Forest Carbon Offsets on the Agenda as France’s One Planet Summit Confronts Biodiversity Loss
- Jan 11, 2021 2:15 am GMTJan 12, 2021 1:31 am GMT
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Global leaders are in the midst of a high-stakes virtual summit today, aimed at rebooting international diplomacy on climate change and species extinction ahead of a United Nations biodiversity conference scheduled for October.
The One Planet Summit, co-hosted by France, the United Nations, and the World Bank, set out to build momentum and urgency on nature restoration efforts that have so far “failed spectacularly,” Agence France-Presse reports.
“France hopes the summit will bring together issues around climate and the protection of ecosystems,” the news agency adds, citing an Élysée Palace source, recognizing that “along with global warming, preservation of biodiversity is ‘our collective life insurance’.”
The gathering takes place at a time when a million species face extinction, according to a UN science report in 2019, and just after European climate scientists placed 2020 in a tie with 2016 for the hottest year on record.
Summit participants are “ready to demonstrate that their commitments are leading to concrete actions to preserve and restore biodiversity, and to lead systemic transformations of economies,” organizers said in a statement. AFP says the event covers four themes—ecosystems on land and at sea, agro-ecology, funding for biodiversity, and the link between deforestation, species, and human health. The day was also to feature the launch of a 45-member High Ambition Coalition led by Costa Rica, France, and Britain, aimed at protecting at least 30% of the Earth’s land and oceans by 2030.
One outcome observers are hoping for today is “some significant announcement” on public financing for nature-related climate action focused primarily on forests, said Eron Bloomgarden, executive director of New York-based forest finance accelerator Emergent. Already, he told The Energy Mix in a weekend interview, Norway has announced a floor carbon price of US$10 per tonne, essentially promising to act as buyer of last resort for any offsets for reforestation activities if private bids come in below the minimum.
The intent, he said, is to drive up prices for voluntary, unregulated offsets that have been stalled in the range of $3 to $8 per tonne, as a way to generate more revenue for nature-based climate solutions while prompting companies to attach a higher carbon price to their own operations.
The Summit takes place in a moment when climate science is calling for efforts to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and other industries, while simultaneously expanding forests, soils, and other natural sinks to retain or absorb as much atmospheric carbon as possible. Fossil companies, and many of the industries that consume their product, have responded by committing to carbon offsets in lieu of actual emission reductions—a confusion that Bloomgarden said won’t likely be settled by the end of today’s deliberations.
“This is an increasingly urgent issue,” he acknowledged. “As we see corporate commitments toward net-zero accelerating, and the desired use of offsets as a bridging mechanism to help meet those commitments, there’s a need to provide some rules of the road” for buying and using offsets.
“There are a lot of companies and sectors that just don’t have the ability to eliminate operational emissions overnight or in the short term,” he added. “There are no zero-carbon airplanes or steel mills at the moment,” and on the other side of the transaction, there’s no other source of revenue for forests, marine ecosystems, or wetlands “unless you’re using them for an extractive purpose. So the promise of changing underlying economic tactics on the ground so that nature is worth more alive than dead, or more alive than being extracted for some productive use, is really an important use of offset dollars.”
Applying that principle to an industry with a more direct path to decarbonization, like fossil fuels, would “need to pass a credibility test”, Bloomgarden said, based on an individual company’s measurable, ambitious target to reduce their carbon pollution—not just the Scope 1 and 2 emissions under their direct control, but the Scope 3 emissions that occur when customers use their products, and account for 80% or more of most fossil companies’ total carbon footprint.
Driving that activity is another function of a floor price on carbon, he added. “One of the important features of a company purchasing offsets is that it creates a real carbon price within that organization,” he explained. Once it’s “entrenched in their operational decisions, that carbon price is felt as an important incentive” to reduce emissions.
So while $10 per tonne from Norway is low, it’s still a “very important signal in the market where you might have had carbon credits from forest trade at $4, $5, $6, up to $8,” he said. “It’s the minimum where you start seeing some action. We know the price needs to be above $30 within the next few years, and by 2030 it needs to get well above $100 if we’re going to meet the Paris Agreement targets. But between $10 and $15, you start seeing some changes on both sides, on the corporate side and on the forest country side.”
Over the years, there has also been much concern about forest carbon credit projects that drive Indigenous communities off their territories, rather than recognizing their title to and understanding of those lands. “Absolutely, forests are better protected when [offset programs] engage Indigenous peoples and local people,” Bloomgarden told The Mix. “There are more than a billion people in the world who rely on forests, so it’s absolutely critical that they’re engaged, involved, and the beneficiaries of this carbon finance.”