07 May 2007

Forest carbon markets: benefits challenged

Seems simple enough: Manage forests, sequester carbon, reduce global warming.

A recent summary of science findings Forests, Carbon and Climate Change by the Oregon Forest Institute is supportive:

Chapter 5: In conclusion, forest management cannot fully solve the problem of carbon accumulation in the atmosphere (and no other individual sector can). However, measures in forestry and other types of land management can contribute significantly to the solution.
Over the course of 50 years, reduced deforestation, reforestation, afforestation and other measures could provide a cumulative sequestration of 25 billion metric tons of carbon globally. This is similar to the effect of doubling the current global nuclear power generation capacity or doubling the fuel economy of cars (Pacala and Socolow 2004). Increased carbon storage on land, in combination with a host of emission reduction measures, can help reduce and even end the ongoing rise of carbon concentration in the atmosphere.

Yet the necessary infrastructure to support carbon markets is still in a formative stage:

Industry caught in carbon ‘smokescreen’
Companies and individuals rushing to go green have been spending millions on “carbon credit” projects that yield few if any environmental benefits.

A Financial Times investigation has uncovered widespread failings in the new markets for greenhouse gases, suggesting some organisations are paying for emissions reductions that do not take place."

And then, just to make matters really confusing this report challenges underlying assumptions regarding the relationship between carbon storage in temperate forests and their overall impact on global warming:

Models show growing more forests in temperate regions could contribute to global warming
Temperate and Tropical Forests
New climate modeling research from LLNL and the Carnegie Institution shows that northern temperate forests may contribute to global warming, while tropical forests can help keep global temperatures cool.

In theory, growing a forest may sound like a good idea to fight global warming, but in temperate regions, such as the United States, those trees also would soak up sunlight, causing the earth’s surface to warm regionally by up to 8 degrees Fahrenheit.

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