June 27, 2008

California's Target for Forest Carbon Reduction

The California Air Resources Board is responsible for implementing the state's AB32 Global Warming Solutions Act. It's first step is to provide a Climate Change Draft Scoping Plan that outlines the reduction goals for achieving a reduction in statewide greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.

One of the goals is the reduction of 5 million tons/year of CO2 from forests using sustainable management practices. It is no secret that California can profit from better management of both its private and public forest lands. But as documented in studies from the California Forest Foundation, wildfires in America are at an all-time high and trending higher. Unless aggressive changes take place, like implementing forest management programs funded by the federal 2003 Healthy Forest Restoration Act, greenhouse gases may well outpace the reductions stipulated in the plan.

Here is the specific text in the Scoping Plan that stipulate the Sustainable Forest portion.

Sustainable Forests

Preserve forest sequestration and encourage the use of forest biomass for sustainable energy generation.

The 2020 target for California’s forest lands is to achieve a 5 MMTCO2E reduction through sustainable management practices, including reducing the risk of catastrophic wildfire, and the avoidance or mitigation of land-use changes that reduce carbon storage. California’s Board of Forestry and Fire Protection has the regulatory authority to implement the Forest Practice Act to provide for sustainable management practices and, at a minimum, to maintain current carbon sequestration levels. The federal government must do the same for lands under its jurisdiction in California. California forests are now a net carbon sink. The 2020 target would provide a mechanism to help ensure that this carbon stock is not diminished over time. The 5 MMTCO2E emission reduction target is set equal to the current estimate of the net emission reduction from California forests. As technical data improve, the target can be recalibrated to reflect new information.

California’s forests will play an even greater role in reducing carbon emissions for the 2050 greenhouse gas reduction goals. Forests are unique in that planting trees today will maximize their sequestration capacity in 20 to 50 years. As a result, near-term investments in activities such as planting trees will help us reach our 2020 target, but will play a greater role in reaching our 2050 goals.

Monitoring carbon sequestered on forest lands will be necessary to implement the target. The Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, working with the Resources Agency, the Air Resources Board, and the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection would be tasked with developing a monitoring program, improving greenhouse gas inventories, and determining what actions are needed to meet the 2020 target for the Forest sector. Future climate impacts will exacerbate existing wildfire and pest problems in the Forest sector. These problems will create new uncertainties in reducing emissions and maintaining sequestration levels over the long-term requiring more creative strategies for adapting to these changes. In the short term, focusing on sustainable management practices and land-use issues is a practical approach for moving forward.

Future land use decisions will play a role in reaching our greenhouse gas emission reduction goals for all sectors. Loss of forest land to development increases greenhouse gas emissions because less carbon is sequestered. Avoiding or mitigating such conversions will support efforts to meet the 2020 goal. When significant changes occur, the California Environmental Quality Act is a mechanism providing for assessment and mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions.

Biomass fuels will also play a role in the expansion of renewable energy sources but will be accounted for in the Energy sector. Similarly, no reductions are yet attributed to future fuels management strategies, but that accounting will be done following implementation. Public investments to purchase and preserve forests and woodlands would also provide reductions that will be accounted for as projects are funded. Urban forest projects can provide the dual benefit of carbon sequestration and shading to reduce air conditioning load. The Forest sector is already a source of voluntary reductions that would not otherwise occur. ARB has already adopted a methodology to quantify reductions from forest projects, and will be considering additional quantification methodologies later this year. Table 11 summarizes the emission reductions from the forest measure.


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