A Discussion Paper on the Feasibility of Funding Riparian Restoration with Revenue Sourced from Carbon Credits

The debate around the issue of climate change has moved from the question of “is it really happening?” to “how can humans best reduce their greenhouse gas emissions to minimize their impact on Earth’s climate?” Without question, the primary factor in anthropogenic climate change is humanity’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels while increasing the uptake of renewable and efficient energy technologies is essential in combating this threat.

Forests also play a central role in the climate change debate. Forests are among the largest stores of carbon on the planet. When plants grow, they remove carbon dioxide from the air like no other mechanism; when they die, however, these carbon stores are released back into the atmosphere. Today, deforestation is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Tools to combat it – via reforestation, afforestation, and avoided deforestation – are among those commonly discussed in avoiding climate change.

The pros and cons, opportunities and challenges in using the carbon markets to promote riparian restoration are the focus of this report. There are many good reasons to restore riparian habitat. These systems provide food and habitat and a whole variety of ecosystem services for countless species, including humans. However, finding the funding to restore this habitat is not easy, and financing the restoration with carbon credits is an attractive option.

The global carbon market is growing rapidly. By putting a carbon value on both existing and future forests, we are able to pay the price to either maintain or replant these forests. The Province of British Columbia is also moving in this direction and plans to release regulations on forest-based carbon mechanisms in 2009.

The devil however, as always, is in the details. With standards in flux, and protocols yet to be determined, this document provides a general overview of the carbon markets, their central concepts and trends, and the role of forest-based carbon projects within them. This paper will also examine the risks and rewards associated with funding reforestation with carbon credits. In particular, it provides an examination of the carbon metrics here such as baseline, additionality, and permanence as well as other complicating factors such as land ownership and governance.

In order to conduct this research a review of the current literature was conducted, along with interviews with experts from the fields of forestry, finance, ecological restoration, and both government and non-governmental organizations.