Monday, January 11, 2010

Forest carbon credits complex

I wrote recently about carbon credits from forests. I didn't mean to suggest it was a scam, just complex.

In any case, this e-mail in response from someone much more knowledgeable is worth reading.

Regarding your post Paying not to cut down trees”, it is an interesting topic, but unfortunately you did not accurately describe the carbon credit opportunity and made it sound like a ridiculous situation. It is a very complicated thing.  

Some information for you: First, a single tree would not weigh 1,000 tons. The largest on the B.C. coast may be about 25 tons, on average about two tons. 

Secondly, the carbon is about one-half the weight of the tree. The carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e, the units sold) is 3.67 times that. 

Third you have to own the tree and the carbon in order to sell it; this is not at all clear in the case of Crown land.

Next, you don’t get $18 per tonne of CO2e per year, the price for a CC would be for a long-term commitment — 100 years according to the California protocol, but this aspect is not universally defined. 

The trees have to represent a positive business case for harvesting, so the carbon credit money is paid in exchange for not cutting the forest as you stated, but, not if you just go cut trees somewhere else to make up for your lost harvest (that is referred to as leakage). 

So a company would have to reduce its allowable annual cut to demonstrate this. 

Next, you have to find someone who will pay you for it and convince them that this carbon credit is worth as much as a carbon credit paid for installing a wind turbine for example. Risk of loss has to be accounted for as well, perhaps as much as 25 per cent of forest has to be set aside in case of loss due to fire, etc. 

Then you need to have someone verify your project and have it registered, another cost. Then there’s legislation in Alberta that prevents and Alberta-based companies from purchasing carbon credits outside Alberta, and the U.S. is considering that as well.  

Selling carbon credits for not cutting trees on Crown land, besides the carbon ownership aspect, is tricky because the Crown accepts stumpage for the right to cut the trees and presumably the Crown would collect some portion of the CC money as well, affecting the business case. 

Also, as the Crown considers the socio-economic value of a tree being harvested, providing employment as it is harvested, processed, used and exported, with a stream of tax revenue along the line, the Crown would have to take this socio-economic loss of opportunity into account. 

The out-of-work harvesters and processors would also have a claim to the value of trees not being harvested because they would argue that by not harvesting it, it is not being put to best use for the province. 

Private land forests are valuable to the owner because stumpage does not have to be paid, administrative costs are less and export markets are available. The net CC value per m3 is a lot less than average log market value for private lands, so don’t expect them all to be conserved for CCs.  

You can see that the forest conservation CC opportunity shrinks considerable from these considerations. The huge money opportunity you describe is not reality. It is another value to consider, and in some situations it may work.  

You state that there are a lot of questions – I suggest that you should have asked a professional forester who is involved in this area to answer them for you before writing your article.

 The Association of BC Forest Professionals could get you in touch with one. There are already many answers available. It is not right to give the public the impression that this is just a big scam to allow companies to continue to pollute.  

Brian R. Smart, RPF, RPBio.

Halfmoon Bay


Anonymous said...

As the saying goes, Paul, BS Baffles the Brain. And as far as I can decipher from this recent posting, Mr. Smart's explanation only testifies to the wisdom of the old saw. Would I be incorrect in supposing that Mr. Smart and his colleagues might just be anticipating a Gravy Train of consultation contracts barrelling down the tracks? The conclusions of which reports could only be read and understood by other members of a fraternity steeped in "the mysteries".

We all need to do something about climate change - which is unequivocally upon us. But while the carbon tax credit "industry" may be comfort for some, don't lull yourself into the notion that creating unfathomable (and no doubt unnaccountable) bureaucracies will help to stall it.


paul said...

No, I actually thought it quite useful. It's unhelpful and irrelevant to guess at motives for other people.
I found the information interesting and informative.

Paul Ramsey said...

If "credits for foregone trees" makes sense, how about credits for foregone coal? The price of carbon is currently about $16 and the price of cheap coal is about $9, so how about you buy some coal credits from me? I'll take your money, buy coal on the open market, and bury it. And I'll even promise never to dig it up again. Ever.

Or, cut out the middle man, just ask a coal company how much coal they plan to mine over the next 100 years, then pay them not to mine it!

And the concept has legs! Imagine the social benefits that would accrue it we paid drug dealers not to deal! We could even pay Wall Street bankers not to bank!

Anonymous said...

Call me a cynic, but I'll stick to my speculations Paul, until there is evidence for optimism. Talk is cheap. Action is needed.


Dave said...

Raymond's mistake is not so much in wondering about Mr. Smart's motives but in dismissing his argument because he doesn't understand it, and presumably doesn't want to. This is exactly the position of the climate change deniers, and it's what disqualifies them from intelligent conversation.

It doesn't matter what anyone's motivation is if their facts are right and their argument sound. If there are problems with the facts and argument, let's by all means explore those - that should be the focus.

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Uyin said...

Yes, I agree. They only think how to make profit and don't even think about global warming..

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