Rainforest Solutions Project

Promoting conservation and economic alternatives in British Columbia's Great Bear Rainforest


Great Bear carbon offsets need scrutiny

February 4, 2013

Valerie Langer’s (Forest-Ethics) and Art Sterritt’s (Coastal First Nations) responses to Gordon Hoekstra’s article on the Great Bear Rainforest carbon offset scheme (Great Bear Rainforest’s green gold; Critics say conservancy project does not meet a key credibility test for carbon credits, Jan. 19) suggest scrutinizing this project is unhelpful, unwarranted, and may put this unprecedented “carbon project” at risk. Unfortunately, their arguments highlight the problematic nature of this latest carbon offset scheme.

First, Langer states carbon offset projects must be transparent. As Hoekstra points out, the GBR project is anything but. Even as a duly elected member of the B.C. Legislature, I cannot access the models used to calculate the carbon offsets that are for sale.

Based on the public project summary, it looks as though the base case scenario hyper-inflates the carbon available for sale. The Pacific Carbon Trust used this same technique in its previous two B.C. forest carbon purchases.

Second, both Langer and Sterritt make the claim that First Nations needed money from offsets in order to achieve sustainable economic benefits from the GBR. However, economic need is not one of the tests used to legitimize carbon offsets.

The GBR conservancies and the implementation of ecosystem-based management were obtained as a result of concerns and protests about old growth management and preservation of biodiversity in that region, not carbon. Yet a fundamental test for “additionally” (a benchmark test used to legitimize the sale and purchase of offsets) is that a project requires money from carbon offsets in order to overcome a financial or technical barrier.

Under the BC Forest Carbon Offset Protocol, a forest project does not meet the additionally test if the activities of the project are required by law. The GBR did not face technical or financial barriers to its early implementation, and both the conservancies and EBM in the Great Bear are required by law.

Third, B.C.‘s public forests are net emitters of greenhouse gases. In 2010 alone, forest management in B.C. was responsible for 82 million tonnes of CO2, an amount not included in the province’s total reported emissions of 62 million tonnes. Nevertheless, the province claims it can isolate “additional” carbon sequestered in the GBR in 2010 and allow First Nations to sell it as though B.C.‘s forests had made a net positive contribution to the global carbon balance.

Fourth, Langer claims we should not allow the “serious problems” of the Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT) to cloud our judgment of the GBR carbon deal. That’s very hard to do, since the PCT is the only organization that has bulk purchased any of the GBR’s carbon offsets.

It requires the worst kind of accounting to justify declaring the B.C. government carbon neutral through the purchase of Crown forest carbon offsets. BC Hydro, for example, doesn’t have to report the approximately 1.5 million tonnes of emissions resulting from the land clearing associated with the Northwest Transmission Line.

Sterritt claims the GBR project has been third-party validated, but third-party validation is only as good as the criteria and protocols used to conduct the evaluations.

Bob Simpson is the Independent MLA for Cariboo North.