Four reasons why the California Air Resources Board should endorse the California Tropical Forest Standard

Tropical forests are key to halting global climate change. Destruction of these forests releases 14 to 19 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions each year, more than the emissions from all the world’s cars, trucks, and ships combined. Tropical forests also house an astounding array of plants and animals and provide livelihoods and the backbone of culture for indigenous and forest people around the world.

That’s why California’s proposed Tropical Forest Standard (TFS) is so important. It sets up a framework for carbon markets to credit greenhouse gas emission reductions to incentivize the protection of tropical forests, and sets the highest bar for social and environmental safeguards seen to date.

California is known as a global climate leader, but the most significant step the state can take right now is to endorse the Tropical Forest Standard to help avert climate catastrophe, protect biodiversity, and support the indigenous communities who depend on tropical forests. Watch the video "California and the Amazon are more interconnected than you might think."

We have a great opportunity to move the needle on tropical deforestation

The TFS would demonstrate what the state views as a legitimate standard by which to gauge any jurisdiction’s forest carbon program, and the emission reduction credits they could achieve for compliance carbon markets. It also lays out key elements that California would require of any program to consider in a potential future linkage.

The TFS sends the critical signal: think big, address emissions at a large scale, and develop partnerships with communities to ensure that the program provides benefits to those who are managing and protecting the forests. Now is an important time to influence other carbon markets as well as jurisdictions that are designing programs to address forest emissions.

Four important elements of California’s Tropical Forest Standard

1. Large (jurisdictional) scale

First, the TFS requires programs to function at a large scale. The Standard sets out what the California Air Resources Board has been saying for years: California would only look to jurisdictional-level (i.e. across entire governments such as a state or province) programs that monitor and account for greenhouse gas emissions from their entire forest sector for potential crediting. That means jurisdictions seeking to sell credits into California need to monitor and account for deforestation emissions wall-to-wall across its entire territory. This ensures reductions achieved in one location are not offset by deforestation elsewhere – as could happen in a small-scale, project-by-project approach to crediting.

Such programs are also more comprehensive in their approach, their planning and implementation. A jurisdiction-wide program also must demonstrate the policy and legal foundations for its development, implementation, and enforcement.

2. Comprehensive planning and transparency

The “sector plan” is the key component of the TFS. It requires an implementing jurisdiction to spell out how it is designing, implementing, monitoring, and enforcing its program. A high-quality program will reduce deforestation emissions in a way that benefits both forests and communities in the short- and long-terms. Each jurisdiction must have a comprehensive sector plan to receive credit for these emissions reductions, and must include a detailed demonstration of how its program works, including:

  • Describing the laws, regulations and institutions that will implement the program, as well as continue to monitor it, and enforce it.
  • Detailing how the program was developed, specifically speaking to inclusion of and consultation with forest communities in its design, as well as determining how benefits are distributed.
  • Specifying how emissions will be measured and continuously monitored to demonstrate real emissions reductions and using methods specified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  • Explaining how emission reductions will be counted and ensuring that any transaction of credits for these reductions squares with both national and global accounting standards that avoid “double claiming” emission reductions.
  • Committing to a clear and transparent plan for how financial benefits for emission reductions achieved will be distributed between the state and other stakeholders.

All of this information must be made publicly available online, in English, and available to market regulators as well as any outside observer. Jurisdictions must also provide regular, independent, third party verification of all of these components of their sector plan.

3. Real reductions from wall-to-wall

The rigor of measuring and monitoring emission reductions is a primary concern for any program that credits those reductions. Critically, the proposed Standard requires that jurisdictions demonstrate they are reducing emissions from their forests below demonstrated historical levels of emissions. This parallels California’s own approach to setting targets for reducing emissions, which measures its greenhouse gas reductions against emissions in the year 1990. The TFS requires that a baseline level of emissions from deforestation in a tropical forest jurisdiction also be based on average historical emissions, over a ten-year period.

The proposed TFS also deals with the critical issue of how a program addresses the drivers of deforestation and avoids and/or accounts for potential shifting of forest destruction elsewhere. For example, if soy production is a major deforestation driver, the jurisdiction could demonstrate that soy production has stayed steady, while deforestation has decreased, or that sectors requiring intensive land use have been replaced by other more sustainable economic activities.

Jurisdictions must also demonstrate reductions achieved on their “own effort,” i.e. reductions against the baseline that are achieved, but not credited or sold. Jurisdictions can then sell additional reductions beyond that effort into the market. This both pushes overall ambition and further ensures environmental integrity.

4. Strong social safeguards

Indigenous peoples have been living in and sustainably managing forests for centuries and are on the front lines of efforts to stop their forests from going up in smoke. They are the key partners in sustainable management to ensure their communities’ current and future well-being.

Mechanisms that aim to reduce emissions from deforestation must involve forest communities in their design and development, as well as benefit these communities directly. This is where “social safeguards” for these programs come in. The TFS does not develop its own guidelines for social safeguards from scratch. Rather, it references several global best practices.

Red-breasted Toucan, also known as the Green-billed Toucan, in a Parque das Aves, Brazil. Photo: Wikipedia

These existing best practice standards are not one-size-fits-all approaches to working with forest communities and do not presuppose what those communities want or need. They are comprehensive yet flexible enough to accommodate different national circumstances and local governance structures.

They took years of stakeholder consultation and technical work to develop and their appropriate and customized implementation is something that each jurisdiction must demonstrate. Under the TFS, jurisdictions must demonstrate exactly how these, or other equivalently rigorous safeguards, are being implemented to be considered for crediting. An updated version of the TFS also features the full inclusion of the Guiding Principles for Collaboration and Partnership Between Subnational Governments, Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities. These are a set of principles developed in collaboration between indigenous organizations from around the world, representing millions of indigenous people, and subnational governments of the Governors' Climate and Forests Task Force, of which California is a voting member. Adoption of these principles was a critical step forward in advancing the joint dialogue in finding solutions to deforestation in partnership with those who protect and depend on them.

Time to act

California has positioned itself, through influence and action, as a global leader on climate change. The state has been able to reduce emissions, while growing its economy and serving the needs of its people. It took vision and work. On tropical forests, California has invested both. Now, it’s time to act.

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