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California Regulators See Potential Link between Tropical Deforestation and Drought

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California Regulators See Potential Link between Tropical Deforestation and Drought

Deforestation in the Amazon rainforest could significantly reduce rain and snowfall in the western United States, resulting in water and food shortages and a greater risk of forest fires, according to an eye-opening study published in the Journal of Climate last year. The potential connection has caught the attention of California regulators overseeing the state’s cap-and-trade program, providing perhaps another reason to allow international REDD offsets into the program.


28 July 2014 – Severe drought conditions in the US state of California have led state officials to impose criminal penalties for water wasters. The drought could also help make the case that California should allow projects aimed at curbing tropical deforestation into the state’s carbon trading system.


California’s State Water Resources Control Board approved an emergency regulation to force water agencies, their customers and state residents to increase water conservation in urban settings – by reducing outdoor water uses such as washing down driveways and watering landscapes – or face possible fines of up to $500 a day. What brought on this surge in water regulation? The fact that California residents are using more water than last year – with urban water use in May up 1% over the monthly average for the previous three years – despite two drought emergency declarations by Governor Jerry Brown and his January plea for residents to voluntarily reduce their water use by 20%.


What may seem like a local problem could have its roots in the tropical deforestation that has occurred in Brazil and other countries. Researchers found that total deforestation of the Amazon rainforest could reduce rainfall in the Pacific Northwest by 20% and cause a 50% reduction in the Sierra Nevada snowpack, a crucial source of water for California, according to a major scientific study published in the Journal of Climate last year.

Although it is difficult to quantify whether specific weather patterns such as the current drought are directly tied to deforestation, data trends indicate that deforestation has a direct impact on rainfall in California, according to Rajinder Sahota, Chief of the Climate Change Program Evaluation Branch of the California Air Resources Board (ARB), who spoke at an ARB board hearing on Thursday. But it remains difficult to convince residents of any possible connection, especially when they dealt with mudslides and floods in the state last year, she said.

“People tend to latch on to the most recent events as an indication of what’s going on,” Sahota said.

The role of tropical deforestation and the possible connection to California’s drought arose in the context of an update that ARB staff was providing regarding its planned consideration of sector-based offsets, specifically from projects that reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD). ARB’s legal counsel Jason Gray discussed the multiple co-benefits of REDD projects, including protection against decreased precipitation from forest loss, which could be of interest given the current drought situation.

The sectoral approach

The regulations governing California’s carbon trading program allow for sector-based crediting mechanisms under which emissions reductions are measured across an entire sector in a jurisdiction rather than on a project-by-project basis if they meet rigorous criteria established by the state’s Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, Gray noted. There are currently no approved sector-based offset programs, but he outlined many potential benefits, including providing another source of offsets to keep down the compliance costs of California’s program, and to ensure that California’s rules are enforceable in international jurisdictions participating in the program.

The regulations identify REDD programs as the first sector for consideration, a recognition of the fact that deforestation and degradation of tropical forests accounts for 11-14% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Gray said. If the goal is to control GHG emissions caused by tropical deforestation, that cannot be achieved without REDD offsets, said Frank Harris, Environmental Economics Manager of Southern California Edison.

Even when pressed by ARB board members, however, Gray was reluctant to outline a timeline for the consideration of sector-based offsets, although he did suggest that it would happen well before the scheduled end of the cap-and-trade program in 2020. “I think it’s much sooner than that,” he said.

But in anticipation of a slow rulemaking process for REDD offsets, particularly given the controversy associated with these projects, market participants are urging the ARB to consider revamping the cap-and-trade regulations to allow regulated entities to roll over the limit on sector-based offset usage. As of now, sector-based offsets can only be used to fulfill 2% of the total obligation in the first (2013-2014) and second (2015-2017) compliance periods and 4% in the third period (2018-2020). Since regulated entities cannot use the eligible 2% in the first period because sector-based offsets are not yet allowed into the program, they should be allowed to do so in subsequent periods, some market participants argue.

“I would encourage consideration of that,” said Timothy Tutt, Program Manager, State Regulatory Affairs for the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, a buyer of carbon offsets and partner in the development of a voluntary methodology to quantify offsets generated from wetlands restoration projects in California.

“Stagnant” market for California offsets

Pressure to allow international REDD offsets into the program is building in large part due to the concerns of market participants that the five offset protocols currently eligible in California’s program and the relatively slow project development under these existing protocols will lead to a supply shortage starting next year when transportation fuels come under regulation.

“Unfortunately, the current offset market is really stagnant,” Harris said, urging the ARB to pursue additional protocols such as rice cultivation – expected to be put forth for board consideration later this year – as well as REDD offsets.

Carbon offsets can be used to meet up to 8% of each covered entity's compliance obligation under the California program. As of now, the ARB only allows domestic projects generated under forestry, urban forestry, livestock, ozone-depleting substances and coal mine methane protocols to supply offsets to the cap-and-trade program.

The ARB has issued offsets to 59 projects for a total of more than 11 million compliance offsets to date. The maximum demand for offsets during the first compliance period would be roughly 26 million tonnes if all entities use the full 8% of offsets allowed – a proposition many market experts say is unlikely. However, the ARB staff believes there will be sufficient supply to meet the demand even if every entity exhausts the full 8% cap, factoring in the number of additional offset projects listed with the ARB that have yet to be issued offsets, as well as the expected introduction of projects under the recently-approved coal mine methane protocol, Sahota said.

Demand for offsets could rise to as much as 92 million tonnes in the second compliance period and 83 million tonnes in the third period based on the 8% usage limit, meaning a major supply shortage could be on the horizon. The ARB needs to keep looking in earnest for new protocols, Sahota said.

Could the drought provide more motivation to include REDD offsets in the California program? ARB Chair Mary Nichols acknowledged the challenges of adopting new protocols given that the offsets program is “one of the more controversial parts of the cap-and-trade program.” But she also called sector-based crediting “the next real horizon” for the offset program.

“The good news is we don’t have very many offsets,” she said. “The bad news is we don’t have very many offsets.”

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California to Propose Lifting Ban on Alaska-based Forestry Offsets

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California to Propose Lifting Ban on Alaska-based Forestry Offsets

July 24, 2014 – Forestry projects located in Alaska – “the Land of the Midnight Sun” – could soon be allowed to provide carbon offsets to California’s cap-and-trade program.

Right now, forestry projects providing offsets to California’s program must be based in the lower 48 US states, but the staff of the California Air Resources Board (ARB) will propose allowing Alaska-based forestry projects into its carbon trading program. The aim is to have an update to the ARB’s forestry protocol ready for ARB board consideration in late 2014.

Both the American Carbon Registry’s (ACR) and the Climate Action Reserve’s (CAR) voluntary forest offset protocols allow for the inclusion of offset projects located in Alaska. But the ARB did not allow Alaska-based projects when considering early action methodologies and programs back in 2011 because of the absence of data from the Forest Inventory and Analysis Program of the U.S. Forest Service. The ARB staff is now working to review and finalize the data needed to include Alaska-based projects in the program, said Brieanne Aguila, Manager of the ARB’s Climate Change Program Data Section. The ARB board would have to remove the exclusion of Alaska in its forestry protocol before projects based in the state could enter the program either through the compliance or early action pathways.

To date, no Alaska-based forestry projects have been registered on ACR or CAR, although several project developers have expressed interest in potentially developing forestry projects for the California program.  ACR and CAR are designated as Offset Project Registries, which help the ARB in facilitating the listing, reporting and verification of compliance offset projects and they both also issue registry offsets, but these offsets must be converted to ARB offsets to be eligible for the cap-and-trade program.

The Verified Carbon Standard has registered and issued offsets to the Afognak Forest Carbon Project, an improved forest management project that covers more than 3,300 hectares located on the North coast of Afognak Island, Alaska. The project has a lifetime of 30 years and is expected to sequester 1.56 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent over the course of the project from 2006-2036, according to the verification assessment completed by the Rainforest Alliance. Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and American Land Conservancy developed the project and designated Camco International Group as the project proponent representative. 

Photo: Sea lions off the coast of Afgonak Island, Alaska. Via Wikipedia.org

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Wrestling With Orangutans: The Genesis Of The Rimba-Raya REDD Project

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Wrestling With Orangutans: The Genesis Of The Rimba-Raya REDD Project

In 2007, businessman Todd Lemons had a hunch that anthropologist Birute Galdikas could help him rewrite the rules of conservation finance and save the Seruyan Forest. He followed that hunch to Borneo, where the two embarked on a five-year ordeal that would take them from the swamps of Kalimantan to the pinnacles of Indonesian society.

This story was originally published on Ecosystem Marketplace.

24 July 2014 | Todd Lemons hadn't wrestled since his days on the collegiate team at Sewanee: The University of the South, but he knew the playful look of an athlete ready to roll, and these adolescent orangutans had it in spades. They beckoned; he crouched. One of them lunged; he intercepted. The orangutan slipped deftly out of his grip and took Lemons's back, but then let go of him as Lemons gently rolled to the side. Soon another orangutan loped into the scrum, and Lemons found himself, at the age of 40, engulfed in a gaggle of rowdy adolescent red apes, all rolling and wrestling and  – yes – laughing.

“It was at once the most amazing experience of my life and one of the most heart-wrenching,” he says. “Amazing because they’re better than us in many ways: They’re generous and intelligent, but they're also naïve, and they have an amazing sense of humor.” Heart-wrenching, he adds, because they don’t belong in a care center.

Yet that's where they were: the care center at Orangutan Foundation International's (OFI) headquarters in Pangkalan Bun, on the island of Borneo. All of them were orphans who'd witnessed the murder of one or both of their parents, and all of them owed their lives to the woman he'd come here to meet: OFI founder Birute Galdikas.



 Todd Lemons and an orphaned infant

Todd Lemons and an orphaned infant.

Emotional Engagement

Lemons had shown up on Galdikas's doorstep unannounced just hours earlier, after flying in from Hong Kong on a hunch. That first spontaneous encounter with the orangutans provided what Lemons calls “an early point-of-no-return” – his first emotional engagement with the orangs of thehutan – the “people of the forest” in the languages of both Indonesia and Malaysia. It also provided Galdikas with an opportunity to learn a bit about this hyperactive businessman from Hong Kong who'd called her with a crazy plan to save the forest.

“I realized then that Todd loves the orangutans,” says Galdikas. “He still gets down and wrestles with them and rolls around like they do – it’s the most wonderful thing.”

Lemons would return to the care center scores of times in the coming years – sometimes alone, and sometimes with his Indonesian partner, Rusmin Widjajam, or with his American partner, Jim Procanik. Often they’d come for business, but as their effort to save the forest grew into an epic David and Goliath struggle that cost Lemons his savings, they’d come more and more to remind themselves what was at stake.

“In my darkest hours throughout our epic five-year battle, I went back to the care center many times to strengthen my resolve,” says Lemons.

Muddling Through It

Impressed by the way Lemons connected with the orangutans, Galdikas asked him to accompany her on a boat ride to Camp Leakey, the rescue facility she built in the early 1970s with the support of her mentor, primatologist Louis Leakey. Lemons soon found himself teetering along underwater balance beams that served as a sort of jungle boardwalk in the dry season – which this wasn’t.

“I was surprised at the grace with which Birute navigated the slippery, unseen boards knee-deep,” he says. “I kept slipping off and spent half my time up to my chest in swamp water.” It was, he says, a visceral re-connection with the elements he’d always sought as a child but only found intermittently as an adult.

“I got my start in the Amazon, but I’d spent the past five years of my life manufacturing widgets in China,” he says. “Now I was back in the forest with a meaningful purpose, with wild-born orangutans, and with a world-renowned scientist who had made the cover of National Geographictwice.”

It was, he thought, a life his grandfather would approve of.

 

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