Cover Image
close this bookCarbon Counts: Estimating Climate Change Mitigation in Forestry Projects (WRI, 1997, 32 pages)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentAcknowledgments
View the documentI. Introduction
Open this folder and view contentsII. Leakage
Open this folder and view contentsIII. Recommendations
View the documentIV. Conclusions
View the documentNotes

I. Introduction

As the scientific evidence for greenhouse warming continues to mount both in terms of sophistication and confidence, so too does the urgency of exploring strategies to help stabilize the global climate. This urgency is underscored by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which in 1995 concluded that human activities are having a "discernible" impact on global climate. (1)

One climate stabilization strategy is to continue using forests to store carbon, which in turn reduces atmospheric carbon dioxide, the predominant greenhouse gas. Unlike controlled scientific experiments, evaluations of carbon storage projects hinge on uncertain estimates of future human activity in the face of changed circumstances. Understanding and anticipating how people are likely to respond to such changes can diminish uncertainty about the long-term benefits of carbon sequestration projects. This report continues the work of the World Resources Institute (WRI) and others on the use of forests for carbon sequestration as a response to global warming. See Box 1. (2) It particularly looks at improving the reliability of net carbon savings estimates by anticipating and avoiding leakage-that is, unexpected carbon losses. Fortunately, it appears that in many cases leakage can be either avoided or reduced to acceptable levels.

Using the analyses of five recent case studies, that are briefly described in Box 2, as well as other case studies and past WRI research as references, this paper offers guidance on correctly estimating carbon sequestration benefits and on designing and implementing projects that will deliver these promised benefits.

Box 1. Carbon Sequestration: History and Context

More than 2,400 scientists and 2,600 economists, 8 Nobel Prize winners among them, signed statements supporting the 1995 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. (1) These experts conclude that the potential risks of climate change Justify preventative steps. If concentrations of greenhouse gases continue to rise, mean global temperatures could rise, raising sea levels, and increasing the variability of hydrologic events and risks to human health.

Can anything be done to avert these events? The 1992 climate change convention commits signatory nations to set targets to tower greenhouse emissions in the next century. These targets will have to be met primarily by increasing reliance on energy sources that emit comparatively lower levels of greenhouse gases. Forests and forest soils can also be a part of the solution as they sequester carbon, thus keeping it from the atmosphere. Planting trees or encouraging agroforestry can store "new" carbon; saving existing forests can prevent the release of stored carbon.

WRI's interest in carbon sequestration projects dates back to 1988, when Applied Energy Services, Inc., a U.S.-based independent electric power producer, asked the Institute to identify and evaluate forestry projects that could offset the carbon dioxide emissions of a new AES coal-fired power plant in Connecticut. The new plant was expected to emit about 14.1 million metric tons of carbon (52.1 million tons of CO2) during its 40-year life.

The most attractive proposal submitted, was located in Guatemala and proposed by CARE, a well-known international development and relief organization. The project had several components, including creating community woodlots, implementing agroforestry practices, terracing vulnerable slopes, and providing training for community forest fire brigades.

WRI calculated that the project would sequester an estimated 16.3 million metric tons of carbon over 40 years, through net addition to the standing inventory of biomass carbon, retention of standing forests as a result of demand displacement via woodlots and agroforestry projects, protection of some carbon in soils, and retention of some standing forests because of community fire brigades

The opportunity to improve the evaluation process occurred soon thereafter, again in response to an AES plan to offer $5 million for projects that would offset emissions through forest management. For this effort, WRI attempted to develop a more sophisticated methodological approach. The carbon sequestration potential of the projects was evaluated using project site data and a simple land-use model. The model was designed to assess changes in the landscape over the life of the power plant and to provide insight into how the different trends and interventions could affect the landscape during future decades. The model was also designed to capture essential physical interactions between people and forests, to be relatively simple, and to be suitable for a wide variety of situations and management schemes.

Box 3 presents additional information on the LUCS model. The model and a manual describing its assumptions, methods, and limitations as well as projects and results are available from WRI.

Note 1. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Working Group I, Climate Change 1995 - The Science of Climate Change. Summary for Policy Makers, (Cambridge University Press, 1995), "Scientist's Statement on Global Climate Disruption." June 18, 1997. Ozone Action. Washington D.C. "Economists Statement on Climate Change." June 18, 1997. Redefining Progress. San Francisco, California.

Box 2. Five New Oases

This study draws on five recent carbon sequestration projects, which are described briefly here.

CASE 1: Reduced Impact Logging-Sabah, Malaysia

The reduced-impact logging pilot project began in August 1992 when New England Electric Systems of Massachusetts (NEES), a coal-burning utility, decided to provide funds to Innoprise Corp. of Sabah, Malaysia, a timber concession holder, to implement reduced-impact logging guidelines for 1.400 hectares of Innoprise's 1-million hectare concession. The, project emphasizes staff training to use existing technology and machinery in an environmentally sensitive way and to increase supervision of harvesting operations.

The harvesting guidelines include specifications for creating buffer zones for streams and roads, developing a formal harvesting plan, cutting climber, vines before harvesting, planning and marking skid trails, marking trees for future harvests, and undertaking directional felling of marked trees to reduce residual damage to surrounding forest.

The project's potential benefits include reduced damage to the residual forest, decreased erosion, carbon emissions, and land degradation; increased capacity for future timber production; increased biodiversity; decreased incidence of fire; reduced weed infestations; and increased long-term ecological and economic productivity.

CASE 2: Krkonose National Park-Czech Republic

The Krkonose project is designed to restore 15,000 hectares of damaged and dead forest in Krkonose National Park, which is located northeast of Prague in a mountainous area between Poland and the Czech Republic. The mountain range is endowed with unique vegetation and is the only Norway spruce forest in Europe that is adapted to a harsh montane climate. Because of its unusual florae, 38,500 hectares on the Czech side were designated as a national park in 1963.

The Norway spruce (Picea abies) stands are heavily degraded by air pollution and increasing acidification. By 1992. one-half of the existing forest in 1963 had been seriously damaged or bad died. About 7,000 hectares of land was so acidic mat natural regeneration was impossible. This area was completely reforested. On the remaining 8,000 hectares, trees were planted in gaps in the forest landscape.

Long-term prospects for success depend on reducing die acidity of rainfall in the area; the source of the problem is thought to be sulfur emissions at nearby coal-burning power plants in Poland. The Electricity Generating Board (SEP) of the Netherlands has provided funds for two flue-gas desulfurization units for the largest power station in Poland.

The project is sponsored by Forests Absorbing Carbon Emissions (FACE), a financing mechanism created by SEP, FACE supports projects that will offset some of the CO2 emitted from the use of fossil fuel for electricity generation in the Netherlands,

CASE 3: The Olafo Project-Peten, Guatemala

The Olafo project area is In a part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve in the Peten region of northern Guatemala that permits multiple land uses. Under the current system of shifting subsistence agriculture, land can be cultivated for 2 years, but then must lie-fallow for 8 years, Permanent agriculture is not possible because of high weed infestation and low soil fertility

Residents are primarily migrants. For each new arrival, about one hectare of new land must be cleared. After the land has been cultivated for 2 years, additional forest must be converted to agriculture. Because of population pressures, the shifting cultivation cycle is unsustainable and deforestation continues.

The project is attempting both to promote the sustainable management of natural forests and to extend the cultivation time of shifting agricultural lands through the use of green cover crops, Specifically, it aims to extend the cropping period from 2 years to 8-10 years. New forest management practices include sustainable timber harvests, harvesting of Desmoncus vines for rattan-type furniture, and ornamental plant extraction, The project is intended to help boost income for local families, recuperate forest areas, and reduce the deforestation rate,

The Olafo Project is being developed by the Tropical Agriculture Research and Education Center (CATIE), a regional nonprofit scientific and educational institution based in Turrialba, Costa Rica. The project is supported by three Scandinavian aid agencies: DANIDA (Denmark), NORAD (Norway), and SIDA (Sweden).

CASE 4: Rusafor Afforestation Project-Saratov, Russia

The biological, operational, and institutional opportunities to manage a Russian forest as a carbon sink will be evaluated in the Saratov oblast region. 700 kilometers southeast of Moscow. Representatives from the Russian Federal Forest Service (RFFS) and Oregon State University (OSU), working under a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), negotiated this pilot project in Russia The RUSAFOR project will explore how such projects can be organized and managed and how the sequestered carbon can be credited.

The project has many goals, including assessing the value of forest management projects as greenhouse gas mitigation projects; identifying barriers to private investment in Russian forestry and ways of overcoming them; assisting Russian partners to establish forest plantations; and sharing information that quantifies the project's biological, economic, and institutional benefits.

The project is being coordinated by EPA and implemented through cooperative agreements with the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Oregon State University.

The project would afforest 420 hectares of agricultural wasteland. The land currently has an average biomass of 8 tons per hectare; with the project, however, average biomass will peak at about 269 tons per hectare.

CASE 5: Carfix-Costa Rica

The CARFIX project is located in the Central Volcanic Mountain Range Conservation Area. It is being implemented by the Fundación para el Desarrollo de la Cordillera Volcánica Central (FUNDECOR), a nongovernmental organization.

The region is characterized by agricultural production (primarily cattle) for export. Deforestation is occurring at a rate of about 5 percent per year. Once logged, the land is converted to agricultural use.

The pressure on the closed forest and open woodland is primarily to expand the agricultural land base with some income from logging. The key to stewing deforestation, therefore, is to provide alternative sources of income that are competitive with agricultural exports,

FUNDECOR's primary activities are natural forest management (NFM) and development of tree plantations on grazed or degraded lands. The project addresses the grazing land demand by substituting income from NFM for cattle production. To ensure the practice of sustainable logging, the project will provide income to the local population during the interim between timber harvests.

The potential role of forests in slowing global warming is still being debated. At an April 1995 meeting in Berlin, the Conference of Parties to the Framework Convention on Climate Change agreed to begin a pilot phase exploration of the efficacy of "activities implemented jointly" to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or sequester carbon. (3) The international community is using this pilot phase exploration to decide if such projects are a valid way to reduce atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gas emissions. Climate-convention signatory nations may approve Joint Implementation as a formal mechanism for achieving greenhouse emission reductions if the projects are shown to offer real benefits to developed and developing countries.

The current convention defines "joint implementation" agreements as "efforts undertaken voluntarily and cooperatively between at least two parties in two or more countries that reduce, avoid, or sequester" greenhouse gas emissions. The parties could include the private sector, governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), or academic institutions. (4)

Under a joint implementation framework, forestry projects are potentially an attractive sequestration option, because they may be a relatively inexpensive way to offset greenhouse gas emissions. However, the cost-effectiveness of forestry projects for carbon sequestration remains uncertain, particularly once transaction and monitoring costs are considered.

Not everyone is convinced, however, that joint implementation is a valid option for reducing greenhouse gas concentrations. Several NGOs, China, and a majority of the "G-77" group of developing nations have reservations about these agreements. They argue that developed countries are responsible for the historical buildup of greenhouse gases and are ducking their commitments by using these forestry projects as a way to continue their profligate domestic energy consumption. Thus far, the G-77 nations support only pilot projects or forestry agreements between developed countries. (5) However, some developing nations, including Costa Rica, view such agreements as an opportunity to attract foreign investment capital and funding for rural development and conservation projects.

Whether forestry and land-use projects have a place in a future Joint Implementation program depends on their ability to deliver verifiable carbon benefits. Delivering the carbon reductions claimed is a key to the credibility, and hence the acceptance, of these projects for greenhouse gas mitigation and reduction.