Will BC's Climate Change Policy be a Boom for Silviculture? ....the Jury's Out
BC is going through interesting times in the world of climate change and forest carbon offsets. Three years ago our minister of forests trumpeted that silviculture would double and by 2012 and the increase would be funded by carbon credits. This interested some and bemused others at the WSCA 2008 annual conference. As of 2011 the bureaucratic bemusement has transformed into climate change initiatives that are bold, emerging and unproven. All attributes that risk seeking missiles like silviculture contractors thrive on. The emerging initiatives include a commitment by the Pacific Carbon Trust to source one third of its CO2e offsets through provincial forests, a shiny new BC Forest Carbon Offset Protocol, the rolling out of Zero Net Deforestation legislation and a draft BC cap and trade bill. Here's the rub;
"... large corporations like BC Hydro are developing policy to reflect a commitment to ZND..."
The Pacific Carbon Trust (PCT ) is a new Crown Corporation, capitalized to $24 million, created to enable the provincial government and its bureaucracy to be carbon neutral by the end of 2010 fiscal year. By definition PCT must use ex post carbon credits or carbon that has been already sequestered at the time of sale. This makes for challenging number crunching and a need to embrace the concept of ex ante purchases. An ex ante purchase is buying carbon credit futures and is used for the voluntary market.
The BC Forest Offset protocol (FCOP) is the means for PCT to accomplish its commitment to having one third of PCT carbon credits related to our forests. The protocol is broken down into four parts Afforestation, Reforestation, Improved forest management, and Conservation /avoided deforestation. The final protocol will be out in March and looks like it will be better adapted for the specific needs of BC forests but structurally different from the Voluntary Carbon Standard (VCS). Different from VCS means it may be too risky for use in a pre compliance market or may be not able to integrate with other voluntary standards. Initial feedback to the draft version of FCOP around enabling voluntary credits was met with a surprising mix of resistance and befuddlement.
The Zero Net deforestation (ZND) legislation is an Silviculture? ....the Jury's Out interesting piece of government policy that identifies an annual average deforestation rate of 6000 hectares from non forestry activity, like creation of transmission line corridors, non forestry roads and urban and municipal expansion. This could equate to an additional 8-10 million trees a year. Unfortunately, this program currently has no real teeth due to lack of binding regulation. A potential silver lining is that some large corporations like BC Hydro are developing policy to reflect a commitment to ZND that could translate into a related silviculture market.
A draft BC Cap and Trade Bill is under way making reasonable progress. Demand for forest offsets will be given a demand boost when this bill goes through, though there will be a second effect of more buyers, more sellers and more competitive, liquid and volatile pricing in the growing market. Some models for the US market suggest that forestry will reduce carbon trading prices. There is some low hanging fruit, but the cost of many interventions is high. BC's Cap and Trade act is scheduled to come into force next year, new Liberal leader dependant.
In Summary, a tally of the net benefits for silviculture from carbon credits is a challenge. But here is a shot; a combined total between a bold PCT, a toothier ZND, low hanging cap and trade fruit and support of the volunteer market by a less hesitant FCOP would very optimistically add up to 20 million trees. That is 10% increase in the annual BC planting program. So where is the potential for doubling silviculture in the near future? The mountain pine beetle (MPB) affected area is the 15 million hectare elephant in the room and holds the only realistic answer. The problem is that many MPB sites take too long to grow trees for a PCT ex post market that yields payback over 25 years. This problem disappears if the goal of reforested MPB sites is to reach optimum sequestration levels by the defining climate change year of 2050. The deadline the world has set to reach and maintain international CO2 reduction goals.
Premier Campbell has been chastised for controversial policies and his governing style but may be best remembered in the end for instituting enlightened climate change policy when few had the courage. Pat Bell as his forest minister had a vision to translate the controversial climate policy into a means of transforming the beetle forest from a carbon emitting causality of global warming to world class carbon sink. Inspired ideas! But ideas that require strong leadership and an informed rural public. The jury's still out....