Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Final Recommendations Released for the Western Climate Initiative

On Tuesday, four Canadian provinces and seven American states released the final WCI recommendations for the design of the regional cap-and-trade system to put a price on carbon and reduce greenhouse gas emissions in their jurisdictions.

The most important feature of the recommendations for forests is the failure of the WCI to prevent the Partners from falsely claiming carbon neutrality for the burning of biomass. The draft recommendations released in the Summer had suggested a blanket exemption of emissions from biofuels but this experienced push back from environmental groups. Rather than clearly requiring that all emissions from biomass be counted, WCI has recommended that the decision is left up to each jurisdiction which fuels will be considered carbon neutral (recommendations 1.3, 1.4, 1.5).

Proponents of producing bioenergy from wood say that the use of biomass does not cause emissions because trees will grow back and remove all the carbon back out of atmosphere as they grow. The problem is that it can take more than a hundred years for a natural forest to take the carbon back from the atmosphere, if it ever does. In the meantime, switching to woody bioenergy would actually increase emissions in the short-term when emission reductions are most urgently needed.

CPAWS issued a media release on this issue Wednesday morning.

As I discussed in an earlier post on the draft recommendations, there are three other areas of the recommendations that are relevant to forests, none of which have changed substantially:
  • Afforestation, forest management, forest preservation/conservation and forest products are being considered as eligible offset activities. The main difference in the final recommendations is that offsets are limited to 49% of a jurisdiction's compliance with the total emission reduction commitment (recommendation 9).
  • A minimum percentage of the value of each Partner’s allowance budget may be dedicated to promoting emission reductions and sequestration in agriculture and forestry as uncapped sectors (other possible uses of these funds are also mentioned) (recommendation 8.2)
  • The recommendations acknowledge the role of other greenhouse-gas reducing policies to achieve their 2020 reduction goal (recommendation 5.1). Ontario's Summer announcement to protect 225,000 km2 of northern boreal forest (roughly the size of the United Kingdom) in part to protect carbon stores is an example of such a complementary policy

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