One of the things I like most about working at EcoLogic and in the international conservation field is the daily learning. Of course, sometimes it feels like a fire hose is full-force spraying me with way more ideas than I can possibly absorb, but I love it.
Of all the topics that make my head spin, forest carbon ranks as one of the most challenging to understand. And using the potential of forests to capture and store carbon as a response to climate change is almost as tough a topic. It’s not just because the literature is chock full of jargon and language that few normal mortals use to communicate (ex ante, anthropogenic, jurisdictional nesting…).
So where to begin? EcoLogic develops forest carbon projects– which take advantage of the fact that standing forests and new forest growth absorb carbon dioxide, then lock up the carbon via photosynthesis. And you thought you would never need to care about photosynthesis after cramming for a high school biology exam!
La Cojolita Mountain Range in Chiapas, Mexico.
First, climate change brought on by global carbon emissions is a big deal and constant changing of land ownership is a huge part of the problem, but also a potential solution for sustainable, effective change.
It’s not just about energy and automobiles spewing those nasty gases anymore. It’s also about recognizing that good old nature can play a significant role in solving the problem and that we are part of nature.
One of the biggest solutions proposed has been – REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation). So that’s where the second reason for EcoLogic’s involvement comes in. We believe REDD, which seeks to pay local people to keep forests standing – in other words not cut down trees and release the carbon from them – can achieve conservation on a landscape scale, farther than the eye can see across a sea of green!
We believe that it is vital to ensure local people can make informed decisions and understand what the heck it is they’re getting into and have their rights respected if they enter into contractual agreements to profit from the benefits of conserving their forests. Especially because the international climate policy “architecture” makes it necessary to interact with powerful state and federal governments that play a practical role in monitoring across large landscapes and national territories.
So the basic deal is that people who own or live near and care for a forest get money for agreeing not to cut stuff down, or trash the area under the forest canopy, because this keeps a ton of global warming-causing crud out of the atmosphere.
Bryan Foster, EcoLogic’s CarbonPlus Director in the rainforest.
The money to pay them comes from a variety of sources such as international aid (sometimes ponying up aid money or agreeing to swap debt for nature initiatives) and markets like the one in California under its pioneering California Global Warming Solutions Act (AB-32). In the latter case, the dinero comes from a cap and trade compliance market, where companies reduce their smokestack (and other) emissions by becoming more efficient down to a certain point and then buy credits that others have to spare because of their emissions reductions or absorption awesomeness. California just happens to have gotten involved on the international scene, connecting Chiapas, Mexico, and Acre, Brazil to its AB-32 marketplace.
Sounds simple enough, right? Not exactly if it’s done right. EcoLogic works to help make it more accessible, but even our CarbonPlus director is on a steady diet of discovery and learning as he goes about his day-to-day (which today, has him deep in the jungle in Mexico, but more on that later).
To do REDD right and make it easier for local communities, we need to be legit. You can plant a tree or prevent the cutting of a forest and claim less greenhouse gases are reaching the atmosphere. Your claim would be basically true, but to be REDD certified, you have to meet three key stipulations. 1) You have to make sure the trees you protect are ones that would have been lost otherwise, in other words the trees actually need to be under threat of being cut down, and this new carbon credits incentive structure is keeping them from being cut down; 2) that there isn’t “leakage,” meaning people aren’t just moving their deforestation habits outside of the credited REDD project area; and 3) that there’s a reasonable assurance of permanence, in other words, the forest will stay standing for a long time after the official project has ended.
Xaté palm, which is frequently extracted from the rainforests to sell internationally.
Thankfully, groups like the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS) and the Commission on Environmental Cooperation (CEC, a tri-national commission between Canada, the US, and Mexico) are into what we do. We’ve helped folks in Honduras gain VCS validation, and we’re working in Chiapas, Mexico with three Mayan communities to conserve a biodiverse jewel, the Lacandón Jungle.
So that’s our carbon work in a nutshell. Intense – I know!
What do you think about our carbon work and the REDD project in Mexico?
– David Kramer, Senior Program Officer for EcoLogic
David researches and authors EcoLogic’s proposals and reports to institutional funders. He also helps coordinate staff and partners in EcoLogic’s participatory project design and evaluation.