California’s Carbon Market: A Potential Game-Changer in Slowing the Amazon’s Deforestation

California moved into the fast lane on the low-carbon development highway when it launched its carbon market this month. Now it has the opportunity to do even more to stop dangerous climate change while cutting the costs of controlling global warming pollution.  Recommendations from a group of experts on how Reducing Emissions from tropical Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) can come into California’s market show how.

In the world of greenhouse gas emissions, tropical deforestation is huge. Accounting for about 15% of these emissions globally, deforestation emits more than all cars, trucks, buses, trains and airplanes on the planet — combined.

When California launched its cap-and-trade program Jan.1, it created the second largest carbon market in the world. With REDD+, the Golden State now has another golden opportunity to expand its global environmental leadership even further.

The REDD+ Offsets Working Group (ROW) convened by California, the Brazilian state of Acre, and the Mexican state of Chiapas, has released recommendations for how California can bring REDD+ into its carbon market.  The ROW, in accordance with California’s Global Warming Solutions Act’s (AB32) guidance, recommends that California allow states or countries that reduce their total emissions from deforestation below an historical average, while maintaining or increasing the output of commodities like cattle and soy that drive deforestation, to generate compliance credit in California.

This “jurisdictional” approach is much like what California is doing – reducing state-wide emissions below a clearly measurable historical level.

The ROW also recommends requiring states to show that they have made their own efforts to reduce deforestation, beyond any reductions that they seek credit for and ensuring that local –particularly indigenous — communities participate in policy design, have a choice about whether or not to participate in programs, and benefit directly if they do.

Tropical states such as Acre and Chiapas that are moving forward on their own to reduce deforestation know that California’s market for international offsets is very limited, and don’t expect to get paid for most of the reductions they’ve made or can make.

But they need a signal, and California’s carbon market may now hold the key to the future of the forest.

Until recently, rampant deforestation in the Amazon was a big part of the global warming problem – and a disaster for the millions of species of plants and animals and thousands of indigenous groups that live in the forests.  But when Brazil and Amazon states adopted new policies in 2005, all that began to change.

They ramped up law enforcement and started making large-scale reductions in Amazon deforestation, reducing their deforestation about 76% below the 1996 – 2005 average by 2012 (about 2.2 billion tons CO2) while increasing agricultural production and cattle herd. This came very close to the national target Brazil adopted — 80% reduction by 2020 — making it the world leader in emissions reductions.

Despite that progress – or maybe because of it – the Agriculture Caucus of the Brazilian Congress recently pushed for and won legislation weakening forest protection laws. The result? Although 2012 recorded the lowest deforestation on record, reports now say deforestation in the last five months has actually gone up in relation to 2011.

Creating demand for real, verifiable, additional REDD+ from jurisdictions that have solid social and environmental safeguards could be the sign the Amazon – and tropical jurisdictions around the world – need to know that REDD+ is real. Bringing it into California’s carbon market is an effective path to making that happen.

This blog is also cross-posted on the EDF Talks Global Climate Blog

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