Carbon-Offset Forests Are Burning Up in Wildfires

Wildfires are consuming forests designated for carbon storage to fight climate change, highlighting the fragility of these carbon offset schemes.

2 minute read

August 26, 2021, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Wildfire

Tom Reichner / Shutterstock

Forests "that are part of carbon-offset projects meant to counterbalance the carbon dioxide pollution being pumped into the atmosphere by human activity" are burning up in the fires consuming the American West, reports Winston Choi-Schagrin. "An estimated 153,000 acres of forests that are part of California’s carbon-offset project have burned so far this summer, according to CarbonPlan, a nonprofit climate-research organization." In Oregon, the Bootleg Fire has claimed nearly 100,000 acres of the Klamath East conservation project.

"California’s carbon offset program works by paying landowners if they commit to managing their land for 100 years in ways that will store more carbon than they would have otherwise. Companies that want to offset their own emissions of greenhouse gases can then buy credits that represent the additional carbon being stored in forests like these." 

But "experts say the wildfires have highlighted one of the main weaknesses in the program: the small size of the so-called buffer pool." With the buffer pool, "carbon-offset projects also protect a small percentage of extra land so that if disaster strikes one project, that extra pool of land — with contributions from many different projects — can make up for losses. But too many fires mean that the insurance policy might not be enough." The loss, says Barbara Haya, director of the Berkeley Carbon Trading Program at the University of California, Berkeley, will only increase with climate change. 

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