Study Raises Questions about California Carbon Offset Programs

According to a new study released on Friday, as reported by Reuters, forests’ ability to provide carbon offsets to offset future emissions from California’s major polluters is quickly running out as a result of disease and wildfire damage to trees.

The researchers noted that one of California’s main climate change policy instruments may be falling significantly short of its objectives, which raises concerns for comparable carbon offset programs throughout the world.

The study, which was written up in the journal Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, was carried out by CarbonPlan, a non-profit organization located in San Francisco that investigates the legitimacy of schemes to reduce carbon emissions. The program’s effectiveness in addressing climate change has already been questioned by the group’s studies.

Large emitters are subject to carbon restrictions under California law and may purchase permits if they go over. According to the California Air Resources Board, they are permitted to use offset credits to offset up to 4% of their emissions, such as those produced by the program’s forest conservation initiatives in 29 states.

A percentage of those credits is placed in a buffer account as insurance against the loss of projects due to wildfires, illness, pests, or monetary threats like bankruptcy. The purpose of the credits is to ensure carbon supplies for at least 100 years. However, the researchers claimed that promise is being broken as a result of how climate change is causing severe wildfires, drought, and illness.

In less than a decade, wildfires have virtually exhausted one-fifth of that buffer pool, according to the report.

Additionally, the researchers predicted probable losses related to the disease sudden oak death, which has destroyed millions of trees in Oregon and California over the past 20 years. According to the study, widespread tree mortality caused by abrupt oak death might obliterate all the credits put aside for disease and pest risks to balance initiatives.

In a response sent via email, a representative of the California Air Resources Board (CARB) claimed that the Compliance Offsets Program was “a prudent aspect of the program” and that the risk criteria used were based on the knowledge that the state agency had at the time the policy was created.

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