Friday, December 8, 2017

Carbon Credits and Tree Planting

by Dexter B. Dombro

Dexter Dombro (middle) is panelist at VCS event.
December caused something of a celebration at Amazonia Reforestation, as the agent for our plantation company successfully sold 46,000 carbon credits from our grouped certification under the Latin American Icontec standard to a Colombian oil company. While we have made voluntary carbon market sales before, this was the first one our La Pedregoza plantation has accomplished on a carbon exchange. Nevertheless, carbon markets and carbon offsets still have a long way to go to act as true incentives for tree planting.

Doing a VCS workshop with La
Pedregoza plantation workers

La Pedregoza has been certified under 2 different standards. The first is known as the Verified Carbon Standard or VCS. It is internationally recognized and follows a 2 year grouped certification process that was managed by the Fundacion Natura in Bogota, Colombia, involving 5 different tree plantations. The grouped approach significantly reduced certification costs, and happened simultaneously to the establishment of a carbon exchange on Colombia´s stock exchange, where the credits are now listed. Readers may wish to follow our Twitter account at @co2tropicaltree.

Labour policy posted at La Pedregoza.
All the participating plantations have their credits in a common purse, with sales divided between them, based on the percentage of hectares of trees managed by each plantation. La Pedregoza made the decision to participate in a second certification under the Latin American Icontec standard. That standard is the same as the one employed by VCS or by the Gold Standard, but is managed by a different organization. The decision to do both was in order to access different markets for the carbon credits produced by the trees at La Pedregoza. Obviously, we cannot sell the same credits twice under different schemes, so there is a separate protocol for managing that aspect.

More than 50% of a tropical tree's biomass is carbon.
Carbon certifications have 2 principal components. The first is good management, meaning compliance with all local labour laws, no child labour, technical training for workers, good environmental policies, conflict resolution policies, worker health and safety compliance and the like.  The second is more technical, evaluating the age of the plantations, that the cultivations are not in areas that previously had natural forest, and that measurement parcels are established to track growth and carbon sequestration by the trees in each lot.

Residual waste management and recycling
is one of the  certification issues.
At present the international price for a ton of carbon is very low, around $3.50 USD. At the same time, the cost of certification remains high. Costs include not just the initial certification, but also the ongoing audits and verifications required by each standard, with no guarantee that there will be a buyer. Colombia signed the Paris Climate Accord, which means the country will start to regulate its carbon emissions in 2021. This is good news, because it will allow carbon sequestration projects to have a more reliable market for the carbon credits they are producing. Companies that do not voluntarily offset their carbon footprint may find themselves paying a carbon tax, so there is incentive to support tree planting and carbon reduction strategies.

Measuring tree growth and carbon capture in
parcels is part of the certification process.
By way of criticism, the high cost of certification, and the large number of issues being certified, that do not pertain directly to carbon capture, make current mechanisms complicated and for many, unrealistic. There is a popular belief that carbon credits are some sort of bonanza for tree plantations, but in truth they are risky business with a lot of questionable extra costs that many can´t afford or will never recover, especially small producers. This means that tree planting has to rely on other means of income to be sustainable, as the sale of carbon credits is neither a reliable activity, nor a very lucrative one.

Every tree in a measurement parcel has a
unique tag for carbon capture tracking
To truly battle climate change, many countries may have to consider regulated carbon markets that are fair to producers, accessible by all, and that don’t rely on voluntary participation. Many of the standards now being employed are basically designed to make the certifier look like they are doing something. Some of the rules make little sense, for example cashew trees as cultivated in Vichada generally are no more than 5 meters high, but have thick trunks and large canopies; however they are not evaluated as trees, because somewhere there is a rule that a tree needs to be 5 meters tall, even if it looks like a bean pole. Nevertheless, La Pedregoza will continue to plant trees to help the planet, protecting soil, conserving biodiversity, fighting climate change, whether there is a carbon credit at the end of the rainbow or not.

© 2017 PlantaciĆ³n Amazonia el Vita S.A.S.

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