a state to state sectoral REDD linkage recommendation that will provide the foundation for an eventual submittal to the California Air Resources Board, as defined in California’s cap and trade program (CCR, Title 17, Sections 95991-95997) and to other necessary state entities to approve such a recommendation amongst the Parties. This group will weigh the legal, technical and economic considerations in developing sector-based credits generated by the Parties. This group should include no more than 15 representatives with experience developing sector-based REDD programs or directly involved with the states supplying the credits, or from the California state government. The process should be led by a facilitator to ensure the group focuses on meeting the needs of ARB in their existing cap and trade regulations. Membership should be limited to a small number of representatives of each Party, a national representative from the selected states;, a limited number of NGO representatives and expert advisors including one on the social dimension of greenhouse gas mitigation, but no more than 2 project based standard organization representatives, and a facilitator.

    b. Other methods developed between the Parties.

    ARTICLE 4

    The Parties will cooperate in the development of a workplan for the REDD Partnership Working Group containing cooperative actions.

    The workplan will include all necessary provisions for implementing the cooperation activity agreed upon, including its scope, coordination and administration, resource allocation, expert and professional exchanges, administrative issues, and any other information deemed necessary for achieving the objective of this Memorandum of Understanding.

    Independent of the formalization of work plans the Parties agree that collaboration proposals can be presented that allow the parties to optimize outcomes for achieving the objective of this Memorandum of Understanding.

    ARTICLE 5

    In activities of cooperation and information exchanges, if Parties deem it convenient, private and public sectors may be invited to participate, as well as public, academic and research institutions, or any other organization, as long as they can directly contribute to the achievement of the objective of this Memorandum of Understanding. Other states are also encouraged to participate as Observers to working group discussions.

    ARTICLE 6

    The Parties will finance activities referred to in this Memorandum of Understanding with resources allocated in their respective budgets, as these resources become available and as stipulated by their own legislation processes. Each Party will pay for expenses related to its own participation, unless alternative financial mechanisms can be used for specific activities, as appropriate and as approved by their respective appointing authority.
    ARTICLE 7

    Confidential or protected information, material or equipment will not be subject to transfer pursuant to this Memorandum of Understanding.

    If information, material and equipment is identified to require or to potentially require protection and classification, during the development of cooperation activities as stated in this Memorandum of Understanding, the Parties will inform corresponding authorities and will establish the appropriate protections in writing. Transfer or use of information, material and equipment not protected or classified which is controlled by any of the Parties, shall be done in accordance with applicable laws of each state, province, nation, or institution and must be properly identified.

    ARTICLE 8

    Officials designated by each Party to implement cooperation activities under this Memorandum of Understanding will continue working for the party to whom they belong, and no labor relations will be created with any other Party to this Memorandum of Understanding.

    Cooperative activities under this Memorandum of Understanding will in no way change the original employer/employee relationship of the officials working together under this Memorandum of Understanding.

    The Parties will make all necessary arrangements with corresponding authorities to facilitate customs entrance and exit of participants officially taking part in cooperation projects under this Memorandum of Understanding. These participants will be bound by migration, fiscal, customs, sanitary and national security provisions existing in each respective country and are not authorized to do any other activity without previous permission from the appropriate authorities.

    The Parties will ensure that their official representatives participating in cooperation actions have medical, liability and life insurance, to pay costs related to damage repair or indemnification, in case that an accident may occur as a result of cooperation activities related to the execution of this Memorandum of Understanding.

    ARTICLE 9

    Any differences of interpretation, management or execution of this Memorandum of Understanding will be resolved by mutual understanding of the Parties.

    ARTICLE 10

    This Memorandum of Understanding can be modified by mutual consent of the Parties in writing, specifying the date of the entry into force of any such modifications.

    ARTICLE 11

    Termination of this Memorandum of Understanding can be made by any of the Parties, through written communication directed to the other Parties with thirty (30) days advance notice.

    ARTICLE 12

    The Parties acknowledge that this Memorandum of Understanding is only intended to provide for cooperation between the Parties, and does not create any legally binding rights or obligations. To the extent any other provision of this Memorandum of Understanding is inconsistent with this paragraph, this paragraph shall control.

    Executed at the University of California, Davis, during the Governors’ Global Climate Summit 3, United States of America, on November sixteen of two thousand and ten, in three originals in the English language.

    FOR THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

    ________________________________
    Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger

    FOR THE STATE OF ACRE IN THE FEDERATIVE REPUBLIC OF BRAZIL

    ________________________________
    Governor Arnóbio Marques de Almeida Júnior

    FOR THE STATE OF CHIAPAS
    IN THE UNITED MEXICAN STATES

    ________________________________
    Governor Juan Sabines Guerrero

    WITNESSED BY:

    Linda Adams
    Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency and Chair of the Climate Action Reserve

    Mary Nichols
    Chair of the California Air Resources Board

    Edvaldo Magalháes
    Deputy of Acre State and
    President of Legislative Assembly
    Of Acre State

    Lourdes A. Lopez Moreno
    Secretary for Environment, Housing and Natural History State of Chiapas

    Ricardo Martinez
    Deputy Secretary for Environmental Justice, Tribal and Border Affairs State of California Environmental Protection Agency

  7. Predictably enough, Environmental Defense Fund loves this deal. It’s a “a historic achievement to reduce climate change,” according to EDF’s gushing press release. It won’t reduce emissions (just shift them from one place to another), it will allow pollution to continue in California and it will lock in polluting technology. I suppose that is a “historic achievement” but not in the sense that I suspect EDF meant.

    Steve Schwartzman demonstrates his utter failure to grasp the issues in EDF’s press release:

    “This understanding demonstrates international climate leadership,” said EDF Tropical Forests Director Steve Schwartzman. “It clearly demonstrates that we can start to effectively combat climate change and stop deforestation in the absence of a national policy and an international agreement.”

    So black is white, redd is green and not reducing greenhouse gas emissions means “climate leadership” and “effectively combat[ing] climate change”.

  8. @Chris…I couldn’t find any questions from Jago on the link you gave…

  9. Ric and Jago both make great points. Additionally, there is a whole plethora of issues related to equating CO2 being extracted from sedimentary reservoirs (fossil fuels) with CO2 stored in the atmosphere or biosphere.

    This, along with additionality, leakage and permanence issues (to name a few), easily render REDD useless at best, and dangerously evasive and unjust at worst.

  10. Sorry, I meant Chris and Jago :), rather than Ric

  11. Governor’s Climate and Forests Task Force is over?

  12. @Carolina – No, the Governor’s Climate and Forests Task Force is not over – at least as far as I know. Here’s the website: http://www.gcftaskforce.org.

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