Category Archives: Ecosystem Restoration

How California’s Climate Policy is Saving the Forest and Preserving a Way of Life

rp_ca_innov_series_icon_283x204.jpgEDFs Innovators Series profiles companies and people across California with bold solutions to reduce carbon pollution and help the state meet the goals of AB 32. Each addition to the series will profile a different solution, focused on the development of new technologies and ideas.

Although the Yurok Tribe is the largest Native American tribe by membership in California, it has struggled for centuries to keep hold of its ancestral land – an integral part of the Tribe’s livelihood. As European settlers moved in, the Yurok culture of living in unison with nature was rapidly and repeatedly challenged, as their land was taken and the natural ecosystems on which they depend were disrupted. In the New World economy that emerged, a person could make money from this acquired land in one of only three ways. The first was by cutting down the trees to harvest timber. The second was by cutting down the trees to create farmland. The third was by selling the land, most likely to someone who was hoping to cut down the trees for one of the first two purposes.

This story has played out countless times across the world, but California’s cap-and-trade program is changing the existing paradigm by creating a fourth way to derive revenue from forestland through the creation of an active carbon offsets market. The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has approved five types of offset protocols for use in cap and trade, one of which is for U.S. forestry projects. This offset protocol gives forest landowners that meet stringent certification criteria a financial incentive to keep sustainable inventories of trees, and their carbon, on the land as opposed to cutting and hauling it all away. Companies regulated under the cap-and-trade program may purchase certified offset credits to account for a small percentage of the greenhouse gas pollution they produce. In this way, offsets can provide valuable opportunities to cut pollution while also creating valuable sources of revenue for landowners.
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Plow, or Preserve and Profit?

Konza Prairie Biological Station

This weekend, long-time Minneapolis Star Tribune outdoors columnist and reporter Dennis Anderson wrote a revelatory call to arms about the dire state of conservation in Minnesota:

"This ain’t working, and we need to try something different. Radically different."

Directly to the West of Minnesota in the Prairie Pothole Region of Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota, annual losses of native grasslands have averaged approximately 50,000 acres per year since 2007, leading to a significant loss of soil carbon. High prices for commodity crops make it much more attractive to plow grasslands than to keep them intact.

What if a market-based initiative paid farmers and ranchers for keeping grasslands grass? A new carbon offset protocol announced yesterday may just do that.

The protocol officially titled the “Avoided Conversion of Grasslands and Shrublands to Crop Production” was developed through a partnership effort including Environmental Defense Fund, Duck’s Unlimited, The Climate Trust, The Nature Conservancy and Terra Global Capital and was funded in part by the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Innovation Grant.

Just approved by the American Carbon Registry, this first of its kind voluntary protocol will be best applied to grasslands in the Midwest. Producers of these offsets can sell them to any willing buyer in America. Ranchers in the Midwest already recognize the value of their land lies in the soil health below ground where the soil translates to healthy food for their cattle. Now these same producers can quantify this value and sell it through new environmental markets.

“This project provides Northern Great Plains producers with new ways to earn income from conservation activities, expanded opportunity for outdoor recreation and an opportunity to create jobs in their communities,” said Robert Bonnie, USDA Under Secretary for Natural Resources and the Environment. “The American Carbon Registry’s approval of this innovative ACoGS protocol enables vital projects like our partnership with Ducks Unlimited to preserve a treasured national landscape, while also preventing the release of greenhouse gas emissions.”

This first project the Under Secretary mentions, is estimated to perpetually conserve 5,000 – 6,000 acres of native mixed-grass prairie. The protection of grasslands will also indirectly protect 500-600 acres of seasonal and semi-permanent wetlands situated in the protected grasslands.

And these lands are protected not through onerous regulations or hollowed out federal conservation programs but through innovative new revenue streams for the agriculture sector from emerging environmental markets such as California’s carbon market.  Between now and 2020, companies in California can purchase more than 200 million metric tons of offsets.  This protocol has the opportunity to help supply that demand.

This is an exciting step forward for Midwest producers. By making ecosystems a part of the economy ranchers and their families will benefit from diverse opportunities to make more money off their land.

 

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The Future of Offsets Just Got Brighter

Yesterday the California cap-and-trade program hit another milestone. The American Carbon Registry, an approved Offset Project Registry, issued the first compliance offset credits, a significant breakthrough because these offset credits are the first ones that can be used by California companies to comply with the requirements of AB 32, California's greenhouse gas law. The credits were issued for a refrigerant destruction project which collected refrigerants from residential, commercial, and industrial sources. While these gases came from a variety of geographic areas, a significant amount came from California sources like kitchens, garages, basements, and attics.

This is the first of many goals we expect from the offset market in 2013.  Earlier this year, the California Air Resources Board (ARB) planted a seed when it launched a process to develop a carbon offset protocol for rice growers. California is the second-largest rice growing region in the U.S., and the ground that is being plowed here, both literally and figuratively, will set the stage for the development of future agricultural offset protocols across the country with practices such as fertilizer management for lettuce and corn.

As the largest uncapped sector under the cap-and-trade program, agriculture represents a major potential to reduce near-term greenhouse gas emissions.  Unlike refrigerants, offsets generated by agriculture are perennial and a grower can get a long-term income stream for their practices. Because the U.S. has more than 442 million acres of cropland, agriculture has many opportunities to reduce greenhouse gases.

EDF's research and pilots have demonstrated that it is possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decrease input costs, maintain yields, and generate revenue – all at the same time – creating a win-win for both farmers and the environment.

Consider this: If just 5% of U.S. agricultural land were able to reduce or sequester half a ton of CO2e per acre, more than 11 million tons could be reduced – equivalent to taking more than 2 million cars off the road for a year.  By approving the rice offset protocol this fall, the ARB will take the first step toward unleashing this potential.

Also posted in Cap and trade, Climate, Ecosystem Services, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Offsets, Sustainable Agriculture| Comments closed

A Blueprint for Advancing California’s Strong Leadership on Global Climate Change

A key reason California has become a global leader on climate change is its ability to successfully adopt the Global Warming Solutions Act, the state’s climate law that uses market-based tools to significantly reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emission levels.

A group of tropical forest experts has now presented a blueprint for how California can secure significantly more reductions in global warming pollution than the law requires, while keeping pollution control costs down and helping stop the catastrophe of tropical deforestation.

California is widely recognized as the major first mover in the United States on climate change, but tropical states and countries are making strong progress in stopping climate change, too. Brazil and Amazon states have reduced emissions from cutting and burning the Amazon forest by about 2.2 billion tons of carbon since 2005, making Brazil the world leader in curbing climate change pollution.

Research has shown that government policies played a big role in this major achievement. But so far this success in reducing deforestation has been entirely from government “command-and-control;” promised economic incentives for reducing deforestation haven’t materialized.  Pushback from ranchers against environmental law enforcement and the officially recognized indigenous territories and protected areas that cover an area four times the size of California have weakened critical environmental legislation.

Brazil and the Amazon states will continue to reach their ambitious deforestation reduction targets, at least for the next few years, but deforestation rates recently appear to be edging upward.

California now has an opportunity to send a powerful signal that forests in the Amazon – and ultimately elsewhere – can be worth more alive than dead by partnering with sustainable development leaders outside the United States.

Since state-wide, or “jurisdictional,” reductions in deforestation and forest degradation are large in scale and relatively low-cost, it’s critical that well-governed and effective pollution control programs from early movers, like the state of Acre, Brazil, are recognized by California’s carbon market. Ultimately, this can help California control costs, while giving these environmental leaders the sign they need to keep deforestation under control.

 

REDD Offsets Working Group report

The REDD Offsets Working Group (ROW), along with observers from the governments of California, Acre and Chiapas, Mexico, calls for the Golden State to allow limited amounts of carbon credits from Reducing Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) into its carbon market, but only from states that can show that they have reduced deforestation state-wide and below historical levels.

The ROW report: Recommendations to Conserve Tropical Rainforests, Protect Local Communities, and Reduce State-Wide Greenhouse Gas Emissions" recommends:

  • Partner states receive credit for a part of their demonstrated reductions only after showing they have succeeded in halting deforestation through their own efforts.
  • Free, prior and informed consent for local communities in REDD+ programs.
  • Adherence to internationally recognized standards for protection of indigenous and local peoples’ rights and participation in policy design in partner-state REDD+ programs.

REDD+ programs are especially important for indigenous and forest-based communities because these groups have historically protected forests, and typically want to continue doing so, but they have largely lacked access to markets, modern technology, quality health care and social services that REDD+ could help deliver. With California’s help, forest communities can achieve better economic opportunities and forest conservation.

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Auction results present golden opportunity for California landowners

Last Friday, results from California’s second cap-and-trade auction were released and by all accounts it was a huge success. More importantly, it sent a signal that this is a strong and viable carbon market and presents a golden opportunity for landowners.

Through agricultural offsets, landowners have the potential to provide companies a lower priced option for meeting California’s greenhouse gas targets than available through the auction. Companies that must meet the requirements of the cap-and-trade program are allowed to use offsets for up to 8 percent of their greenhouse gas obligation and the price of carbon is going up with each auction — there was a 27 percent increase in the price of allowances between the November and February auction, from $10.09 to $13.62 per metric ton.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has approved four types of offset projects for use under California’s cap-and-trade program: forestry (improved management, avoided conversion, and reforestation), livestock methane capture and destruction, refrigerant destruction (limited to specific ozone depleting substances), and urban tree planting. At the end of March, CARB will start a rulemaking process for the consideration of two new protocols – rice cultivation and coal mine methane destruction. EDF is working closely with stakeholders throughout the U.S. to help develop and implement a rice protocol.

A related and positive development for the offset market occurred on December 14, 2012 when the Climate Action Reserve and American Carbon Registry were named as official "Offset Project Registries." The registries can now issue offset credits from protocols that have been approved by CARB. As additional agricultural offset protocols are approved, farmers throughout the United States can begin offering agricultural offset credits to companies to help them comply with California’s cap-and-trade program. We expect the first offsets to be issued by the registries and approved by CARB in the next three months.

While prices vary by year and type of offset, offsets were trading between $10 and $12 per metric ton prior to the second auction. This price will go up now that the results of the auction have been released. This means that agricultural producers will have an opportunity for a new and steady income stream for their conservation stewardship and for being part of the climate solution.

To learn more about agriculture's ability to offset climate change please visit EDF's web page here: http://www.edf.org/climate/agricultures-ability-offset-climate-change.

 

Also posted in Climate, Ecosystem Services, Global Warming Solutions Act: AB 32, Offsets, Sustainable Agriculture| Comments closed

Climate Protocol Approved for CA Rice Farming

 Today, the Climate Action Reserve (CAR) approved a new protocol for measuring the climate benefits of reducing  methane emissions from rice farming practices.  

CAR developed the protocol with participation from Environmental Defense Fund and other groups over several months.  The American Climate Registry (ACR) and the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) are expected to adopt rice protocols in 2012. 

EDF worked for the past several years on quantifying the benefits that can be achieved from changing current farming practices toward more climate-aware and ecosystem-beneficial practices.  In California, the most productive agricultural state in America, opportunities abound to maximize ecosystem services throughout the state – including:

  • changes to rice farming and fertilizer management;
  • application of compost to rangelands; and
  • restoring wetlands. 

 These practices, if credited by California’s Air Resources Board (CARB) as approved protocols, will not only reduce pollution from California’s agriculture sector, they will yield additional economic benefits to farmers as offsets that can be sold to companies that must comply with the state’s cap-and-trade program that is the cornerstone of its landmark climate law, AB 32

High-end estimates indicate that, if fully subscribed for optimal profits, about 180,000 tons per year of greenhouse gas pollution can be cut from changing to low-carbon rice management.

Also posted in Climate, Ecosystem Services, Sustainable Agriculture| Comments closed
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