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What must be proven to have high integrity forest carbon credits (VERs) that will survive regulatory and greenwashing claims?

What must be proven to have high integrity forest carbon credits (VERs) that will survive regulatory and greenwashing claims?

With the demise of offsetting, the voluntary carbon market is entering a bewildering stage. Nobody quite knows what should replace offsets. PFS does because it has developed a Platinum Standard (registered copyright in the USA) as to what a green claim requires in order to be accepted by consumers (no claims for greenwashing against an emitter relying on a voluntary credit) and no possibility of leaving an emitter, and its directors, open to regulatory action under e.g., a Fair Trading Act.

Greenwashing is overhyping the beneficial effects an intervention has on the atmosphere when this either cannot be proved, is made recklessly, given the state of knowledge (to which eyes are often deliberately closed) or is known to be false. Greenwashing does not just expose a company, its employees and directors to regulatory action or consumer lawsuits. Just as insidious for a company is the likelihood of reputational risks and of consumers deserting the brand because they see it as lacking in environmental integrity.

If forestry supported VERs can surmount the goals necessary to be able to make green claims free of regulatory risks and greenwashing pushback, it is recognised by PFS as a permanent forestry removal unit (or PFRU™). To be able to do this, however, it should have the following attributes.

  • Silviculture permanence. This means a tree will still be there in 2100. Whether or not it will be depends on many factors; the species of tree; where it is planted (topography suitable for the species); weather (whether it is optimal for the species); how much maintenance it requires, and whether that is provided for; etc.
  • Legal longevity. This means a tree will still be there in 2100 because there are laws to ensure it is. These require a registered covenant against felling, in a strong rule of law country that robustly enforces its law; and no prior mortgages that can be called in and the mortgagee ignore the registered covenant against felling.
  • No double counting. This means that it can be proved the carbon sequestered in the tree has not already been counted, e.g., by dual promises being made. The important point is that the sequestration being rewarded is “first in time”. Counting it again later and seeking to use that to support a green claim would obviously be a misleading thing to do.
  • Additionality. This means that but an intervention it cannot be proved the sequestration that is rewarded would have occurred.
  • No negative sequestration before 2100. A forest must be proved to continue sequestration until 2100.
  • Permanence. This is most important. Forests that may be cut down or burnt before 2100 do not help the planet meet its IPCC targets. Planting them is at best neutral, meaning that rewarding sequestration that will be reversed is simply a funding exercise (in fact it is probably negative, because as the atmosphere warms up it absorbs fewer GHGs, creating a negative loop). To imply that sequestration that may be reversed helps the planet without qualifying that this cannot be proved will likely be a breach of consumer and market participant protections laws. This contrasts sharply with traditionally accepted measurement methodologies, such as those adopted under the Paris Agreement, where forests are measured on a “stock accounting” basis, meaning sequestration is simply measured each year on an historic basis (what happened in the intervening period without any concern for what will happen to past sequestration in future years).
  • Measurement. This means that claimed positive sequestration can be properly measured. PFS uses measurement standards at least as stringent as Governments require for mandatory credits (e.g., under the NZ ETS).
  • Transparency. This means that everything should be provable in an easily discoverable way. PFS will make available details of the forests, the registered covenant against felling and the title to the land under the trees on which it is registered, and the process by which a forest was granted its PGCC. Further, the covenant against felling before 2100 will be in favour of the Attorney General to ensure it is not breached.
  • Consequentiality. This means that sequestration must be measured against IPCC goals. It must be proved that it will materially assist in reaching them. Meeting 2030 goals is necessary to meet 2050 goals. Meeting 2050 goals is necessary to meet 2100 goals. Will a tree sequester sufficiently to assist in meeting these?

There are other tests too, such as no leakage, but the above are the important ones. If these tests are stringent; they need to be. GHG emissions will certainly be in the atmosphere, or cause long lasting damage while they are, well beyond 2100. To claim forest sequestration has helped the planet requires carbon removals have the certainty of longevity that GHG emissions do.