Another study has questioned the veracity and dependability of the carbon credits that businesses and people buy to offset their greenhouse gas emissions.
The groundbreaking peer-reviewed study, which was released in the Tuesday issue of Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, examined over 300 projects, or 11% of the available carbon credits. It was discovered that the procedures for calculating the carbon credits were frequently at odds with accepted scientific norms, which raised the possibility of a project significantly overestimating the amount of carbon it may remove from the atmosphere.
The study was released about two months after a significant investigation revealed that 94 percent of the emissions offset credits confirmed by leading carbon credit registrar Verra were false.
You cannot offset your emissions, according to research leader Barbara Haya from the University of Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Affairs, who spoke with Bloomberg. Other methods of assisting climate change mitigation are required because the current market for offsets is woefully ineffective.
In the new study, credits provided for improved forest management were specifically examined. Certain forestry techniques, such as waiting until trees are older to cut them down or minimizing the use of high-impact infrastructure like roads, may improve a managed woodland’s capacity to store carbon.
According to the study’s authors, such tactics do have the potential to boost carbon storage by carbon stocks by 0.2 to 2.1 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent annually across the globe. The researchers discovered that this was not always the case and that for this to occur, a sponsored initiative must really remove more carbon from the atmosphere than would have been removed if the project had not been funded.
This is due to issues with determining the baseline, or what would have happened if the project hadn’t been undertaken, against which emissions offsets are computed. Exaggerating the baseline can be done in a number of ways to increase the carbon storage of a project. For instance, the majority of projects will use tree stands that store more carbon than is typical for the region.
But because the regional average is frequently used as a benchmark, projects will select forest plots that have already departed from it. One research referenced in the paper found that nearly 30% of the projects it examined that the California Air Resources Board (CARB) used for the state’s emissions program underestimated their capacity to store carbon as a result. Projects comparing their methods to intensive clear-cutting when this was never expected to happen is another baseline fallacy.
The authors of the study concluded that altering how baselines are established is the key to preventing over-crediting.
Most of the credits examined in the study were issued through registries used by CARB, including American Carbon Registry (ACR), Climate Action Reserve (CAR), and Verified Carbon Standard (VCS). According to Bloomberg, the registries, CARB, and others have all supported their methods. Yet this isn’t the first time that forest management credits have come under scrutiny.
Bloomberg covered an agreement between the State of Michigan, Blue Source, LLC, and five Wisconsin counties last year to establish forest carbon offset projects on around 800,000 acres, from which 10 million carbon credits were anticipated to emerge over a ten-year period. But, scientists and forest managers believed it was unlikely that forest management methods would truly change, preventing further carbon absorption.
Professor of political science at Edgewood College in Madison, Wisconsin, Steven Davis said at the time, “It’s kind of a nothing-burger for the climate.” For seventy years, these woodlands have been managed in the same manner.
The authors of the study suggested that there are techniques to increase the accuracy of carbon credits. They included establishing historical baselines for a specific piece of land rather than the regional average or avoided presuming that the trees would have been cut down regardless.
The authors of the study suggested several modifications to the protocols that would produce more precise and conservative baselines.
However, there is a fundamental problem with relying on offsets to reach net zero emissions when the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report makes clear that climate pollution must be nearly halved this decade to have a shot at limiting the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees or two degrees Celsius by 2100.
In this fleeting moment, when we must drastically cut our emissions to stop runaway climate change, it gives the impression that we’re doing more than we actually are, Haya told Bloomberg.