2010: the Year in Forest Carbon

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By Steve Zwick

REDD burst into general awareness at the end of 2009, when the Copenhagen Accord recognized the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, forest degradation, and other land-use practices.  Then, in January, Ecosystem Marketplace's State of the Forest Carbon Markets Report showed that forest carbon markets probably grew in 2009 despite the global recession.

Thus began a year of intense institution building both inside the UN and outside it, as regional initiatives took shape and pilot projects yielded new truths and understanding.

Vietnam, for example, initiated the formation of a nationwide scheme to promote payments for forest ecosystem services, primarily targeted at preserving the country's struggling mangroves.

Indeed, mangroves were a hot topic all year because they offer double protection against climate change: they slow it by sucking massive amounts of carbon from the atmosphere, and they help us adapt to it by protecting coastal areas from storms – yet no formal mechanism exists for capturing the economic value of these treasures.   At year-end climate talks in Cancun, a group of leading conservationists endorsed a plan to fold mangroves into REDD+ talks – something that will likely gain traction over the course of 2011.

In the lead-up to Cancun, a series of workshops took aim at the "+" in REDD+ by promoting Climate-smart agriculture, which turns farms into carbon sinks, in part by churning up less soil.  Such practices and can slash greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 10%, but it's also more labor-intensive than modern farming methods. Carbon finance can make it worthwhile, which is why 80 countries endorsed the Hague Action Plan to put climate-smart agriculture on the Cancun radar.  This will also be a story for 2011.

The role of stakeholders in REDD remained a contentious issue all year.  While most REDD advocates believe that stakeholder involvement is not only morally right but critical to the development of successful projects, others contend that poorly-designed safeguards could slow the process down to the point that we all lose.   Indeed, disputes over the role of stakeholders led to the near implosion of the REDD+ Partnership, which was set up to fast-track UN-type REDD projects but without UN-type bureaucracy.

Brazil's Suruí tribe, meanwhile,  continued to play a leadership role in helping other tribes get up to speed on REDD, and in December established the first indigenous carbon fund.

The United States continued to confound the rest of the world by first including forestry in a landmark climate bill and then killing that bill while the state of California went ahead with it's own cap-and-trade scheme that included international REDD offsets.

Governors from the US state of California, the Brazilian state of Acre, and the Mexican state of Chiapas created a working group designed to help Acre and Chiapas generate REDD credits that can be recognized by California's Air Resources Board (ARB) and sold as offsets to industrial emitters in California once the state's mandatory cap on greenhouse gas emissions goes into effect at the end of 2011.

This landmark agreement represents the first step towards operationalizing the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force (GCF), which is a fascinating subnational collaboration between 14 states and provinces from the United States, Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Mexico.  We suspect this effort will become one of the major stories of 2011, and its success - or failure -- will set the tone of REDD development for years to come.

 

Steve Zwick is Managing Editor of Ecosystem Marketplace. He can be reached at SZwick@ecosystemmarketplace.com.

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