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Do carbon offsets work? The role of forest management in greenhouse gas mitigation

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September 10, 2013
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Author: Fried, Jeremy

Date: 2013

Source: Science Findings 155. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 5 p.

Station ID: SF-PNW-155

Description: As forest carbon offset projects become more popular, professional foresters are providing their expertise to support them. But when several members of the Society of American Foresters questioned the science and assumptions used to design the projects, the organization decided to convene a task force to examine whether these projects can provide the intended climate benefits. The report details reasons to look for other solutions to greenhouse gas emission challenges.

After synthesizing the latest available science, the authors challenge the underlying assumptions used to establish most carbontrading mechanisms, including the notion that lightly managed or unmanaged forests will be more effective at sequestering carbon over long periods than would a combination of managed forests and efficiently produced wood products. They take issue with the measurement systems used to determine trading parameters and find validity in the concerns that many market experts have expressed about additionality and leakage.

Energy benefits typically are ignored in forest carbon offset projects, which promotes misunderstandings about overall atmospheric carbon flux. The authors emphasize the carbon-storage benefits of using wood products in place of nonrenewable, energy-intensive materials and using woodbased energy instead of fossil fuels. They recommend sustainable production in forests where it supports primary management objectives and assert that well-managed production forests can promote the goals of reducing carbon emissions and increasing Earth’s carbon-storage capacity.

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