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Greenpeace: California ETS may undermine Mexico's REDD plans

26 September 2012

Greenpeace: California ETS may undermine Mexico's REDD plans

Plans by the Mexican state of Chiapas (situated on the Guatemalan border) to earn money by preserving its rainforests to generate carbon credits for California’s ETS threaten to undermine Mexico’s national deforestation goals, according to a new report by Greenpeace.

The report was released a day before the annual meeting of the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force, a collaboration of US states of California and Illinois and over a dozen provinces in rainforest countries that aims to promote projects that earn carbon credits by protecting forests.

Greenpeace said that sub-national offset schemes like the Chiapas program to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation (REDD) will not deliver their intended environmental benefits and instead distract countries from tackling deforestation on a national scale. And for states and countries, such as California, that allow the use of carbon credits from overseas REDD projects emissions will continue to rise since companies will buy offsets over investing money directly in improvements to their own facilities and operations.

California regulators have said they will allow emitters to use “sector-based” offset credits from sub-national deforestation projects from 2015, provided California enters into a memorandum of understanding with the host government. So far, the state has been in talks with the states of Chiapas and Acre, Brazil.

Mexico’s outgoing president, Felipe Calderon, pledged that Mexico would achieve zero deforestation nationwide by 2020, and would follow UN guidelines to establish a national REDD program by implementing monitoring and accounting systems. Greenpeace argues that the national program will never reach its goals if Mexican states focus on sub-national programs because California would not require national monitoring of state-level projects.

The report added that Chiapas focus on the carbon benefits of its avoided deforestation projects has made the quality of the projects worse.

California’s air regulator reiterated on Monday that the state’s carbon market has stringent offset requirements, and all projects must demonstrate they are “real, additional, permanent, verifiable, quantifiable, and enforceable.”

Comment

We do not agree that allowing the use of carbon credits from REDD projects means that emissions will continue to rise with companies buying offsets instead of investing money directly in improvements to their own facilities and operations. The net impact on emissions will be the same and allowing access to offset credits, such as those used in REDD projects, allows for mitigation to take place at a lower cost and enables more ambitious emissions reduction targets to be set. However, we do agree that environmental considerations do need to be taken on board when assessing the suitability of REDD projects and that Mexico should not favour linking with California in place of achieving its national deforestation goals.

Green ideologies, if taken seriously, have the potential to endanger other attempts to drive down GHG emissions. Recently we saw this in the case of nuclear power, which is opposed by some green NGOs but remains key source of low carbon energy.

Finally, a word on the environmental integrity of the California ETS (which it could be argued is much better than other cap-and-trade schemes). Unlike other schemes California does not permit the use of cheap UN offsets, many of which have questionable environmental benefits, both in terms of driving down GHG emissions (such as clean coal) and the wider sustainability agenda (such as large hydro projects). And that is not even to mention industrial gas projects!

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