I get a thrill whenever I see forests on equal billing with farm lands in the Chesapeake region. Especially when it comes to something BIG like carbon sequestration. Of course, one acre of forest land can sequester much more carbon than one acre of agricultural land -- 1-2 tons of carbon per acre per year for forest, compared to roughly 0.3-0.5 ton per acre per year for farmland. But when it comes to best management practices for water quality, and well, eating, agriculture is king.
Kudos to Delaware, which is now only 30% forested (the smallest percentage of forest for any of the six Bay states), to take on carbon for its champion role in the Chesapeake clean-up. When it comes to carbon, it’s all about taking advantage of existing volunteer markets, such as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and the Chicago Climate Exchange, and potential regulatory markets in the United States’ future
From a global perspective, the U.S. is playing catch-up with carbon. Our nation did not ratify Kyoto in 1997 when 84 other countries signed on. These countries are legally bound to reduce carbon emissions, with the average target being to reduce emissions by 5% below 1990 levels. Here in the U.S., the states have largely taken the leadership on reducing greenhouse gases, with some big regional programs such as RGGI, the Western Climate Initiative and the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord taking off. Last year, Congress got serious with the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act, but it didn’t pass. Both of the prospective new administrations have promised to enact climate legislation. Most likely only after the economy settles down -- I mean up. It’s an exciting time for many who have talked for nearly two decades about the need.
Back to the symposium …
How will the markets actually reduce greenhouse gases? It’s not shuffling money around. It has to do with being cost-effective, promoting innovation and, indirectly, better land use decisions. Big questions abound, however; like: will it work? The top six issues are certainty, baseline, leakage, permanence, additionality and double counting.
Once some of the issues start being resolved, there’s great potential for forestry, since 80% of the forest land in this region is privately owned. The Bay Bank has moved from concept to design and will be up and running in fall 2009. The Bay Bank will facilitate both farm and forest landowner access to multiple ecosystem markets (not just carbon) and conservation programs through an easy-to-use online marketplace. Supporting aspects of the Bay Bank, such as the Spatial Lands Registry, will be up sooner. The Spatial Lands Registry is one of those tools that will help reduce issues such as certainty, baseline and permanence. When a tool does this, it also reduces the make-it or break-it transaction costs.
The all-important new regulations will determine the direction of these burgeoning markets. There need to be more drivers to direct more businesses and people to invest in carbon sequestering practices. The target reductions and rules need to be reasonable so a variety of private landowners can take part in the market and get a worthwhile return on their investment. The Delaware symposium is helping with the outreach and understanding that will be needed for any market to succeed.
What’s good for carbon is good for water quality. Less cars, more forests and farms, better-managed farms and forests, and hopefully, hopefully, a postponement of sea level rise. That would be very good for the Chesapeake. For that matter, good for the world.