Friday, September 26, 2008

BC Government Booklet Proposes an Answer to Climate Change: "Use Wood"

The British Columbia government released a booklet yesterday called, "Tackle Climate Change, Use Wood." I think the title was meant to catch people's attention. The booklet caught my attention because of its unbalanced portrayal of logging as a climate change solution. The booklet talks about how wood stores carbon and leaves the impression that the best climate change strategy is to log old forests, use the wood and plant new trees. There is no mention of the fact that logging in natural forests actually results in net emissions because the old forests with big trees are replaced with younger forests with smaller ones. In fact, there's no mention of emissions from forest management activities at all. The booklet also makes the sweeping claim that 'bioenergy has no net greenhouse gas emissions.' Over the time scale that matters this is simply not true. It could take a hundred years or more for trees to grow back all the carbon that is removed and burned for bioenergy.

A number of ENGOs reacted yesterday with a media release. They concluded, "Forests and the forest industry do have a key role to play in B.C.'s climate change strategy; we feel it is critical to have an open discussion about the responsible ways of developing a forest-based climate
change policy."

The B.C. Government announcement with a link to the booklet.

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

Monday, September 22, 2008

Generating energy from our forests speeds climate change!

Sorry the blog has been a bit quiet recently... there hasn't been too much to report in the last week on forests and climate change.

I did attend a very exciting CPAWS planning session last week where we talked about our efforts to conserve the boreal forest and highlighted new opportunities and threats.

The biggest threat we identified was the movement to use our natural forests as a source of energy: harvesting and burning woody biomass to create electricity. There is apparently a push to convince British Columbia to salvage log as much of the pine forests affected by the beetle outbreak as possible for this purpose. The government is right now considering whether or not to grant long-term licences for this activity.

There are a couple of problems with this idea:

  • Burning woody biomass to produce energy actually releases significant CO2 emissions. This is because wood is a low-grade fuel within only 35% the energy intensity of diesel. People argue that woody bioenergy is green because the wood will grow back, sucking the CO2 back out of the atmoshphere. But that could take over a hundred years. So though the long-term outlook might not be so bleak, we would be quadrupling greenhouse gas emissions exactly when it is most urgent to reduce them.
  • Harvesting forests for energy would have far greater ecological impacts than conventional harvesting for wood products. Because the profit margins are so low, companies would likely remove all biomass from the site leaving areas that make clearcuts look like sensitve logging.
Woody bioenergy is being considered as a new energy source in other parts of the country too (Ontario and Quebec, for example). Although using wood waste to generate electricity seems like a good idea, harvesting natural forests to generate electricity does not.

Any information anyone can offer on developments in this area or experiences from other jursidictions would be helpful. Thanks.

For more information, see the CPAWS factsheet on woody bioenergy.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Update on the recent meeting on including harvested wood products within forest carbon accounting in Geneva

I asked Trevor Hesselink to make a guest post based on his participation this week in the two day meeting on accounting for harvested wood products within the Kyoto framework. Trevor participated as an ENGO panelist providing perspectives on the implications of HWP accounting for conservation. Thanks Trevor!

Post by Trevor Hesselink, Director Forests Program CPAWS Wildlands League

Thanks for this blogging opportunity Chris, though I must admit that my head is still reeling… two days of intense discussion with individuals from every dimension of the Harvested Wood Products (HWPs) universe! Held here in Geneva, with participants from around the globe, the workshop was capably organized by the Swiss Federal Office for Environment, UNECE/FOA and MCPFE to discuss the challenges and opportunities for accounting for HWPs in international climate change policy. While the discussions were expansive and passionate, the outcomes and conclusions remain elusive at this point in time despite the efforts of the organizers to draw conclusions from the event.

While many of the individuals present had apparently been working on this subject for quite some time, it was also clear that many of the dimensions of the arena, including the mitigation potential, ancillary implications, accounting framework, and data challenges all had significant gradients of information and opinion present. Even the definition of the term “Harvested Wood Products” was still a subject of discussion during the final workshop plenary. All of this left me with the distinct feeling that the subject remains a technical, economic, and therefore political hot-potato with a shrinking window to obtain a consensus position to feed into the next accounting period.

I have included some more detailed stream-of-consciousness thoughts on some of the subjects that are most recoverable from those reeling thoughts…

Carbon Stocks…
There appeared to be reasonable consensus at the workshop that the carbon stock change effects of HWPs is relatively minor compared to other carbon stock changes, and the substitution effects of HWPs for products with heavier carbon footprints. Part of this common understanding was an acknowledgement that HWP stocks will eventually reach a steady state. I found it interesting that several participants (and at least one presenter) were still calling HWPs a “sink” implying that the wood is continuing to actually sequester carbon as opposed to simply delaying its release to atmosphere. Perhaps the storage and sequestration aspects need to be discussed separately, but the fact that wood only sequesters when it attached to a living tree apparently needs more common appreciation.

Stocks in landfill received some level of discussion and seemed to have a variety of relevance to the subject of HWPs. Whether HWP stocks in landfills is in or out of scope seems to remain somewhat contested, though many of the system boundaries shared in the workshop excluded this fate. While some of the participants and a couple of presenters did refer to storage effects of this pool, most seemed to focus on products in-use, acknowledging at different times that landfills fell into the waste sector arena, conflicted with waste diversion goals (such as reducing reliance upon disposable one-use products).

Substitution Effects…
There seemed to be consensus that substitution effects, where HWPs replace more energy intensive material production or fossil fuel use, are considered more important than stock change effects.

Much of the dialogue revolved around structural materials substitution, most often from a marketing / sector competitiveness perspective. This left me with the distinct impression that the mitigation outcome was cemented (probably wrong term here!) in the minds of many present who were more narrowly focusing on how to provide incentives as a competitive advantage to their sector or country and were less interested in discussing such things as perverse incentives and exacerbation of sustainability concerns.

The one substitution issue that I was hoping to hear more on was the subject of biomass energy and the roles of various accounting systems to provide incentive for their use or abuse. In fact, there seemed to be variability in whether or not participants included biofuels in their own definitions of HWPs. There was some general agreement in the “cascade” effect (with some situational exception) where longer-lived products precede biofuels in priority. Unfortunately, discussions did not extend to how this would be achieved in practice.

Sustainable Forest Management (SFM)
There is an awkward proviso attached to the HWP term, often directly expressed by speakers at the workshop but often without further focus on the implications. That proviso was “sourced from sustainably managed forests” and it was appended to the HWP term with marked regularity as I sat through the first day of the workshop. Though I doubt that “HWPSFSMF” will catch on as a helpful acronym in these ongoing discussions, the implied prerequisite condition dramatically underlined for me the priority of getting the rules right for SFM. While I spent considerable effort in positioning this in my own presentation on day two, the subject did not meet with substantial overt interest for the parties present leaving me to further believe that the mitigation “brand,” and international trade were also underlying agendas present.

On further reflection, it seems to me that the huge variety in forest context is possibly a factor in confusing common understanding of mitigation priorities. For example, the differences between owner-operators of 1-50ha forests in Europe, managed for centuries, and extensive primary growth conversion of massive public commons in South America, Australia, or the Canadian boreal create a disparity of understanding of sustainable forest management. It underlines to me what a crucial foundation that SFM is to these discussions, as those European managed forests appear to have much more confidence that SFM is occurring, and are looking for additional increments to further reduce carbon footprints. In these other jurisdictions, such confidence is not there, the industry footprint is often still growing, and HWP impacts pale in comparison to other carbon transactions that are occurring within the forest products cycle. The chances that accounting for HWPs will result in perverse incentives or reinforce SFM-shy behaviours in such countries, with shorter histories of management, appear significantly higher.

I only hope that the SFM side of the discussions is concurrently receiving attention and resources commensurate with its relative mitigation potential, and that it is further along than the HWPs discussion.

Final thoughts…
HWPs will continue to be produced and substitute for other products, particularly fossil fuels given the default accounting system in place. Therefore we will continue to accrue much of the potential benefit this activity can produce without any additional international incentives. In the absence of this, national scale tools abound and are arguably more likely to achieve the desired effect, particularly on the materials substitution incentive front. The one major downside that I can see by not rethinking the default system, is that the current incentive to utilize whatever fibre possible for biofuel will persist with very real concerns for sustainability in most international contexts.

There seemed to be frustration, in particular from the workshop participants from countries with more assured SFM, that more concerted international consensus is not apparent. I would suggest that the consensus would be there if universally high confidence in SFM existed. In the interim, the path forward would appear to be in securing that confidence and applying ourselves diligently to the significant mitigation opportunities in tackling forest deforestation and degradation as the critical first step that also eclipses the entire HWP potential for mitigation.


Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Status of Regulated Forest Offsets

An article appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle a few days ago about how two privately owned Califiornia forests have been the first to be approved to sell carbon offsets for protecting old growth forests. They were approved by the California Climate Action Registry.

I've been wondering lately whether forest offests are a fait accompli or whether there is still going to be some serious discussion about whether they will be a good tool for climate change protection and conservation. I'm still wondering...

But I also put together some information that you might find interesting. In researching a background document for a meeting I'm participating in this week, I pulled together a summary of where things are at with regulated offsets in various policy initiatives in Canada (including the Western Climate Initiative, which includes western States). Here it is:

  • Alberta: Alberta has a approved protocol for afforestation that is eligible for companies to meet emission compliance requirements. A forest management 'offset quantification protocol' was being developed by private sector proponents but has been stalled. The great flaw of the Alberta offset system is that it has no additionality test for offsets.
  • British Columbia: British Columbia released a ‘policy intentions paper’ for “Emission Offsets Regulations under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act," which commits to a carbon neutral public sector. Offsets would be available to public sector agencies. No signal has yet been given about forest offsets. This intentions paper specifically addresses additionality tests and requires replacement of credits that are 'reversed' (i.e. not permanent). These two factors puts BC's 'offset intentions' ahead of the rest in this list.
  • Ontario: In September 2007, the Ontario government announced that it would be starting pilot projects for agricultural and forest offsets. However, a recent follow-up announcement involved only agricultural offsets.
  • Western Climate Initiative (Arizona, British Columbia, California, Manitoba, Montana, New Mexico, Ontario, Oregon, Quebec, Utah, Washington): The WCI released their draft recommendations this Summer and listed afforestation, forest management, forest preservation/conservation and forest products in a list of priority areas to be considered for offset project types (Rec 9.3). Offset credits would be available to offset up to 10% emissions allocations, which could be as much as 50% as a company's emission reduction target. The recommendations make it clear that being a priority does not mean that these project types are guaranteed to be in the system
  • Canadian federal government: In August, the Canadian government released a draft guide for [offset] protocol developers. The draft guide for protocol developers includes fast track approvals for afforestation and forests (forest management, long-lived products, forest conservation). The fast-track process is based on using existing protocols that have been approved in other jurisdictions. The basis for the fast-track forest management protocol is the California Climate Action Registry's Forest Project Protocol 2.1 (forest management), which allows the following activities: conservaton-based forest management, restoration and conservation.
Photo Credit: Clinton Webb, taken from the website of The Wilderness Committee

Monday, September 8, 2008

More support for forest protection as a climate change mitigation strategy

A new report from Simon Fraser University in British Columbia, Canada has used government data to determine that protecting old growth forests makes the most economic sense when considering the value of endangered species habitat and carbon storage. In most scenarios assessed by the authors, forest protection delivered a better economic return than could be obtained through logging and timber revenues.

Canada's National Newspaper, the Globe and Mail wrote an editorial today responding to this report and a recent announcement by Abitibi Bowater to certify three of its forests to the Forest Stewardship Council standard. The message of the Globe and Mail editorial: Trees are better alive than dead!

Media release of the report
Globe and mail editorial

Friday, September 5, 2008

The link between deforestation and Harrison Ford's Chest Hair

I apologize that the blog has been silent while I have been on vacation in Ghana, recovering from some contaminated food and some bad internet connections.

To make up for it, here's a surprisingly wierd but potentially effective ad for our common cause.

Thanks to "Viktor" for the tip!