What Does ACES Mean for Forests?
Much has been said and written about how ACES, the climate bill moving through Congress, will affect consumers, energy companies, and local utilities. But another crucial question is how the bill will affect the world's forests, the destruction of which accounts for 20 percent of global warming causing emissions. Domestic Forests
ACES's renewable energy standard (RES) includes allowances for woody biomass from private and public forests, including National Forests. The RES standard is set at 6% in 2012 and gradually rises to 20% in 2020. However, the bill allows electricity savings be counted "automatically" for a quarter of total and up to two-fifths more on a state by state basis. That reduces the renewable energy mandates to a minimum of 12% by 2020 with 8% stemming from efficiency.
Especially in the West, a significant portion of that remaining 12% can be satisfied through the use of woody biomass from forests. Combined with the biomass counted towards renewable transportation fuels, this could provide a subsidy for the timber industry and create long-term pressure to log and thin forests for biomass, even when ecologically inappropriate.
The inclusion of public lands and National Forests under these provisions is particularly problematic since they are supposed to be managed for a wide range of values and services including drinking water, wildlife habitat and recreation. The bill restricts sourcing of woody biomass from federal lands that are:
-inventoried Roadless Areas
-old growth or mature forest stands
-parts of the National Landscape Conservation System, National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Designated Primitive Areas and Wild and Scenic River corridors
The main mechanism for reducing emissions from deforestation is called REDD. With proper oversight and control, REDD can be used to slow climate change, but with poor supervision and funds going to the wrong places and to the wrong people, it can be exploited.
-Offsets from international REDD activities provide a potentially massive sources of cheap replacements for domestic emissions reductions, like smokestacks.
-International REDD initiatives are primary source of "refilling" the strategic reserve, a mechanism dedicated to keeping the price of carbon low. In other words, if the price of carbon gets to high, offsets can flood the market and work to lower the price.
If fully exploited, the 2 billion metric tons of offsets authorized by ACES is enough to enable increases in U.S. greenhouse gas emissions through 2030. Because of their low cost and potential abundance, (an estimated 6 billion metric tons annually) it is likely that international REDD offsets will be a major source of offsets during that period.
A Better Way
The money set aside under the bill for forest protection is a great start. To improve its effectiveness, legislators might want to explore:
-Leaving REDD funds out of the offset pool and the strategic reserve pool entirely.
-Removing woody biomass from federal lands (including National Forests) from the RES and renewable transportation fuels standards.
-Prohibiting sub-national projects as forest offsets (Sub-national forest projects are highly unreliable forms of offset credits since the drivers of deforestation can simple move deforestation to another part of the country.)