Webinar Report: California’s Carbon Market – Panacea or Pandora’s box for landowners?

by Cate Moore on April 15, 2013

The American Tree Farm System hosted a webinar on the California Carbon Market and its associated Forest Project Protocol.  The talk was presented by Charles Kerchner who works for Spatial Informatics Group, LLC, developing offset projects based on the protocol.

The projects Mr. Kerchner discussed were implemented in the northeast (Maine, Vermont, and often involved reforestation of lands that had been used for other purposes.  He noted the initial development of a project would cost in the range of $100,000 to $150,000, which is a large initial outlay.  Much of the initial cost lies in the initial inventory, which is much more extensive that a simple timber cruise.  This inventory counts trees down to two inches dbh.

The bulk of the continuing costs of a project lie in gathering data for monitoring inventories and processing this data in modeling packages to estimate the carbon gathered.  Mr. Kerchener’s experience to date suggests it takes 3,000 acres or more to make a go of it.

This webinar prompted me to dust off my old notes of the Forest Project Protocol, circa 2009, and compare it to the latest revision.  The wording has changed some, but the all of the concepts that make the project unworkable for the Central Coast remain. The FPP still contains:

  • additionality – the requirement that the project provide carbon sequestration above and beyond the local “business as usual” norm.  This is nearly impossible to implement in the Central Coast, where gold-standard forestry is “business as usual”
  • reversal – the requirement that the landowner of the property provide the insurance for the purchaser via reduced payments in case something happens. Why are we ensuring something someone has already bought?
  • leakage – the notion that because the landowner is doing this fine and noble thing that sequesters carbon, someone, somewhere, is going to undo some of that fine work by building his mega-mall on another piece of land and the landowner is responsible for this and must compensate, despite the fact it is entirely beyond his control.
  • burdensome bureaucracy – The data gathering and reporting costs for this are extraordinary.

For an analysis of how the FPP plays out in Central California, see Richard Thompson and Steve Auten’s paper “Is it Economical to Manage Jointly for Wood and Carbon Under the Climate Action Reserve Protocol?

To hear the webinar for yourself, go to the American Tree Farm System webinar archives.


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