SACRAMENTO – As fires in the Amazon raise alarms about the accelerating pace of tropical deforestation, the California Air Resources Board, or CARB, has endorsed a science-based standard designed to help protect tropical forests, their communities and natural biodiversity for decades to come.
The Tropical Forest Standard is the first government-enacted, global standard for maintaining and protecting tropical forests throughout an entire state or province by incentivizing responsible action and investment. The standard provides a minimum set of requirements for such large-scale programs to reduce emissions from tropical deforestation.
“The world’s tropical forests are in crisis and this endorsement by California sends a strong signal for jurisdictions to take immediate action,” CARB Chair Mary D. Nichols said. “It will improve the livelihoods of those who live and work in tropical forests. And it motivates responsible investment into better forest management in a way that is more protective of indigenous rights than anything that currently exists.”
More than a decade in the making, the standard provides an international model for increased stringency, accountability, and transparency. It sends a strong signal to the global community about the elements that must be in place to establish a program that values the preservation of tropical forests over continued deforestation or destructive activities such as oil exploration and extraction.
It also recognizes and supports the link between lands managed by indigenous and local communities as containing higher levels of carbon, and establishes rigorous social and environmental safeguards.
Protecting forests & communities
CARB developed the standard after evaluating other international deforestation reduction programs and working with the Governors’ Climate and Forests Task Force and indigenous leaders and forest communities. In addition, California worked with state and national governments across the globe including two dozen tropical states and provinces, as well as Norway and Mexico.
CARB staff incorporated changes to the standard to address concerns and experiences with smaller-scale carbon reduction projects. The California approach does not deal with individual projects, but instead is designed around larger-scale (subnational) areas, which provides for ongoing monitoring, verification, additionality (increased storage of carbon) and enforcement, while avoiding emissions leakage.
Avoiding large-scale deforestation cannot work without direct involvement by and benefit to those who live in the forests. The standard requires not only engagement with local forest communities, but explicit recognition of their rights and their share of the benefits from these emissions reduction programs. The standard is a model for safeguarding indigenous peoples’ rights, and for the type of engagement required to deliver benefits to those who live and work in the forests.
“From the beginning of the discussion of the Tropical Forest Standard, we have been insisting that it should have a strong content on the rights of indigenous communities and other traditional forest communities,” says Levi Sucre Romero, coordinator for the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests. “In the proposed standard under discussion, these rights are clearly respected through consultation requirements and free, prior and informed consent.”
The standard sends a strong signal for jurisdictions to take immediate action by providing a framework for establishing financial incentive programs. It also establishes the metrics and other tools to verify that any carbon sequestered under one of these programs is additional and enforceable, while also providing agreed-upon principles for collaboration between state and provincial governments to operate on a sector-wide basis.
This establishes the highest standards, for example, for a voluntary carbon offset program. But the standard was developed from the outset to provide recognized requirements to support the broadest array of efforts and approaches beyond carbon offset programs that can also help to preserve forests. The standard will also support:
International payments for programs that demonstrate reductions in deforestation
Sustainable commodity supply chain initiatives by corporations
Progress toward Paris Agreement goals (NDCs)
Highest standard for emerging compliance markets that already include forests
Endorsement of the standard will not produce offset credits for California’s climate programs.
Tropical forests are threatened by fires and other types of deforestation related to cattle grazing, farming, and oil and gas extraction. These activities destroy tropical forests at a rate of approximately 36 football fields per minute, the equivalent of an area the size of the city of Sacramento, every day. As a result, tropical forests are on the verge of losing their role as one of the world’s biggest carbon sinks, as deforestation threatens to turn them into enormous carbon generators instead. Tropical forests are currently estimated to emit as much as 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.