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Optimizing sequestered carbon in forest offset programs: balancing accounting stringency and participation


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Background: Although there is broad agreement that negative carbon emissions may be required in order to meet the global climate change targets specified in the Paris Agreement and that carbon sequestration in the terrestrial biosphere can be an important contributor, there are important accounting issues that often discourage forest carbon sequestration projects. The legislation establishing the California forest offset program, for example, requires that offsets be "real, additional, quantifiable, permanent, verifiable, and enforceable". While these are all clearly desirable attributes, their implementation has been a great challenge in balancing complexity, expense, and risk. Most forest offset protocols carry similar accounting objectives, but often with different details, (e.g. Richards and Huebner in Carbon Manag 3(4):393-410, 2012 and Galik et al. in Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change 14:677-690, 2009). The result is that the complexity, expense, and risk of participation discourage participation and make it more difficult to achieve climate mitigation goals. We focus on the requirements for accounting and permanence to illustrate that current requirements disproportionately disadvantage small landowners. Results: The simplified 1040EZ filing system for U.S. income taxes may provide insight for a protocol model that balances reward, effort, and risk, while still achieving the overall objectives of standardized offset protocols. In this paper, we present initial ideas and lay the groundwork behind a "2050EZ" protocol for forest carbon sequestration as a complement to existing protocols. Conclusion: The Paris Agreement states that "Parties should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases." The Paris Agreement also refers to issues such as equity, sustainable development, and other non-carbon benefits. The challenge is to provide incentives for maintaining and increasing the amount of carbon sequestered in the biosphere. Monitoring and verification of carbon storage need to be sufficient to demonstrate sequestration from the atmosphere while providing clear incentives and simple accounting approaches that encourage participation by diverse participants, including small land holders.
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Wiseetal. Carbon Balance Manage (2019) 14:16
Optimizing sequestered carbon inforest
oset programs: balancing accounting
stringency andparticipation
Lindsey Wise1, Eric Marland1* , Gregg Marland2, Jason Hoyle3, Tamara Kowalczyk4, Tatyana Ruseva5,
Jeffrey Colby6 and Timothy Kinlaw6
Background: Although there is broad agreement that negative carbon emissions may be required in order to meet
the global climate change targets specified in the Paris Agreement and that carbon sequestration in the terrestrial
biosphere can be an important contributor, there are important accounting issues that often discourage forest car-
bon sequestration projects. The legislation establishing the California forest offset program, for example, requires that
offsets be “real, additional, quantifiable, permanent, verifiable, and enforceable”. While these are all clearly desirable
attributes, their implementation has been a great challenge in balancing complexity, expense, and risk. Most forest
offset protocols carry similar accounting objectives, but often with different details, (e.g. Richards and Huebner in
Carbon Manag 3(4):393–410, 2012 and Galik et al. in Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change 14:677–690, 2009). The result is
that the complexity, expense, and risk of participation discourage participation and make it more difficult to achieve
climate mitigation goals. We focus on the requirements for accounting and permanence to illustrate that current
requirements disproportionately disadvantage small landowners.
Results: The simplified 1040EZ filing system for U.S. income taxes may provide insight for a protocol model that
balances reward, effort, and risk, while still achieving the overall objectives of standardized offset protocols. In this
paper, we present initial ideas and lay the groundwork behind a “2050EZ” protocol for forest carbon sequestration as a
complement to existing protocols.
Conclusion: The Paris Agreement states that “Parties should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropri-
ate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases.The Paris Agreement also refers to issues such as equity, sustainable
development, and other non-carbon benefits. The challenge is to provide incentives for maintaining and increasing
the amount of carbon sequestered in the biosphere. Monitoring and verification of carbon storage need to be suf-
ficient to demonstrate sequestration from the atmosphere while providing clear incentives and simple accounting
approaches that encourage participation by diverse participants, including small land holders.
Keywords: Carbon accounting, Forest offset, Sequestration program
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and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (
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Open Access
Carbon Balance and Management
1 Department of Mathematical Sciences, Appalachian State University,
Boone, USA
Full list of author information is available at the end of the article
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The role offorest carbon sequestration
As we continue to struggle toward meeting a 2°C (or less)
limit for raising global average temperature [1, 2], there
is wide agreement that the only avenue to success is to
include negative CO2 emissions strategies [1, 3, 4]. Sim-
ply reducing emissions is likely not enough. One of the
most effective ways to achieve negative emissions is by
sequestering carbon in the terrestrial biosphere (includ-
ing soils), and then increasing the time it takes for that
carbon to make its way back to the atmosphere. is can
be achieved in a variety of ways, from reforesting land
currently without trees, to increasing the growth of exist-
ing forests and preserving forest land likely to be cleared,
to increasing the mean lifetime of harvested wood prod-
ucts. While carbon sequestration represents negative
emissions it is often presented in the mitigation literature
as offering offsets while existing positive emissions are
While not without risks and uncertainties, reforesting,
improving forest management, protecting forests, and
increasing the life of harvested wood products increase
the overall stock of carbon pulled out, and kept out, of
the atmosphere.
If enough carbon is going to be stored in forests around
the globe in time to keep warming levels to the 2° tar-
get, this needs to be initiated soon and on a large scale
(e.g. [5]). At the same time, it takes time for a cultural
shift to take place, and gaining the needed support from
landholders where carbon can be sequestered is impor-
tant. Incentives can be offered to increase participation
by making it more appealing to grow or maintain forests.
Understanding the motives and objectives of landowners
can give us insight into constructing incentives that will
work for a variety of different motivations, motivations
that vary by country, by region, or even within regions by
the size of landholdings and the demographic character-
istics of landowners (e.g. [6, 7]). Land ownership varies
from countries where essentially all forest land is publicly
owned (e.g. Russia and ailand) to countries where the
dominant control over forest land is by private owners
(e.g. 58% private in the U.S. and 75% private in Sweden
in 2010) [8].
Incentives andosets
e Paris Agreement [2], now signed by 195 Parties
and ratified by 183 (as of 5 April, 2019), cites the need
to pursue actions for carbon sequestration and encour-
ages incentives for sequestration activities [9, 10]. e
Agreement does not specify a method or an accounting
approach, leaving these open to discussion and further
Current strategies include the ideas of carbon taxes,
cap-and-trade systems, carbon offset markets, and small
scale investing in urban forests, among other activities.
ere has even been the suggestion of; growing trees to
bury in the ground where they cannot oxidize back to the
atmosphere (e.g. [11]).
Working toward increasing negative CO2 emissions,
some accounting issues present challenges to broad par-
ticipation in current programs. While we focus this dis-
cussion on the details of the California [12] program,
many programs for reducing carbon emissions attempt
to supplement these reduction efforts with sequestration
“offsets” (i.e. negative emissions), but then have to deal
with the question of the numerical equivalence of emis-
sions reductions and offsets. With reductions for uncer-
tainty, leakage, reversion risk, and land value (avoided
conversion), offsets earned are not the numerical equiv-
alent of tons of carbon sequestered, making a compari-
son to emissions debatable. In an attempt to prevent
loopholes and clarify procedures, offset programs can
make participation subject to stringent requirements and
detailed reporting that make offsets only economically
viable to a limited set of landholders, or appealing only
to the altruistic. Kerchner and Keeton [13] estimate that
the California forest offset program, for example, is not
financially viable for projects less than about 600ha.
e legislation establishing the California for-
est offset program [12] requires that offsets be “real,
additional, quantifiable, permanent, verifiable, and
enforceable”. While these are all clearly desirable attrib-
utes, their implementation has been a great challenge in
balancing complexity, expense, and commitment. Par-
ticipation in this program is low relative to the number
of potential participants [14]. Accounting also encoun-
ters issues of leakage since only broad participation in
a closed system can insure against sequestration in one
area being negated by a responsive emission elsewhere.
Carbon incentives for the land sector can be struc-
tured in different ways. (1) Practice-based payments
provide funding to support a variety of conserva-
tion programs, or (2) Pay-for-performance programs
wherein landowners are compensated on the basis of
how much carbon they actually sequester, in some
cases generating tradable carbon credits. e Paris
Agreement states simply that “Parties should take
action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks
and reservoirs of greenhouse gases” [2, Article 5.1]. e
Paris Agreement also moves beyond carbon and refers
to issues such as equity, sustainable development, and
other non-carbon benefits. We must consider how
the 17 U.N. Sustainable Development Goals [2] fac-
tor into such efforts. Osborne and Shapiro [15], for
example, describe the relative successes of two carbon
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Wiseetal. Carbon Balance Manage (2019) 14:16
sequestration projects in Mexico when one is tightly
focused on carbon accounting and the other has less
rigorous accounting but is cognizant of social and envi-
ronmental co-benefits.
e challenge is thus to provide incentives for main-
taining and increasing the amount of carbon seques-
tered in the biosphere while simultaneously pursuing
the other social and environmental goals of the U. N.
Sustainable Development Agenda and of program par-
ticipants and program neighbors. Monitoring and
verification of carbon storage need to be sufficient to
demonstrate additional sequestration from the atmos-
phere. Motivations need to have adequate near-term
focus to confront current environmental and market
changes and to avoid foreclosing options for the future.
is short paper raises the question of motivat-
ing participation in forest offset programs that would
involve increasing participation by adopting less strin-
gent program requirements, or by reassigning respon-
sibilities such as permanence and additionality from
the project level to the programmatic level. We focus
on “permanence” but speculate that less stringent
standards generally would increase participation by
small landowners or financially marginal parties. We
suggest that overall program impact could be increased
by balancing ease of participation with the rigor of
accounting and verification and that rigorous pro-
gram requirements disproportionally discourage small
Methods andresults
The importance ofsmall landowners
Many barriers to entry with regard to the commonly
cited requirements disproportionately affect small land
owners (landowners with less than about 200 ha), who
own more than 50% of the private, forested land in the
United States. Data from 1994 show that more than 90%
of private owners of forested land had holdings of less
than 40ha and that these smaller parcels involved over
30% of private, forested land in the U.S. [16]. Figure1
shows the extent of current forest land in the contigu-
ous U.S. and suggests the broad suitability for increas-
ing forest coverage or improving forest management to
increase carbon storage. Figure2 shows the distribution
of land ownership parcel size (including unforested land)
in the U.S. states of North Carolina and Montana, illus-
trating the dominance of ownership by small landowners
Fig. 1 A map of forest land in the contiguous U.S. shows the broad suitability for forest cover and the broad potential for maintaining and/or
increasing carbon sequestration in forests
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in North Carolina and of slightly larger parcel sizes in
With the suggestion above that parcels below 600ha
are not financially viable for the California forest carbon
offset program, 80% of the privately owned land (parcels
less than 100ha) in North Carolina is implicitly excluded
from participation in these programs by all but the land-
owners most committed to mitigating climate change,
and those landowners were likely to preserve their for-
ests regardless. Montana is different, but still 25% of the
privately owned land is distributed in parcels of less than
100ha and more than 99% in parcels less than 1000ha.
is is hardly the additionality that offset programs seek,
i.e. it does not motivate additional carbon sequestration
on lands that would not do so in the absence of the offset
program. Figure3 shows the proportion of land and land-
owners in North Carolina for different parcel sizes, dem-
onstrating the dominance of the state by small holdings.
Note that the histograms do include land not currently
in forest, which significantly increases the proportion of
landowners of small parcel sizes. Over 60% of North Car-
olina is forested [20] and our interest is in both preserv-
ing and increasing forests.
In contrast to the roughly 50% of forest under private
ownership in the U.S., over 75% of forest land in Sweden,
for example, is privately owned, whereas 0% is privately
owned in Russia [21]. While there is clearly great varia-
tion among countries, data from the U.S. and Sweden
illustrate the importance of the small landowner. Accord-
ing to Haugen etal. [22], the mean size of privately owned
productive forest land in Sweden (NIPF—non-industrial
private owners) is less than 65ha, accounting for 50% of
the area of productive forest land in Sweden.
Looking at the pattern of land ownership in North
Carolina and Sweden illustrates the challenge. Plus,
parcelization will likely serve to increase the importance
of small land-owners over time [23]. Federal lands com-
prise 28% of U.S. land [24]. Globally, Obersteiner etal.
[25] write about the 1.6 billion people who economically
depend on forests. Co-benefits and issues beyond carbon
storage will continue to play a major role in land manage-
ment decisions.
Given sequestration opportunities for terrestrial car-
bon storage in small holdings, how do we motivate car-
bon storage given the broad range of land ownership and
land management? Encouraging participation requires a
detailed understanding of what motivates small landown-
ers, in different regions and different countries; and find-
ing ways to balance our rigorous accounting ideals with
the reality of the needed incentives. Gren and Aklilu [26]
note pointedly that for forest carbon programs “specific
design problems are associated with the heterogeneity of
landowners, uncertainty, additionality, and permanence
in carbon projects.” e limits to carbon sequestration
are not all in the biophysics. Gren and Aklilu suggest
that one alternative is to “accept the magnitude of non-
additionality and non-permanence and design policy
instruments accounting for the deficiencies”. e key for
confronting climate change is to motivate establishment
of forest where forest does not exist and to motivate the
preservation of forest land as forest land.
Fig. 2 Maps of U.S. states North Carolina and Montana [17] illustrate land parcel size for the states. Yellow colored parcels are government owned.
The rest of the parcels are shaded by parcel size with the darker green indicating larger parcel sizes. Data are from the NC ONEmap [18] resource
produced by the North Carolina Centers for Geographic Information and Analysis [19]
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Barriers toparticipation
A number of analyses have looked at potential barriers
to participation in forest offset programs (e.g. [13, 26]).
Some few have even polled landowners to determine
their positions first hand [6, 27]. While many of these
studies report most of the same barriers, there is varia-
tion by region. Here we discuss briefly some of the pre-
vailing thoughts. Our objective is to understand what
then is required of an accounting system that would
motivate negative carbon emissions through sequestra-
tion in the terrestrial biosphere, especially for a system
that considers the interests of small landowners? And, do
we need to show these negative emissions on the same
balance sheet with positive emissions?
All approaches to forest carbon offsets encounter
the problem of adverse selection, i.e. the prospect of
conferring offsets to a project that would have taken
place regardless of the incentives offered. Projects that
are not truly additional discredit the integrity of the pro-
gram and permit excess emissions elsewhere if they do
not generate true additional negative emissions. In a sys-
tem of practice-based payments it is often that govern-
ments are paying for the carbon offsets (although there
are some projects with private sponsors) and it is impor-
tant to be able to show that offset projects actually reduce
net carbon emissions.
From 1994 data for the United States, almost 30% of
forest landowners were retired and these older landown-
ers owned over 32% of the privately owned land [16]. is
means that commitments over 20 years likely involve
committing the land beyond the ownership of the cur-
rent owner. While this may help transition commitments
Fig. 3 Histograms showing the distribution by parcel size of land ownership and land area in North Carolina. The top two panels reflect the
proportion of owners with different parcel sizes while the bottom two panels reflect the proportion of total area in the state taken up by parcels of
that size category. Data is from the NC ONEmap resource produced by the North Carolina Centers for Geographic Information and Analysis [19]
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over time for the same property and ensure stability of
the project, many landowners are reluctant to commit
to agreements for long periods of time. e California
forest offset program, for example, has a minimum real
commitment of 120–100years past when the last credit
is earned. An agreement that.
Further, the administrative costs of initiating a project
are not insignificant and entail many of the same costs,
regardless of the size of the project. Initial inventories
of the land are scaled, but filing papers and organiz-
ing reporting are similar. e earning of credits is often
delayed from the costs of listing the project. While it
hasn’t been mentioned prominently in the literature, due
to many of the programs being quite new, many of the
credits earned in forest offset projects are heavily front
loaded. at is, the number of earned credits goes down
over time, for example when a reforested area begins to
mature. With the land committed to a program, little
income would be coming into pay for the ongoing pro-
tection, inventories, and administrative costs. e value
of the land with ongoing costs, little income, and limita-
tions on usage is likely diminished. With ownership turn-
over typically occurring every few decades, it is not clear
what the implications on values and future participation
might look like. To build a carbon market, carbon needs
to show desirable qualities as a stable object for trading
(Liu 2017).
A common concern, additionality, is an essential crite-
rion for credits in all accounting standards and schemes.
Additionality is, however, a complex concept. It is essen-
tially a question of causation. Can one relate the emission
reduction to a particular incentive? ere is, however, a
direct impact on environmental integrity from non-addi-
tional credits.
Further barriers to entry include the initial process of
determining a baseline and reversal risk—never a simple
undertaking, especially for small land owners without an
analyst or accountant to expedite the process. Muddling
through the analyses necessary to evaluate and quantify
the baseline and reversal risk outlined in the California
protocol, for example, is no easy task. e necessary
accounting may be enough to turn many small landown-
ers away.
Even within individual protocols accounting rules can
include inconsistencies in the evaluation and award of an
offset ton. In the California cap and trade program, for
example, land-based carbon uptake is sometimes dis-
counted depending on the value of the land for alternate
purposes, i.e. the opportunity cost of choosing to seques-
ter carbon. In essence place matters because of the differ-
ences in the value of other goals in land use.
In pay-for-performance systems, issues of base-
lines, additionality, risk, measurement uncertainty,
permanence, verification, and leakage often get treated
differently in different protocols and create challenges for
fungibility of credits among offset systems (e.g. [28]). A
ton is not necessarily a ton [29]. e value of emissions
offsets can vary with their duration, their uncertainty,
their risk, the buyer’s (renter’s) discount rate, and with
the buyer’s (renter’s) expectation of the growth rate of
damages from carbon emissions.
One of the issues with current programs is a focus on
preserving standing forests and an aversion to harvesting.
While maintaining a healthy, standing forest is impor-
tant, harvesting wood and putting that carbon into long
lasting products can sometimes increase the chance that
the carbon will be stored for longer than if it remained in
the forest, and thus increase the total amount of carbon
stored in the biosphere. e half-life of forest products
in construction can be up to 100years and the chance
of reversal may be small compared to the risk of insect
infestation or fire in a forest. In the California forest off-
set system landfill carbon is treated inconsistently and
the landfill is under-realized as a viable storage place for
carbon. Storing carbon in landfills may be less desirable
than frugal use of resources and extending the useful
lifetime of a product, but the effectiveness of a landfill in
carbon storage is still important [30].
Landowners have many different motivations for
keeping their forested land forested. Many do not actu-
ally want to harvest at all and are more interested in the
inherent beauty of the landscape and the ecosystem liv-
ing in the forest. While it is challenging to place a value
on these intangible assets, some studies have shown sig-
nificant willingness to pay for such environments [31].
Jurisdictions have, by and large, innovated towards
more standardization and streamlining of the concept of
additionality. Given the fragmentation of the carbon mar-
ket, many jurisdictions have set about creating their own
offset scheme, more appropriate to their circumstances
and motivations. Increased ambition in reducing net
carbon emissions will likely raise the demand for inter-
national trading of offsets, but will also increase scrutiny
on the credibility of the additionality determination of
offsets [32, p. 23]. is implies a potentially bigger role
for international transfers of carbon allowances and cred-
its. As domestic carbon initiatives interact with national
commitments, carbon credits with different additional-
ity protocols or demands may significantly hinder linking
[32, p. 24].
The 2050 EZ
In a 2012 paper Richards and Huebner raised the ques-
tion of the feasibility of designing a forest carbon-offset
protocol that provides both reasonable credibility and
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Wiseetal. Carbon Balance Manage (2019) 14:16
low transaction costs. ey wrote that “It is critical that
estimates of offset projects emissions reductions and
removals reflect actual contributions” [33, p. 393]. ere
are serious limitations to a project-based carbon offset
strategy [33]. But, is it necessary that debits and credits
be symmetric and immediate? And, while we recognize
that time matters, that a ton of carbon emitted now is
not the opposite of a ton sequestered 10years from now,
there is not an agreed approach for the temporal dis-
counting of emissions and sequestration.
What then are the issues in equating a ton of carbon,
in offsetting emissions, in trading of emissions, in evalu-
ating the multiple goals of land management, in defining
and measuring negative carbon emissions?
In the case of forest carbon sequestrations, a less strin-
gent accounting approach may increase participation and
thus increase ultimate carbon storage, along with achiev-
ing greater buy-in for climate friendly policies and the
co-benefits that generally accompany forest management
for carbon. Can we define “good enough” (Richards and
Huebner) while minimizing transaction costs? Olsson
etal. [34] have suggested a system wherein some uncer-
tainties are accepted in order to achieve clean develop-
ment and the participation of countries that are in an
early stage of development.
To encourage project participation, protocols must rec-
ognize that business-as-usual is market-based, dynamic,
and difficult to demonstrate for additionality; and that
current decisions affect current actions but cannot guar-
antee permanence. We need to recognize that place mat-
ters because of opportunity costs, risks, and non-carbon,
contextual factors. We need straight-forward and non-
punitive approaches for dealing with risks and reversals.
We also need a comprehensive and consistent treat-
ment of durable wood products and carbon in landfills.
In sum, we need clear incentives and simple accounting
approaches that encourage participation by diverse par-
ticipants, including small land holders. We need to con-
front measuring, reporting and verification at some level.
e simplified 1040EZ filing system for U.S. income
taxes may provide insight for a protocol model that bal-
ances reward, effort, and risk, while still achieving the
overall objectives of standardized protocols and credible
results. e 1040EZ tax form in the U.S. is designed for
people who have very simple finances or for people who
do not want to spend the time and effort for filing their
tax returns personally. People who use this form may
end up paying a bit more in taxes, but are saved the task
of compiling the data needed to document deductions,
expenses, and other related tax transactions. Its appeal is
its simplicity.
We propose the idea of a “2050 EZ protocol” for for-
est carbon sequestration—as a complement to existing
protocols. We propose developing a very simple process
for enrolling land in a forest offset program that lowers
the barriers that discourage small landowners from par-
ticipating. In the next section we outline the main ten-
ets of such a program and suggest strategies for reducing
administrative overhead, lowering transaction costs, and
reducing commitment lengths; but preserving environ-
mental integrity, albeit with some accepted analytical
uncertainty. e earned carbon credits could be less than
for the currently available protocols but the lower point
of entry might increase participation and provide a vital
contribution to the overall goal of mitigating climate
change. Our discussion alludes to the multiple barriers
to participation but focuses on the need for long-term
or “permanent” commitments. We note that forest offset
programs do not require “permanence” to be effective.
Marland etal. [35] described a system of carbon rentals
and Lintunen and Rautiainen [36] analyze the equiva-
lency of a rental approach with a traditional “subsidize-
and-tax model”.
e challenge then, is to develop a simple protocol that
many small landowners could implement for renewable
short-term contracts with minimum transaction costs.
A protocol that would encourage and reward retention
of forests and storing carbon in forests. We will call this
process the 2050EZ process in recognition of the US tax
form and the target date of many emissions scenarios.
ere are at least two reasons that the 1040EZ tax form
is worthwhile to the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. First,
it is everyone’s responsibility to pay their taxes so that
everyone pays their “fair share”, and second, the govern-
ment needs the money to function. While the percent-
age of people filing the 1040EZ paper form is only a small
fraction of total filings (about 13% of total paper returns),
that still accounts for over 5.5 million people in 2010 [37].
e impact on the government budget is important. We
look at the 2050 EZ form in the same way. Everyone has
a responsibility to contribute to solving the problem of
human-caused climate change (we all benefit regardless
where the fault may lie), and if enough people participate
it can make a big impact on the sequestration of carbon
from the atmosphere. Participation of small landowners
would also provide a solid base of climate policy support-
ers who would feel vested in the solution and feel tangi-
ble benefits from their investiture. We begin with the two
basic tenets of the 2050 EZ protocol:
1. e protocol should enable widespread participa-
tion in forest carbon offsets without high transac-
tion costs that disproportionately disadvantage small
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2. e protocol should produce fewer credits per pro-
ject than the standard protocols, to account for the
increased uncertainty of projects that do not fit cur-
rent definitions of additionality and permanence, or
that have higher measurement uncertainty.
e goal is to create more buy-in from landowners with
small land holdings. e projects need to be effective,
but the more buy-in the better for long-term and wide-
spread support of climate friendly and sustainable poli-
cies (see, e.g. [38]). Landowners who hold large areas of
land or particularly productive lands should be encour-
aged to participate in the more rigorous accounting of the
full protocols. ose protocols have more strict require-
ments and the projects under those guidelines may be
more likely to represent permanent reductions that have
more accurate accounts of the carbon sequestered from
the atmosphere. e 2050 EZ would likely produce fewer
dollars per hectare over the life of a project, but there
are so many parameters and uncertainties in the calcu-
lations that it is challenging to ensure that. With these
fundamental objectives in mind and the basic approaches
outlined, we turn discussion to several topics that war-
rant more discussion. In the past, short-term storage has
caused some debate. We offer two arguments to sup-
port the use of short-term commitments and the value
of short term storage. As a simple model, we can look at
the effect of short term storage in an intuitive way. More
realistic models would follow the same basic trends. Sup-
pose we assume that a single product might be produced
at a constant rate (J) and decay exponentially (first order
decay—unrealistic, but a beginning). en the stock of
that product would follow the following model.
e rate of decay is r and the half-life (
) of the prod-
uct is
. If we replace r in Eq.(1), we get
In steady state, the total stock reaches a value of
Equation3 shows that the steady state stock of carbon
in the product is directly proportional to the half-life
of the product. Now suppose that we extend the half-
life of the product by 10% while the rate of production
is unchanged. is translates into a 10% increase in the
total, steady-state stock of carbon contained in that prod-
uct. So even though the carbon stored in a single unit
of product is temporary, the increase in half-life results
in more carbon retained out of the atmosphere. is is
where the value of short-term storage and the value of
short-term projects can make a difference. We need to
avoid thinking of each forest carbon project in isolation,
but instead consider its contribution to the larger pro-
gram comprised of multiple projects.
If we look more carefully at the accumulation of carbon
through short-term projects, we can look at forests them-
selves as examples. Forests are valued as vital stocks of
carbon. Forests can sequester large quantities of carbon,
and with careful management, can store even more. In
fact, a simple calculation similar to the one above shows
that if the average half-life of harvested wood from a for-
est exceeds the rotation time of the harvest, there will be
more carbon from the forest in its products than in the
forest itself.
Each tree in a forest has a finite lifetime, seen as short-
term carbon storage. But, trees do not live forever. A for-
est is a collection of short-term projects that we consider
to be a long-term storage of carbon. In the same way,
short-term carbon sequestration project can be consid-
ered as a part of a larger long-term program. Figure 4
shows a simulation of a conglomeration of short term
projects of varying length and magnitude and how their
ln (2)
Stock]SteadyState =
ln (2)
Fig. 4 The left panel simulates a series of hypothetical, short term, small projects that begin and end over intervals of 10 to 30 years. The projects
are scaled to hold between 0 and 1 unit of carbon. The right panel shows the accumulation of carbon for all of the projects added together
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Page 9 of 11
Wiseetal. Carbon Balance Manage (2019) 14:16
combination comprises a relatively steady, long term
In the “Discussion” section above we characterized the
nature of land ownership in both the United States and
Sweden, taking note of the distribution of parcel sizes and
the fact that small parcels collectively comprise a large
fraction of the total area of forested land. If the barriers
to entry into a forest carbon offset program are too great
for all of these small landowners to reasonably consider
joining such a forest offset program, we should consider
accounting protocols that lower the barrier for entry.
Two means to potentially increase the participation
of small land owners include shorter contracts of “per-
manence” for only, for example, 20years, and a simple
standard measure of forest carbon stocks. Shortening the
contract length to 20years at first glance seems like a risk,
as a land owner could much more quickly and easily back
out of the program. However, the 100-year time commit-
ment is likely more of a gate- keeping obstacle that pre-
vents land owners from joining offset protocols to begin
with. e generations-long commitment is unlikely to
appeal to those not part of a conservancy or other organ-
ization that will outlast them. It could be more beneficial
to offset programs to gain the interest and participation
of many land owners with shorter contracts, and then to
provide enough incentives for them during the timeline
of the contract that they consider extension for another
term afterward.
Second, the use of a simple approximation of carbon
based on data such as LiDAR or other canopy-cover
measures that are fast, simple, and inexpensive for a
given small plot of land could significantly decrease the
upfront and monitoring costs to the landowner for plot-
ting and measuring. While this could increase small
landowner participation, this approximation must be
conservative enough that it does not appeal to land own-
ers with large enough tracts of land. For larger projects,
lower uncertainty is desirable and they can bear the cost
of more rigorous accounting. To create the model for the
2050 EZ, we begin with several ideas that could drive the
development of the model.
1. We assume a single forest project type—a forest.
e three categories in existing protocols—refor-
estation, improved forest management, and avoided
conversion—might be considered different phases of
the same forest. First the forest must begin, then it
must grow, and finally we try to avoid having it revert
back to an un-forested state. As a consequence, off-
sets need to provide incentives for growing a forest,
growing it faster, and for keeping it as forest.
2. We credit carbon stocks rather than carbon relative
to a baseline. Baselines are both uncertain in long
term forecasting and are generally based on common
practice. In order to gain participation from more
people, credits in the EZ form could be given for the
total tonnage of carbon held in the forest and forest
products and thus kept out of the atmosphere. e
incentive for improving the management of the forest
is simply a consequence that it sequesters additional
tonnes of carbon and is therefore awarded more
credits. Increases in stocks could be rewarded more
than retention of stocks.
3. We propose short term contracts. e shorter time
reduces the permanence requirement of each indi-
vidual project but increases the appeal for more land-
owners. If a significant fraction of the projects re-
enroll at the end of their term or if there is a constant
influx of new projects, the total stock of carbon cur-
rently involved in the program at any one time would
be significant. In the same way that a single tree in a
permanent forest is transient, the program as a whole
could be considered permanent even though individ-
ual projects may enter and leave.
For each enrolled project, the total carbon inven-
tory of the forest needs to be estimated initially and at
intervals to determine the credits earned. In between
measurements, models could be used to estimate inter-
mediate values that are then reconciled at the next inven-
tory measurement.
e value of a ton of sequestered carbon could be esti-
mated based on tonne-years. ere would be incentives
for each year that a ton of carbon was retained out of the
atmosphere. Long-lived wood products would be more
attractive than short-lived products. Risks and uncer-
tainties would be unnecessary to consider since credits
would be only given for credits already earned. Penalties
are only applied for early termination of a contract.
Looking forward
Our intent in this paper is not to offer a fully developed
protocol for carbon sequestration credits but to lay the
ground work and stimulate discussion of ways to increase
the incentives for participation and thus to increase the
total amount of carbon sequestered in the biosphere. e
urgency of addressing climate change suggests a need to
increase and protect the mass of sequestered carbon. e
final question in implementing a 2050 EZ form for car-
bon sequestration activities would be to detail the best
approach for specific implementation. Selling carbon
credits on the open market works for large holdings. But
buying and selling credits from specific projects is cum-
bersome; and we must consider how the value of cred-
its from different projects are equated. e Family Forest
Carbon Program of the American Forest Foundation and
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Page 10 of 11
Wiseetal. Carbon Balance Manage (2019) 14:16
the Nature Conservancy is similarly pursuing to remove
the barriers that family forest owners encounter in many
forest carbon protocols [39].
e 2050 EZ credits should form a pool of credits that
have a defined equivalence to each other and are com-
pensated equally. One method of monetizing the cred-
its is through tax credits. Another is to treat them as a
scheduling process. e first credits that go in would be
the first paid out. Since the credits are determined each
year, projects would be assured of being paid for their
year x credits before any year x + 1 credits are paid.
Clearly there are multiple possibilities for specific
implementation of easy accounting but likely fewer cred-
its. is paper offers a framework for a new approach and
does not presume to construct an entire protocol Policy
is created through discourse and incremental develop-
ment. We offer a first step.
e end goal is to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels by
reducing the rate of emissions and increasing the rate
of sequestration. In an ideal world, all landowners and
stake holders would be in support of this goal. In reality,
we need to motivate and incentivize participation. We
need to develop programs that have appeal and gain buy-
in from many different people with varying motivations.
at means that not only should they want to participate,
they should want to continue participating. To appeal to
a broad set of land-owners, it is not clear to us that a sin-
gle one-size-fits-all program will be as effective as creat-
ing multiple programs to appeal to specific audiences.
In this scenario, we are not trying to tie up land by buy-
ing people out. Some people want to tie their land up in
programs that prevent development and create a lasting
effect long after they pass on. e system of conserva-
tion easements and conversion to public lands is a great
option for those people. Others need an alternative and
respond negatively to the idea that someone is effectively
buying them out of their choices of what can happen on
their land. Instead of buying them out, we propose to get
them to buy in, repeatedly.
Here we have laid some ground work and proposed
developing a system that relies on short-term agreements
and easy accessibility for encouraging the accumulation
and retention of carbon in forests. is system will likely
not be as effective in generating carbon credits per unit
of land area in each project as a more rigorous program,
but we propose getting people to buy in and become part
of an ongoing system. If they do not want to keep par-
ticipating, then we have created an insufficiently motivat-
ing system. We aim on obtaining lots of participation on
small efforts. e challenge is balancing program strin-
gency and participation.
We propose that shorter contracts will be more attrac-
tive to small land owners but shorter contracts also offer
flexibility for the program administration. e terms of
the agreements could be modified as new ideas emerge
or as the climate changes. e ideal agreements now may
not be ideal 50years in the future and we may not want
to bind ourselves to a system that may not mesh with
reality at that time.
Finally, we note that one of the ways to move toward
more effective climate-stabilizing policies is to get more
people vested in short-term outcomes. While a program
aimed at small landowners may not sequester as much
carbon per landowner as existing programs, each of
those landowners gets the same number of votes in elec-
tions. Participation in a small program now may turn into
support for broader programs later.
CO2: carbon dioxide; LiDAR: light detection and ranging.
We thank Sean Sweeney for his assistance and advice in the GIS work that
went into this project. Two anonymous reviewers offered valuable sugges-
tions that greatly improved the coherence of this text. Also, we are grateful for
the Joint Venture Agreement with the United State Forest Service, Northern
Research Station, that helped to fund this work.
Authors’ contributions
LW produced Figs. 1, 3, led writing. EM produced Fig. 4, guided project. GM
led background study and literature review. JH worked on literature review
and final editing. TK1 worked on contextualization and accounting framing. TR
worked on policy framing and understanding barriers. JC and TK2 Led the GIS
work and produced Fig. 2. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
This work was not funded by any sources outside of the home institution.
Availability of data and materials
The raw data used in the work are all clearly referenced and available online.
The data used to produce the figures is available upon request.
Ethics approval and consent to participate
Not applicable.
Consent for publication
Not applicable.
Competing interests
The authors declare that they have no competing interests.
Author details
1 Department of Mathematical Sciences, Appalachian State University, Boone,
USA. 2 Department of Geological and Environmental Sciences, Appalachian
State University, Boone, USA. 3 Appalachian Energy Center, Appalachian State
University, Boone, USA. 4 Department of Accounting, Appalachian State Uni-
versity, Boone, USA. 5 Department of Government and Justice Studies, Appala-
chian State University, Boone, USA. 6 Department of Geography and Planning,
Appalachian State University, Boone, USA.
Received: 13 June 2019 Accepted: 15 November 2019
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Page 11 of 11
Wiseetal. Carbon Balance Manage (2019) 14:16
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... These are differentiated from potential market-based instruments which encourage carbon sequestration through the sale of offset credits (Charnley et al., 2010;Markowski-Lindsay et al., 2011;Thompson and Hansen, 2012; van Kooten, 2018). Practice-based incentive programs may provide a policy option that balances risk and return on investment while reducing the monitoring burden on program administrators and NIPF owners (Wise et al., 2019). Despite the potential for practice-based incentive programs to appeal to a broad range of NIPF owners, most studies have focused on carbon offset programs and there has been minimal work assessing NIPF willingness to participate in carbonoriented forest management under direct practice-based incentive programs. ...
... Estimates of NIPF owner participation rates in carbon offset markets vary widely and depend on several variables related both to carbon offset program design and NIPF owner characteristics. Generally, NIPF owners are deterred from participating in carbon markets due to limited or uncertain revenues from carbon, early withdrawal penalties, and long contract lengths as well as stringent management plan requirements and high costs and resources associated with project implementation and accounting (Charnley et al., 2010;Dickinson et al., 2012;Fletcher et al., 2009;Khanal et al., 2019;Khanal et al., 2017;Markowski-Lindsay et al., 2011;Miller et al., 2012;Wise et al., 2019). Financial revenue from carbon markets can be complicated for NIPF owners to predict, as it can range widely depending on current carbon stocking, property characteristics, as well as variable carbon prices and fluctuating demand for carbon offsets, all of which deters NIPF owners due to decreased financial viability and increased price risk (Kerchner and Keeton, 2015). ...
... would provide an average $3900 per year in revenue benefit to individual NIPF owners and the overall programmatic costs, in terms of direct payments to NIPF owners, scaled with the area of forest enrolled and the length of contract. The costs per unit carbon are similar to current average carbon offset prices, which have not resulted in much participation in offset programs by NIPF (Wise et al., 2019) and are less than the $10 -$25 per MT CO 2 e that has been projected to result in similar enrollment of private lands (Latta et al., 2016). We found that more than 1/3 of NIPF owners were willing to enroll in at least one hypothetical forest carbon incentive program but program attributes strongly influenced NIPF owner willingness to enroll. ...
Privately-owned forests in the Pacific Northwest (PNW) are important potential carbon sinks and play a large role in carbon sequestration and storage. Non-industrial private forest (NIPF) owners constitute a substantial portion of overall forest landownership in productive regions of the PNW; however, little is known about their preferences for non-market incentive programs aimed at increased carbon storage and sequestration, specifically by limiting timber harvest, and how those preferences might impact the outcome of forest carbon programs. We simulated landscape-scale outcomes of hypothetical forest carbon incentive programs in western Oregon (USA) by combining empirical models of NIPF owners' participation with spatially explicit forest carbon storage and sequestration data. We surveyed landowners to determine their willingness to enroll in various hypothetical forest management incentive programs that varied in terms of harvest restrictions, contract length, annual payment and incentive payment amounts, and cost-share percentages, as well as the program framing (e.g., carbon versus forest health). We used multinomial logistic regression to model whether landowners might enroll based on program attributes, landowners' attitudes toward climate change and forest management, past and planned future forest harvest activities, and socio-demographics. We found that 36% of respondents stated that they would probably or definitely enroll in at least one of the hypothetical programs they were shown while 21% of respondents refused all programs that they were offered. Our final model of landowner willingness to enroll indicated that higher annual and higher cost-share payments were the strongest positive predictors of whether landowners would enroll vs. not enroll. Landowners' willingness to enroll was not influenced by program framing as either a “forest carbon” or a “forest health”; however, landowner attitudes toward climate change were the next strongest positive predictor of enrollment after annual and cost-share payments. By simulating landowner enrollment in six policy relevant program scenarios, we illustrate that carefully designed forest carbon incentive programs for NIPF owners could have tangible carbon protection benefits (16.25 to 50.31 MMT CO2e cumulative) at relatively low costs per MT CO2e ($3.60 to $7.70). We highlight tradeoffs between maximizing enrollment in forest carbon incentive programs and providing longer term protection of carbon. This research contributes to the literature on the design of potential forest carbon incentive programs and communication about forest carbon management, as well as aims to aid policy makers and program administrators that seek ways to engage private landowners in carbon-oriented forest management.
... S. Rabotyagov and Lin 2013a;Peterson St-Laurent, Hagerman, and Hoberg 2017;Fischer, Cullen, and Ettl 2017;E. Marland et al. 2017;Fain et al. 2018;Wise et al. 2019). These barriers flow in large part from unique challenges in demonstrating of "additionality", "permanence", and "verifiability" that distinguish forest carbon projects from other offset project types that involve highly-engineered and controlled processes (e.g., landfill gas capture, anaerobic digesters for manure and agricultural waste, destruction of high-potency greenhouse gases, etc.). ...
... Most estimates place startup costs at over $100,000 per standalone project, and virtually every review of forest carbon protocols has concluded that offset projects are only likely to be feasible for landowners with at least 3,000-5,000 acres or more (Covell 2011;Foley, Richter, and Galik 2009;Galik, Cooley, and Baker 2012;E. Marland et al. 2017;Wise et al. 2019). That rules out somewhere around 97-99% of family forest owners in Washington. ...
... S. Rabotyagov and Lin 2013a;E. Marland et al. 2017;Wise et al. 2019), all carbon offset standards generally require carbon project enrollment for at least 20 years. 20-40-year project crediting periods are common. ...
Technical Report
Full-text available
Washington State Legislature tasked the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences within the College of the Environment at the University of Washington in Seattle to address a set of questions that broadly deal with the status of Washington’s small forest landowners (SFLOs) and their lands, including their current state, trends, regulatory impacts, state policies and programs, and recommendations to help encourage “continued management of nonindustrial forests for forestry uses, including traditional timber harvest uses, open space uses, or as a part of developing carbon market schemes” (ESB 5330, p. 4). In the submitted Report, we adopt a multi-pronged set of social and land use science methods to answer the Bill’s questions. The use of property records and remotely sensed data allows for a “census” coverage of SFLO parcel data for the State and a comprehensive trends analysis.
... One possibility is monetizing the value of increased aboveground carbon storage and decreased wildfire-based carbon emissions that result from forest restoration as carbon credits and/or offsets [12,20]. Where "carbon credits" refer to tradable reductions in carbon emissions that can be credited against an official limit or "cap" [21], voluntary carbon offsets are not audited against a set cap of emissions [22]. ...
... The challenge for the SFR methodology authors in developing their methodology, and then responding to reviewers during the two-year peer-review by the ACR panel of cross-disciplinary subject matter experts, was to demonstrate that this methodology would necessarily lead to clear, quantifiable, and clearly additional reductions in atmospheric carbon. When considering carbon offset programs, both biophysical and financial additionality need to be considered [25]: registered carbon offset projects need to establish that, through intervention (in this case, forest restoration), additional carbon storage and/or sequestration will occur above a non-intervention baseline [22]. Relatedly, it needs to be established that without the additional financial capital (generated through the sale of carbon offsets), the interventions that lead to additional carbon will not occur. ...
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Ponderosa pine forests in the southwestern United States of America are overly dense, increasing the risk of high-intensity stand-replacing wildfires that result in the loss of terrestrial carbon and release of carbon dioxide, contributing to global climate change. Restoration is needed to restore forest structure and function so that a more natural regime of higher frequency, lower intensity wildfires returns. However, restoration has been hampered by the significant cost of restoration and other institutional barriers. To create additional revenue streams to pay for restoration, the National Forest Foundation supported the development of a methodology for the estimation and verification of carbon offsets generated by the restoration of ponderosa pine forests in northern Arizona. The methodology was submitted to the American Carbon Registry, a prominent carbon registry, but it was ultimately rejected. This paper presents a post-mortem examination of that methodology and the reasons it was rejected in order to improve the development of similar methodologies in the future. Using a mixed-methods approach, this paper analyzes the potential atmospheric carbon benefits of the proposed carbon offset methodology and the public and peer-reviewed comments from the associated review of the methodology. Results suggest a misalignment between the priorities of carbon registries and the context-specific ecosystem service benefits of this type of restoration; although findings confirm the potential for reductions in released carbon due to restoration, these results illuminate barriers that complicate registering these reductions as voluntary carbon offsets under current guidelines and best practices, especially on public land. These barriers include substantial uncertainty about the magnitude and timing of carbon benefits. Overcoming these barriers will require active reflexivity by the institutions that register voluntary carbon offsets and the institutions that manage public lands in the United States. Such reflexivity, or reconsideration of the concepts and purposes of carbon offsets and/or forest restoration, will allow future approaches to better align objectives for successfully registering restoration-based voluntary carbon offsets. Therefore, the results of this analysis can inform the development of future methodologies, policies, and projects with similar goals in the same or different landscapes.
... Carbon sequestration in farmland soil improves soil fertility, thus increasing crop yield and ensuring food security [6][7][8][9]. It also affects regional and global carbon cycles by reducing greenhouse gas concentration, thus achieving the target of the Paris Climate Agreement to limit global warming to less than 2 • C [10][11][12]. The SOC density (SOCD) is used to measure SOC stock, and the sequestration rate in SOCD (SOCDSR) reflects the carbon sequestration in soil or loss from soil. Therefore, exploring the controlling factors of farmland SOCD and SOCDSR is vital for improving carbon sequestration rate, ensuring food security, and addressing climate change. ...
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Farmland is one of the most important and active components of the soil carbon pool. Exploring the controlling factors of farmland soil organic carbon density (SOCD) and its sequestration rate (SOCDSR) is vital for improving carbon sequestration and addressing climate change. Present studies provide considerable attention to the impacts of natural factors and agricultural management on SOCD and SOCDSR. However, few of them focus on the interaction effects of environmental variables on SOCD and SOCDSR. Therefore, using 64 samples collected from 19 agricultural stations in China, this study explored the effects of natural factors, human activities, and their interactions on farmland SOCD and SOCDSR by using geographical detector methods. Results of geographical detectors showed that SOCD was associated with natural factors, including groundwater depth, soil type, clay content, mean annual temperature (MAT), and mean annual precipitation. SOCDSR was related to natural factors and agricultural management, including MAT, groundwater depth, fertilization, and their interactions. Interaction effects existed in all environmental variable pairs, and the explanatory power of interaction effects was often greater than that of the sum of two single variables. Specifically, the interaction effect of soil type and MAT explained 74.8% of the variation in SOCD, and further investigation revealed that SOCD was highest in Luvisols and was under a low MAT (
... The rate of stem growth [3], density of stems, and species mix in regenerating stands is related to different intermediate silvicultural treatments [6]. Because of these and other disturbance factors, the potential net carbon sink [3,7,8] and economic values that forests represent will vary by site. While prior research has assessed recovery of forest canopy cover following disturbance [3,9,10], alternative metrics incorporating information on canopy height, tree density, and vertical and horizontal structure of the canopy hold the potential to enhance our understanding of forest resilience and recovery. ...
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We used LiDAR metrics and satellite imagery to examine regeneration on forested sites disturbed via harvest or natural means over a 44-year period. We tested the effectiveness of older low-density LiDAR elevation data in producing information related to existing levels of above ground biomass (AGB). To accomplish this, we paired the elevation data with a time series of wetness and greenness indices derived from Landsat satellite imagery to model changes in AGB for sites experiencing different agents of change. Current AGB was determined from high-density LiDAR acquired in northern Minnesota, USA. We then compared high-density LiDAR-based AGB and estimates modeled using Landsat and low-density LiDAR indices for 10,068 sites. Clear differences were found in standing AGB and accumulation rates between sites disturbed by different agents of change. Biomass accumulation following disturbance appears to decrease rapidly following an initial spike as stands 1asZX respond to newly opened growing space. Harvested sites experienced a roughly six-fold increase in the rate of biomass accumulation compared to sites subjected to stand replacing fire or insect and disease, and a 20% increase in productivity when compared to sites subjected to wind mediated canopy loss. Over time, this resulted in clear differences in standing AGB.
... A host of literature points out that these principles are subject to the accounting framework (Marland et al. 2013) and to relative weighting depending on the accounting purpose (Buchholz et al. 2014;Wise et al. 2019). For instance, for carbon offset projects, completeness might be paramount to conservativeness if potentially significant but uncertain GHG sources, sinks, or reservoirs (SSR) are excluded. ...
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Forest carbon offset protocols reward measurable carbon stocks to adhere to accepted greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting principles. This focus on measurable stocks threatens permanence and shifts project-level risks from natural disturbances to an offset registry’s buffer pool. This creates bias towards current GHG benefits, where greater but potentially high-risk stocks are incentivized vs. medium-term to long-term benefits of reduced but more stable stocks. We propose a probability-based accounting framework that allows for more complete risk accounting for forest carbon while still adhering to International Organization for Standardization (ISO) GHG accounting principles. We identify structural obstacles to endorsement of probability-based accounting in current carbon offset protocols and demonstrate through a case study how to overcome these obstacles without violating ISO GHG principles. The case study is the use of forest restoration treatments in fire-adapted forests that stabilize forest carbon and potentially avoid future wildfire emissions. Under current carbon offset protocols, these treatments are excluded since carbon stocks are lowered initially. This limitation is not per se required by ISO’s GHG accounting principles. We outline how real, permanent, and verifiable GHG benefits can be accounted for through a probability-based framework that lowers stressors on a registry’s buffer pool.
... Although it is true that tons stored for a short time period are ultimately released, these short-term sinks still put us on an improved climate change mitigation pathway that would not otherwise be available. The requirement of "permanent" carbon storage discourages participation in an offset market, suggesting that consideration of shorter duration storage would increase participation [31][32][33] . ...
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Widespread concern about the risks of global climate change is increasingly focused on the urgent need for action (IPCC, 2018; IPCC, 2021), and natural climate solutions are a critical component of global strategies to achieve low temperature targets (e.g. Griscom et al. 2017, Roe et al. 2019). Yet to date, the full potential of natural systems to store carbon has not been leveraged because policy-makers have required long-term contracts to compensate for permanence concerns, and these long-term contracts substantially raise costs and limit deployment. In this paper, we lay out the rationale that our time preference for early action embedded in the Global Warming Potentials (GWP) leads to the conclusion that multiple tons of short-term storage of carbon in ecosystem stocks can be considered to have equal value – as measured by the social cost of carbon -- as 1 ton of carbon sequestered permanently. This equivalence can be used to quantify the value of short-term carbon storage, thereby removing one of the most significant barriers to participation in the carbon market and enabling the full climate mitigation potential of the land sector to be realized.
Forest carbon offset (FCO) projects play an increasingly important role in mitigating climate change through market mechanisms in both compliance and voluntary markets. However, there are challenges and barriers to developing an FCO project, such as carbon leakage and cost-effectiveness. There have been few attempts to summarize and synthesize all types and aspects of existing challenges and possible solutions for FCO projects. This paper systematically reviews and discusses the current challenges involved in developing FCO projects, and then draws on the experience and lessons of existing projects to show how those challenges were addressed in world-leading voluntary carbon standards, namely the Verified Carbon Standard, the American Carbon Registry, the Climate Action Reserve, and Plan Vivo. These voluntary markets have rich experience in FCO projects and are responsible for a significant share of the market. From the 53 publications used in this analysis, three broad thematic categories of challenges emerged. These were related to methodology, socio-economic implications, and implementation. Methodological challenges, particularly additionality, permanence, and leakage, were the focus of 46% of the selected research papers, while socio-economic challenges, including transaction, social, and opportunity costs, were addressed by 35%. The remaining 19% of the research articles focused on implementational challenges related to monitoring, reporting, and verification. Major voluntary standards adequately addressed most of the methodological and implementational barriers by adopting various approaches. However, the standards did not adequately address socio-economic issues, despite these being the second most frequently discussed theme in the papers analyzed. More research is clearly needed on the socio-economic challenges involved in the development of FCO projects. For the development of high-quality forestry carbon offset projects, there are many challenges and no simple, universal recipe for addressing them. However, it is crucial to build upon the current science and move forward with carbon projects which ensure effective, long-term carbon sinks and maximize benefits for biodiversity and people; this is particularly important with a growing public and private interest in this field.
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Payments for ecosystem services (PES) are increasingly employed to address a range of environmental issues, including biodiversity conservation, watershed protection, and climate change mitigation. PES initiatives have gained momentum since the 1990s, and market enthusiasts have promoted them as not only cost effective but generative of social and ecological co-benefits for local communities. Whereas the neoliberalization and commodification of nature has been well explored in geographic and critical scholarship, there is a dearth of theoretically informed, empirically grounded research exploring the dynamics and outcomes of the formation of “markets for nature.” Our study applies theories of commodification and embeddedness to examine these themes in comparative cases of two emergent markets for forest-based carbon offsetting initiatives in Mexico: Scolel Té in Chiapas and the Integrator of Indigenous and Campesino Communities of Oaxaca (ICICO). Although developed over similar time periods and in contiguous states, the two cases vary greatly in the degree to which carbon has been commodified and the markets embedded within the socionatural systems of the sites of production. Through detailed case studies, we demonstrate how interactions of these markets with preexisting social relations, institutions, and social and cultural values—the stuff of embeddedness—are critical for understanding the outcomes associated with markets for ecosystem services. We conclude that greater embeddedness is likely to lead to more positive local outcomes but that the embedding of forest-based carbon markets requires considerable time and extensive networks of nonmarket support and is furthermore dependent on the structure and orientation of finance and the political, institutional, and economic agrarian context of the sites of production.
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Forest carbon enhancement provides a low-cost opportunity in climate policy, but needs efficient policy design to be implemented. This paper reviews studies in economics on efficient design of policies for forest carbon sequestration and compares their findings against design systems in practice. Specific design problems are associated with the heterogeneity of landowners, uncertainty, additionality, and permanence in carbon projects. Different types of discounting of the value of the forest carbon sink compared with emissions abatement are suggested in the literature for management of most design problems, together with optimal contract design and emissions baselines for managing additionality and permanence in carbon sequestration. Design systems in practice, where forest carbon corresponds to 0.5% of all carbon volume subject to a pricing mechanism, mainly rely on additionality tests by approved standards on a project-by-project basis, and on buffer credits for management of permanence. Further development of forest carbon sinks as offsets in voluntary and compliance markets can be facilitated by applying tools for contract design and offset baseline management recommended in the literature.
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This paper presents a total survey of the characteristics and changes over time (1990–2010) within the entire population of Swedish non-industrial private forest owners (NIPF owners). By charting the changed demographic, socio-economic and geographic profile of the NIPF owners, it also provides a baseline for a discussion and analysis of potential implications for forest management, policy and values. NIPF owners differ in important ways from the general population of Sweden. However, the gap has narrowed over time with regard to, e.g., educational level and sex composition. The ongoing urbanization process is evident in the growing share of non-residential NIPF owners who live at a distance from their forest property and who differ from their residential (rural) peers through, e.g., higher education, higher income and a higher prevalence of co-ownership of their forest holdings. Although these changes might translate into updated views on forest values among NIPF owners, there could be a delay before this impacts on forest management practices and output.
The Paris Agreement is based on emission scenarios that move from a sluggish phase-out of fossil fuels to large-scale late-century negative emissions. Alternative pathways of early deployment of negative emission technologies need to be considered to ensure that climate targets are reached safely and sustainably.
The Kyoto Protocol introduced the notion of a global emissions trading scheme (ETS) to aid in meeting global emissions reduction targets. Since then, the share of emissions covered by carbon pricing has tripled and now encompasses approximately 12% of global emissions. This paper discusses the challenges in design and implementation of past and current ETSs to provide recommendations for ETS development and linkage. It summarizes seven major factors that should be considered for successful ETS implementation: cap setting, permit allocation, trading guidelines that avoid carbon leakage, regulation of offsets, high compliance, transparent and continuous monitoring, and careful collaboration between systems. Successes and failures in practical implementation of each factor are explored through various ETS case studies. If applied carefully, these factors could ensure high and consistent carbon prices, and coupled with strict regulations, could achieve an ETS that meets intended environmental benefits, while offering potential for bottom-up international linkage.
Sense of place, including an individual’s attitudes toward specific geographic settings, is generally predicted to influence willingness to engage in place-protective behaviors. Relatively little research, however, has empirically examined the influence of people’s attitudes toward a place on their willingness to pay for environmental protection. Using the example of a payment for ecosystem services (PES) initiative in the McKenzie River watershed, Oregon, USA, we found that place attitudes were a significant predictor of respondents’ willingness to pay for a program designed to benefit drinking water quality. These results suggest that connecting conservation actions to landscapes that are meaningful to people may increase their financial support for PES and other conservation programs. While program managers have little or no influence over stakeholders’ political ideology, gender, or income, managers may be able to influence prospective PES buyers’ awareness and attitudes through targeted communications, thereby potentially increasing support for place-based conservation efforts.
The ability of forests to store carbon is vital in maintaining the preset climate conditions, but is not systematically included in forest management or land-use decisions. Economic reasoning suggests subsidizing carbon storage, but empirical models show that this may easily more than double stand-level bare land values. Subsidization may thus be expensive, as it requires paying for all storage, including what would otherwise be obtained for free. To limit the consumption of public funds, the regulator may apply an additionality principle and solely subsidize storage exceeding a baseline level. We show that the commonly applied stand-level analysis suggests that the additionality principle could be applied to optimal rotation decisions without distortions. However, applying a forest vintage model with endogenous prices and land allocation decisions shows that similar application of the additionality principle causes distortions to both land allocation and optimal forest rotation. Nevertheless, subsidizing carbon storage with forest site productivity tax may still be preferable among the second-best policies. The distortions can be avoided by eliminating excessive subsidies by general land taxation irrespective of whether the land is used for forestry or agriculture.
A key component of California's cap-and-trade program is the use of carbon offsets as compliance instruments for reducing statewide GHG emissions. Under this program, offsets are tradable credits representing real, verifiable, quantifiable, enforceable, permanent, and additional reductions or removals of GHG emissions. This paper focuses on the permanence and additionality standards for offset credits as defined and operationalized in California's Compliance Offset Protocol for U.S. Forest Projects. Drawing on a review of the protocol, interviews, current offset projects, and existing literature, we discuss how additionality and permanence standards relate to project participation and overall program effectiveness. Specifically, we provide an overview of offset credits as compliance instruments in California's cap-and-trade program, the timeline for a forest offset project, and the factors shaping participation in offset projects. We then discuss the implications of permanence and additionality at both the project and program levels. Largely consistent with previous work, we find that stringent standards for permanent and additional project activities can present barriers to participation, but also, that there may be a trade-off between project quality and quantity (i.e. levels of participation) when considering overall program effectiveness. We summarize what this implies for California's forest offset program and provide suggestions for improvements in light of potential program diffusion and policy learning.
There are an estimated 10.7 million family forest ownerships across the United States who collectively control 36% or 290 million acres of the nation’s forestland. The US Department of Agriculture Forest Service National Woodland Owner Survey (NWOS) provides information on the characteristics, attitudes, and behaviors of these ownerships. Between 2011 and 2013, 8,576 randomly selected family forest ownerships with at least 10 acres of forestland participated in the NWOS. Results show: amenity values are the dominant reasons for owning; owners tend to be active on their land, but most are not engaged in traditional forestry programs; and owners are relatively old. Although the general ownership patterns and reasons for owning are the same between the 2002–2006 and current iterations of the NWOS, participation in some management activities changed (some increased and some decreased) and the percentage of female primary decisionmakers increased.