Connections between Climate Policy and Forests in the Western Climate Initiative Cap-and-Trade System

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Roberts, Allan
climate change , forests , Western Climate Initiative , carbon offsets , cap and trade , climate change policy
The Western Regional Climate Action Initiative (WCI) was signed by the governors of Arizona, California, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington, on February 26, 2007. Upon the release of the September 2008 Design Recommendations for the WCI Regional Cap-and-Trade Program, the WCI also included Montana, Utah, and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec. A WCI goal is to reduce regional greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions 15% below 2005 levels by 2020. It has previously been recognized that the region’s forests can be important carbon sinks and sources, and it has been suggested that the carbon-storage capacity of forests may have economic value. Here, connections between forests and the developing WCI cap-and-trade system design are examined. Qualitative comparative analysis is used to examine characteristics of US states participating in the WCI. Content analysis is used to identify what advocacy groups promote what forest-related WCI cap-and-trade rules. A combination of low per capita GHG emissions, and strong environmental politics, is found to be related to regional climate initiative participation by US states, with important exceptions among WCI participants. Forest industry presence alone does not obviously influence participation. Electric utility and industry groups, including the forestry sector, are found to support an extensive WCI carbon offset system. Forest industry groups are also found to support the carbon neutrality of forest biomass combustion, and oppose regulating forest carbon emissions. Several environmental non-governmental organizations are found to oppose extensive carbon offset use, and oppose the unconditional consideration of biomass combustion as carbon neutral. Forest related aspects of the WCI Design Recommendations of September 2008 are found to largely agree with forest industry advocated policies. Some WCI provisions may provide incentives for forest carbon loss, or weaken the GHG emissions cap. Three recommendations are made: consideration should be given to appropriately discounting forest offset projects to address carbon emissions leakage; forest carbon emissions from land conversion should be accounted for; combustion of forest biomass from old-growth forests should not be considered carbon neutral.
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