Missing the Forest for the Trees – Part 1

March 19, 2021

Companies trying to meet voluntary greenhouse gas reduction targets have new interest in projects that remove carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere through growth of biomass, capture of carbon out of the air, and other experimental techniques like weathering of rocks. This interest has been bolstered by the Science-Based Targets Initiative’s initial preference for these types of projects in the net zero criteria being established. Exclusive focus on these projects runs the risk of tanking the market for avoided emissions that are created from projects like forest preservation, landfill gas destruction, industrial gas mitigation, and dissemination of efficient cookstoves. These projects have the potential to make significant reductions, create important co-benefits to communities, and address the 20% of global greenhouse gases (like methane, hydrofluorocarbons, and sulfur hexafluoride) that are not carbon.[1]

To look at the specific benefits of one of these avoided emission project types and its co-benefits, let’s investigate a forestry project. Improved Forest Management (IFM) or Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation involve protecting trees that are standing through better forest management that sequesters more carbon than the standard in the region. There are two types of credits created when protecting standing forest – removal credits from the growth of the trees and avoided emission credits from the protection of the trees. Some may argue that all of the credits should be removal credits since the carbon stored in the forest represents removals that were done the past. However, the way that carbon quantification protocols under widely-accepted standards like the Verified Carbon Standard and the American Carbon Registry quantify these credits is as avoided emissions.

Currently there is a very clear way by which these protocols direct offset developers to calculate the growth of trees versus the standing carbon in the protected trees in a carbon offset project boundary. However, in the registry where these credits reside, there is no distinction between these types of credits. Therefore, even though certain corporate clients may prefer these removals, they cannot be distinguished from the other credits created by these projects on existing carbon registries. And, for most REDD and IFM projects, the growth or removal credits comprise ~10-20% of the overall credits. The avoided emissions are needed for the scale of neutralization activities necessary to meet future net zero targets by the 1,392 companies 569 organizations, and 74 investors who have committed to Climate Ambition Alliance: Net Zero 2050.[2]

[1] “Overview of Greenhouse Gases,” EPA, https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/overview-greenhouse-gases.

[2] Global Climate Action, NAZCA, UNFCCC, https://climateaction.unfccc.int/views/cooperative-initiative-details.html?id=94&utm_source=Center+for+Climate+and+Energy+Solutions+newsletter+list&utm_campaign=adc4d8cd8d-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_06_16_12_52&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_36e5120ca4-adc4d8cd8d-303654101

This article is contributed by

Lizzie Aldrich, PhD
As Vice President of Business Development, Lizzie identifies and acquires new clients in the Low Carbon Fuel Standard and renewable natural gas markets. She also leads the voluntary offset sales efforts where she identifies buyers, develops marketing materials, and negotiates sales agreements.

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