The big news on forests you may have missed during the Global Climate Action Summit

Last week marked another significant achievement in California’s climate leadership, as the state hosted side-by-side global gatherings of the Global Climate Action Summit (GCAS), and the tenth annual meeting of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force, a multi-lateral organization of subnational jurisdictions, which California helped launch in 2008.

But California doesn’t just add to the notches in its environmental leadership by hosting meetings, drawing celebrities, and showcasing pledges.

It’s the work that underlies it all – years, even decades in the making – that gives California the heft to pull off these feats.

One of California’s real accomplishments that was overshadowed – undeservedly – by the summit was the release of the California Tropical Forest Standard, which would lay the groundwork to help protect tropical forests around the world by leveraging the state’s climate program and its global vision.

Importance of forests to stopping climate change

Cutting and burning tropical forests is not only a threat to biodiversity and millions of people who depend on tropical forests for their livelihoods and cultures, but it also contributes between 16-19% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Decimating these forests exceeds the greenhouse gas emissions of all the cars, trucks, and ships in the world combined every single year.

It’s not possible to keep the earth’s warming below 2 degrees without significantly reducing emissions from cutting down tropical forests.

If you’re concerned about value of tropical forests to people and the planet, you’ve probably noticed that other folks who care about this too have been crying, “Save the Rainforest!” from the rooftops since the 1980s.

And yet – the destruction continues.  Why?  Because the drivers of that deforestation are economic.

Currently, around the world, we tend to value forests for the timber that’s in them, the valuable land they grow on, or the oil reserves underneath them. We do not value them for the global ecosystem service they provide by being one of the world’s largest carbon sinks and contributing to critical global hydrological cycles that affect people, not only in them and near them, but as far away as places like Northern California and the Sierra Nevada. Today there is no economic counterweight to keeping tropical forests standing for the protection of the planet and all of us.

The California Tropical Forest Standard could change that.

Carbon markets provide incentives for emissions reductions

Putting a price on carbon emissions provides a financial incentive to those who reduce them. Carbon markets like California’s attach a price to carbon emissions, incentivizing emissions reductions by polluters, while also allowing trading of emissions reduction credits (called “allowances”) between entities in the market.

But the market also incentivizes emissions reductions from non-regulated sources through a limited number of “offsets” that can be purchased by regulated industries from sectors like agriculture and forestry when they reduce emissions in accordance with strict protocols set by the California Air Resources Board, which regulates the market.

That means that markets can provide a steady stream of financing that incentivizes these very real greenhouse gas reductions at scale – and help tropical forest jurisdictions provide a counterweight to the drivers of deforestation while transitioning to more sustainable economic development pathways.

California Tropical Forest Standard

The California Tropical Forest Standard would set the bar for state-level forest protection efforts creating credits for real emissions reductions that could be sold into California’s carbon market and, eventually, into other markets throughout the world. That’s important for a few reasons.

1. The bar for these reductions in compliance markets should be high.

Both the environmental integrity of the reductions (i.e. ensuring that the greenhouse gas reductions credited are measured and accounted for accurately) and the quality of safeguards needed to ensure that these programs benefit forest dependent communities are critical to the long-term success of this approach. And California is well-positioned to do this. The California Air Resources Board has been studying this issue for a decade and the current proposed Standard draws on international best practice standards as well as the experience of jurisdictions actually implementing the highest quality programs in the world.

2. We cannot escape climate catastrophe without solutions for tropical forests and people.

Scientists agree it will not be possible to reach the goal of keeping the earth’s warming below 2 degrees without significantly reducing emissions from cutting down tropical forests. Avoiding the human toll of climate catastrophe across the globe is tied to protecting forests. Many indigenous and traditional communities depend on standing, healthy forests every day to survive and thrive.

Indigenous peoples have been living in, managing, and protecting forests for thousands of years and continue to do so today – and many other traditional forest communities, such as rubber tappers in the Brazilian Amazon, make their livings managing the forest without destroying it. But they can’t hold off the onslaught on deforestation pressure without support. Policies and programs in tropical forest jurisdictions that support these sustainable livelihoods need the financial incentives that carbon markets can provide. We all benefit from providing resources to those who wisely use and steward forests for the planet.

3. It is not only California’s market that is in play here.

California’s Standard makes the state a first-mover among compliance markets in considering how/when/if to credit programs that can demonstrate these large scale reductions in emissions, but it will likely not be alone. Emerging markets like the one created by the International Civil Aviation Organization through the Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme (CORSIA), as well as prospective markets around the world (such as in Mexico, Colombia, Chile, China, or others) could replicate this standard – which is good news for tropical forests if they adhere to California’s rigorous requirements. It would also be great news for the atmosphere, since California’s standard ensures far greater environmental integrity and social equity than some of the alternatives under consideration.


Among the many critical climate issues confronting us on climate change highlighted last week, tropical forests and the people who live in and depend on them were among those that justifiably took center stage. Rightly so – given the weight of the problem, and the historic participation of indigenous leaders from all over the globe who gathered to speak up for their rights, the importance of forests, and to work in partnership to craft the solutions for tropical forests and climate change.

Linking carbon markets to these solutions requires careful consideration from scientific, legal, technical and cultural perspectives, consideration that California has diligently made over the past decade. The Standard, now out for public comment, could be a global game changer. It deserves our notice and support.

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One Comment

  1. Susan Robinson
    Posted September 23, 2018 at 9:19 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately, California continues to support widespread clearcutting of California forests. The California cap and trade forestry protocol allows clearcutting and conversion of bio
    diverse forests into clear-cut carbon deserts devoid of any biodiversity. The tree plantations are generally monoculture or close to it and are all even- age. These two plantations are driving species into further extinction and produce more CO2 emissions than any other form of logging. They will not be carbon neutral for 20 to 40 years – so their sequestration far after our CO2 tipping point has been reached. Our governor has close ties with the timber industry and therefore has forced the agency’s to turn their back on science that shows that clearcutting and plantations have no role in fighting climate change. God help us if these tropical forest standards are as much of a scam as the California forest protocols are – regarding clearcutting.

    Clearcutting also negatively impacts snowpack – like putting snow in an open field versus in the shade. Clearcuts also make the ground 10 to 15° hotter in the area of clearcuts. This increased temperature then negatively affects adjacent natural forests and makes them
    hotter and drier. Fire science studies clearly show that plantations burn hotter and faster than most other forests and generally have higher severity burns. This is due to their even age structure, high density, and fairly thin bark due to younger age.