Forest carbon credits aim to offset pollution

WASHINGTON (AP) — For years, airlines have offered passengers affected by climate change an option: For an additional cost, cancel carbon dioxide pollution from them on a flight, paying to protect passengers. trees.

This is the idea behind forest carbon credits. Trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere. Forest carbon credits are pledges that companies, individuals and governments can buy to offset their emissions by paying to plant or protect trees. Here is an overview of this type of carbon credit.

WHAT ARE FOREST CARBON OFFSETS?

Imagine a forest in danger of being cut down to make pasture for livestock or fields for crops. A broker arrives and promises to pay the owner of the forest – who could be a government – to prevent this from happening.

The land is officially designated as a carbon credit project. After that, trees are not supposed to be cut down or destroyed by fire. The developer sells these promises and keeps some of the money. In the distance, a polluting company buys the credits instead of reducing its own emissions by a certain amount.

Trees store carbon in their tissues, which means that the bigger and healthier a tree is, the more carbon it can store. Soils and vegetation also store carbon. When a tree is felled, the carbon stored there is often released into the atmosphere. If the trees are ground into large pieces of wood, some of the carbon remains stored.

HOW DO THEY WORK?

A forest carbon offset, like any carbon offset, is equivalent to one metric ton of carbon dioxide that is avoided, removed, or absorbed. A typical passenger car emits about 5 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Forest carbon offsets are a subset of the multi-billion dollar carbon “offset” market.

Three main types of forest carbon offsets exist: credits that sequester carbon by replanting trees, credits that protect trees at risk of being cut down, and credits that promise to improve the management of a forest and increase its carbon storage.

HOW DO TREES SEQUENT CARBON?

Trees absorb carbon through their leaves, making them essential for maintaining a livable climate. Via photosynthesis – the process within plants that converts sunlight into chemical energy – they exhale oxygen as a byproduct. Carbon is permanently stored in the fibers of a tree until it dies and decays.

Deforestation accelerates climate change in several ways: it stops photosynthesis in plants, so trees no longer absorb carbon. It is also often accompanied by combustion, which releases a lot of carbon dioxide.

WHAT ARE SOME PROBLEMS WITH FOREST OFFSETS?

The same problem facing all types of carbon offsets: do they actually work?

The market for forest carbon offsets has exploded over the past decade, with many policymakers seeing it as a way to tackle climate change and even fund a transition to renewable energy. However, environmental groups, scientists and other experts say offset programs can be misleading.

“The problem here is that most voluntary carbon markets are self-regulating,” said Arnaud Brohe, chief executive of Agendi, a climate consultancy and carbon markets expert.

Assessing the climate benefit of a loan is often difficult. For a forest carbon credit to be viable, it must do something for the environment that would not otherwise happen, a crucial concept called ‘additionality’. Credits are only valid if these trees were actively at risk of being cut down. If the trees were already protected, compensation makes no sense.

Another problem is that of leakage, which is when the protection of one stretch of forest leads to the deforestation of another. There are also sometimes problems of double counting, when the same credits are counted in two different registers. For example, with limited regulation, credits issued for protected trees in one location could be counted by that country plus the country that purchased the credits, or some other entity.

Experts say sellers of forest carbon offsets often overstate the environmental benefits.

“While projects may end up protecting and conserving some land, the question is how much?” said Danny Cullenward, a California-based economist and energy lawyer who studies carbon emissions.

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The Associated Press’s climate and environmental coverage receives support from several private foundations. Learn more about AP’s climate initiative here. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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