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Optimizing sequestered carbon in forest offset programs: Balancing accounting stringency and participation

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Abstract

Background: Although there is broad agreement that negative carbon emissions may be required in order to meet the global climate change targets specified in the Paris Agreement and that carbon sequestration in the terrestrial biosphere can be an important contributor, there are important accounting issues that often discourage forest carbon sequestration projects. The legislation establishing the California forest offset program, for example, requires that offsets be "real, additional, quantifiable, permanent, verifiable, and enforceable". While these are all clearly desirable attributes, their implementation has been a great challenge in balancing complexity, expense, and risk. Most forest offset protocols carry similar accounting objectives, but often with different details, (e.g. Richards and Huebner in Carbon Manag 3(4):393-410, 2012 and Galik et al. in Mitig Adapt Strateg Glob Change 14:677-690, 2009). The result is that the complexity, expense, and risk of participation discourage participation and make it more difficult to achieve climate mitigation goals. We focus on the requirements for accounting and permanence to illustrate that current requirements disproportionately disadvantage small landowners. Results: The simplified 1040EZ filing system for U.S. income taxes may provide insight for a protocol model that balances reward, effort, and risk, while still achieving the overall objectives of standardized offset protocols. In this paper, we present initial ideas and lay the groundwork behind a "2050EZ" protocol for forest carbon sequestration as a complement to existing protocols. Conclusion: The Paris Agreement states that "Parties should take action to conserve and enhance, as appropriate, sinks and reservoirs of greenhouse gases." The Paris Agreement also refers to issues such as equity, sustainable development, and other non-carbon benefits. The challenge is to provide incentives for maintaining and increasing the amount of carbon sequestered in the biosphere. Monitoring and verification of carbon storage need to be sufficient to demonstrate sequestration from the atmosphere while providing clear incentives and simple accounting approaches that encourage participation by diverse participants, including small land holders.

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Wise, L., Marland, E., Marland, G., Hoyle, J., Kowalczyk, T., Ruseva, T., … Kinlaw, T. (2019). Optimizing sequestered carbon in forest offset programs: Balancing accounting stringency and participation. Carbon Balance and Management, 14(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13021-019-0131-y

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