Forests and wetlands are nature's first defense against climate change, but they're also fragile ecosystems subject to a changing climate. Two stories this week shine a light on the importance of buffer pools when using nature to regulate climate – even as climate undermines nature.
In Washington, the Colville Tribes' forest carbon project was threatened by a fire that burned at least 170,000 acres last month amidst a record-breaking year for wildfires in the state. In May, the Colville Business Council agreed on resolutions that would allow them to sell carbon offsets from their carbon project to petroleum giant BP, which is regulated under California's cap-and-trade market. But the recent fire may cut into the emissions reductions they are able to achieve, and therefore the offsets they will be able to sell.
Meanwhile, in Louisiana, Tierra Resources is experimenting with a wetland restoration program on land owned by ConocoPhillips – even as climate change continues to chip away at these natural buffers through sea level rise and intensifying storms. The new "air seeding" method through which wetlands are planted by crop-duster airplane costs about $3,000 per acre – 3% of the cost of conventional restoration techniques. And a recent study funded by local electric utility Entergy estimates that carbon finance has the potential to create $1.6 billion in private restoration finance over the next 50 years. That's a little less than a 2% dent in the $50 billion price tag of Louisiana's 50-year master planfor rebuilding natural infrastructure along its coastline.
Still, the success of these carbon projects depends on their ability to stay ahead of the climate threats they aim to mitigate, and standards are taking notice.
Earlier this year, the American Carbon Registry expanded its wetland methodology to allow for avoided conversion of wetlands, accounting for the carbon that would be released if wetlands converted to open water – the "business-as-usual" scenario with rising seas. And in the California cap-and-trade market, forest carbon projects are required to set aside between 2% and 4% of their offsets into a collective buffer pool to hedge against the risk of fire. The range depends on how much landowners do to mitigate the risk of wildfire in the first place.
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