Rainforest Solutions Project

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


Great Bear Rainforest needs both protection and a new economy

January 22, 2013

Opinion: Carbon credits generated from improved forests management meet the test

Recently there have been criticisms that the carbon stored in trees set aside from logging in the Great Bear Rainforest doesn’t meet the test to qualify for carbon offsets.

ForestEthics Solutions and our colleagues at Sierra Club BC, with whom we work closely on protecting forests, agree that carbon credits should meet the highest standards, including requirements of transparency by the provincial regulations. We also believe that carbon offsets can only be meaningful as part of plan that includes deep emissions reductions. Given our involvement in implementing the Great Bear Rainforest agreements we feel that, while transparency should be required, the carbon credits generated from improved forests management there meet the test. Here’s why:

The Great Bear Rainforest Agreements announced in 2006 were based on reaching two goals concurrently: ecological integrity and high levels of human well-being. We wish these goals were fully achieved, as promised, in 2009, but that is not the case. There have been incremental and significant gains but not enough to meet the criteria for forest health laid out by a team of ecology experts. Nor have high levels of human well-being been fully achieved. When First Nations signed on to establishing over 100 new protected areas and to applying improved logging rules they said they would require initiatives to improve human well-being in their communities. It was a quid pro quo with a dollar amount attached – $200 million in investment to build a new conservation friendly economy. $120 million was raised by 2007 for the protected areas.

The critiques of the Great Bear carbon credits state that these credits don’t meet the criteria of “additionality” and that the project lacks transparency. Additionality is a proof that the carbon emission reduction would not have happened without the revenue from selling the carbon to offset someone else’s emissions. Having worked with all parties involved for the last 7 years to ensure full implementation of the Great Bear Rainforest milestones, we can attest that Ecosystem Based Management, including setting aside 700,000 hectares of rainforest by 2009 would not have happened without carbon revenue-sharing agreements between the province and First Nations. Some critics of the Great Bear carbon credits have asserted that conservation in the region has been assured since 2001 and 2006. That is absolutely not the case. A series of agreements with First Nations was required, including carbon credits.

As importantly, if the agreements are going to be completed by setting more forest off-limits to reach the science based target of 70 percent of the natural level of old-growth forest, more carbon credits will likely be required to garner First Nations support.

While there has been a lot of goodwill and some successes, three factors are critically important to fully deliver the promise of these world-leading agreements.

1. The logging industry has to re-envision itself shifting from high volumes of commodity products to producing more value on significantly less wood coming from the GBR

2. The provincial government has to prioritize full implementation of the agreements

3. First Nations need assurance that they will have the means to achieve a new economy with less industrial logging in the picture.

There are a number of serious problems with some of the carbon offset projects chosen by the Pacific Carbon Trust and we feel the organization needs to be reformed. But rather than rejecting the entire carbon credit tool outright we need to distinguish between the good, the bad and the ugly and fix the glitches, such as lack of transparency.

The Great Bear Rainforest carbon credit project has a number of advantages compared to other projects. It delivers immediate emission reductions through avoided logging of old-growth trees (in contrast to tree planting projects that require decades to build carbon stores), it’s First Nations driven and it will enable meeting the high bar for conservation recommended by experts. We hope that First Nations only sell those credits to entities that are also making deep emissions reductions and contributing to dealing with climate change credibly.

The world needs to model economies that don’t eat away at the foundation of our environmental life support systems. The means to do this in the Great Bear Rainforest can be accomplished within the year, with the political will of the provincial government, the logging industry making good on their commitment and, likely, carbon credits helping bridge the capacity and capital gap for First Nations communities. That’s why we feel that there is a case to be made for transparent forest conservation carbon credits in the Great Bear Rainforest that meet the test of additionality.

Valerie Langer is Director, BC Forest Conservation with ForestEthics Solutions.