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  • Danae Azuara / Environmental Defense Fund

    A forest is burned in Mexico’s Chiapas state, a region the California Air Resources Board is considering as a place to pay for conservation, using the resulting carbon sequestration as an offset against California emissions.

  • Tony Brunello is the executive director of the Green Technology Leadership Group, partner at California Strategies and former California deputy secretary for climate change and energy.

  • Dan Nepstad, a scientist, is director and president of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) International Program in San Francisco, and a lead author of the forthcoming fifth global assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Viewpoints: Should California cap and trade use forestry offsets? Yes

State can help save other regions

Published: Sunday, May. 19, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 5E
Last Modified: Tuesday, May. 21, 2013 - 7:52 am

We love our forests in California. After a century of rapidly losing them to farming and logging, we finally succeeded in virtually ending deforestation in California. We were driven by our interest in the natural beauty, the wildlife, the sustainable timber supplies and the water-purifying functions of old-growth redwoods along the coast, the blue oaks growing across the Central Valley and the mixed pine forests of the Sierra. It was only possible because we had a clear vision of the importance of our forests and a successful strategy for protecting them.

California has an opportunity now to help forest-rich states in Brazil, Mexico and other nations take a similar step to keep their forests. But why should Californians care?

First, we are part of the problem. Much of the palm oil that is hidden in our cosmetics and foods is grown on recently cleared lands in Indonesia and Malaysia. We make furniture, build decks and cover our houses and businesses with ipe, teak and mahogany extracted from tropical forests.

Second, tropical forests are part of the solution. Their trees are a giant reservoir of carbon that is emitted into the atmosphere when they are cut down, logged or burned. The sum of these activities around the world releases about the same amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere each year as all of the world's cars, trucks and buses combined. Reducing emissions from tropical forests is one of the cheapest ways for the globe to reduce its carbon footprint.

Finally, California can help tropical partner states where the world has largely failed. We can send a much-needed signal to tropical nations and states that California – and the world – want to help in reducing tropical deforestation.

The opportunity before California could have large impacts beyond our border – accepting limited carbon offsets from states that meet rigorous criteria for reducing tropical deforestation. Carbon offsets in California's cap-and-trade program play a limited role in overall state reductions, and any tropical forest offsets could – and should – also play only a minor role within the program.

California's Air Resources Board states that more than 400 million metric tons of the state's greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 2020 to meet our legal mandate. They estimate that roughly 30 percent of those reductions will come from the cap-and-trade system while the rest will come from our regulations for cleaner cars, renewable energy and energy efficiency regulations.

California should provide limited space to allow "sector-based" forest carbon offsets into our cap-and-trade system for only those tropical states that meet strict economywide rules, such as those developed here in California in partnership with the state of Acre in Brazil and the state of Chiapas in Mexico. See stateredd.org to see the recommended rules. According to these recommendations, no state could trade emissions offsets with California unless they have strict statewide deforestation baselines and targets, ensure local communities' lives are improved, respect indigenous peoples' rights, and meet or exceed the environmental standards we have here in California.

Acre began to build the laws and systems that are needed to switch from the forest-clearing rural economy to the forest-maintaining rural economy 13 years ago. It is working. It has already achieved emissions reductions of more than one-third of California's mandate by 2020. Acre, Chiapas and another 16 tropical states from around the world have been meeting with California for the last four years through the Governors' Climate and Forests Task Force.

The tropical states have slowed deforestation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by more than 3 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide. But they have seen only a trickle of positive incentives. Their political will is flagging. These are not isolated forest carbon projects. They are forest-maintaining rural development. And our tropical state partners can't do it alone.

It is time for California to help other forested states that are trying to mirror our environmental and economic progress. Accepting limited international forest offsets is the right direction for California policymakers.

Tony Brunello is the executive director of the Green Technology Leadership Group, partner at California Strategies and former California deputy secretary for climate change and energy. Dan Nepstad, a scientist, is director and president of the Amazon Environmental Research Institute (IPAM) International Program in San Francisco, and a lead author of the forthcoming fifth global assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

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