united states: fighting forest carbon offsets

Deforestation and forest degradation in tropical forests account for nearly 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Forest protection policies are therefore a vital component of national and international climate policy. But many of the forest-related provisions in legislation such as the American Clean Energy and Security Act (also known as the Waxman-Markey cap and trade bill) will undermine domestic climate change targets.

usa-naked-fraudThis is because these provisions allow industries to purchase forest carbon credits from reduced deforestation projects abroad, instead of cleaning up their own act. They also fail to tackle the real underlying drivers of deforestation in tropical forest countries, meaning that deforestation will continue - it will simply take place somewhere else. 


Forest carbon offset projects can also result in serious negative impacts on indigenous peoples, who may be forcibly removed from their territories. To cap it all, forest carbon offset projects are fraught with technical difficulties, and have been avoided by governments in the past for precisely this reason.


what happened

Friends of the Earth US built a coalition with US-based organizations, which has been effective in reframing the climate debate to focus on what is necessary rather than what is seen as politically possible. This coalition also published analyses of climate policy, and drafted letters as well as lobbying collectively. 


Friends of the Earth US also built relationships with environmental justice advocates whose communities stand to be impacted by increased pollution from regulated industries that purchase offsets instead of reducing their own emissions. 


Friends of the Earth also analyzed policies related to forest carbon and carbon trading, and provided detailed recommendations to policy-makers to improve the efficacy of US forest-climate policy, including on transparency, governance, human rights and environmental effectiveness. Campaigners addressed the Energy and Commerce Committee, and alerted the Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus to serious flaws in the proposed climate bill. They also lobbied members of the US House of Representatives to limit the use of offsets in any carbon trading system, and prohibit the most problematic types of offsets - international offsets and forest-related offsets. 


FoE US also invited Sam Nnah Ndobe of Friends of the Earth Cameroon to meet with policy makers in both the House and Senate, and coordinated lobbying visits for Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, the Chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, who met with Donna Lee, the lead US delegate on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD). 


In 2009, publications included a report entitled “Subprime Carbon” which highlights how the financial crisis tells a cautionary tale about the risks of carbon trading, and another on offsets, “Dangerous Distraction.” Through flash videos, online advertising, and e-mail alerts, the group also mobilized its members and activists to reach out to their members of Congress. 


Friends of the Earth US also participated in several conferences on the failures of the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Fund (FCPF).


what changed

During 2009, the US House of Representatives passed the climate change bill, proposing a massive carbon market in the US. While Friends of the Earth US ultimately opposed the bill, its advocacy efforts around forest carbon, carbon offsets, and carbon trading resulted in concrete improvements to the language contained in it. For example, both the House-passed climate bill and Senate climate legislation recognize the need and provide for non-market based sources of financing to protect forests. The Senate bill also has new and robust transparency and anti-corruption language applying to forest carbon schemes. 


FoE US also successfully shifted the US government position on REDD to allow for the inclusion of provisions on respecting the rights of indigenous peoples, and noting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. While this position has not yet been formally adopted, it is a significant victory. 


FoE US also secured greater civil society access to and transparency in the operation of the World Bank’s Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF).


what next?

Campaigners still face considerable challenges. Leading US climate legislation still relies heavily on the use of carbon offsets, including forest offsets. The World Bank’s FCPF has also attempted to sidestep pressure from civil society to comply with safeguards, by attempting to shift its decision-making process to allow for less rigorous compliance with the Bank’s operational policies. 


with thanks to our funders: the isvara foundation

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