Monday, June 29, 2009

Will the new Climate Bill help protecting forests or become a source of income for timber companies?

The Climate bill passed in the House last Friday. It might not be only a new era in fighting climate change, but also the first time when it is worthwhile to keep trees alive instead of cutting them down.

The Huffington Post reported last Friday that trees will be part of the credits scheme that is presented in the bill, and this time it means not only reforestation projects, but also protection of existing forestlands.

The article explains the mechanism:

"Say an acre of forestland sucks up two additional metric tons of carbon after a landowner plants more trees on his land or promises to rotate the way he cuts them down so more are standing at once. If the pollution market created by the legislation is currently trading at $20 a ton, then the landowner could stand to make $40 per acre if he qualifies for the program"

The legislation, according to the article. would also extend to international forests, promising to pay some countries that agree to slow their harvesting of trees abroad.
We mentioned this idea in the past (see links below) and we're definitely in favor of giving economic incentives to preserve the forests and to make it worthwhile to keep them alive, avoid logging and prevent further deforestation.

This idea was discussed in the U.N.’s Bali meeting in December last year, and though it is not approved yet, there's a good chance it will be part of the post-Kyoto protocol that will be discussed in Copenhagen in December. It also enjoys the support of many international parties, such as Prince Charles, Norway, Al Gore and Wangari Maathai.

So we should be happy as forest protection finally becomes part of the carbon market, right? well, we are but it seems that the way it was integrated in the Bill is a little bit problematic..

Well, there are of course concerns about measurement, monitoring and making sure carbon capturing is actually taking place
(especially outside the U.S.), but in all these concerns are no different really from the concerns you have with every other component in the "trade" part of the cap and trade scheme under the Bill. The more significant issue here might be who is eligible to take part in it in the first place.

The article on the Huffington Post mentions that owners of large swaths of forestland, such as timber companies and large farms can benefit from it. Frank O'Donnell of the advocacy group
Clean Air Watch is quoted saying "In effect, the public is going to pay polluters to plant trees. Does that really lead to a major improvement in global warming? I don't know and I'm not sure anybody knows."

The fact that the Agriculture Department, which includes the U.S. Forest Service, will oversee the domestic program and develop regulations for verifying whether a forest owner's particular tract of land is actually capturing carbon, brings up questions like will they make tree farms eligible as well and how much will they will take sustainability into account?

If eventually we'll have timber companies being paid for having single-species tree farms that have replaced highly diverse forests (you can see that
in the Southeast U.S. for example), then we're very far from what the idea of forests protection was meant to achieve in the first place.

So how it can be prevented? here is just one idea - how about limiting forest protection to highly-diverse forests and/or forests that have FSC certification. I believe that these kind of restrictions can provide a better chance that this measure of forests protection will truly help fighting climate change and not just become another way for land owners to make money without making any significant impact on the environment.

What do you think? I'll be happy to hear your thoughts about it so feel free to add your comments.

More related posts:

How investors can save the forests? check out the Ethical Corporation Magazine

Al Gore and Wangari Maathai calls the U.N. General Assemby to support protection of forests

Merrill Lynch is investing in forest protection

How to deal with the growing deforestation in the Amazon rain forest?

Prince Charles wants to team up with Norway to save forests

Preserving forests to fight global warming

Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: promoting green printing

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