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Forests & REDD: US climate bills compared

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Issue date: 
January 8, 2010
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The future of the growing project-based forest carbon sector has been clouded by the two climate and energy bills in the US Congress. The bills, one passed in the House last June, the other being drafted in the Senate, both make provision for large use of international forest carbon offsets as a cornerstone of emissions reduction efforts.

The bills, however, limit international project-based activity, in which many private sector developers currently operate in the voluntary market, to an initial transition period while national systems of forest preservation and carbon sink enhancement in host countries are developed. And even then, this transitionary eligibility would only be allowed in smaller forest nations other than the critical nations of Brazil and Indonesia.

The Congressional Research Service has released a detailed comparison of the treatment of forests between the two bills, the House Waxman-Markey bill (H.R. 2454) and the Senate Kerry-Boxer bill (S. 1733). The report takes a systematic look at all the familiar issues around protecting and expanding forests as a means to reduce greenhouse emissions. It shows that whilst provisions for domestic and international REDD activity follow similar lines, the House bill offers more detail on how international forest carbon offsetting would work under a US climate programme.

Under the House Waxman-Markey bill, project-based forest carbon would be phased out after five years. The Senate bill proposes a period of eight years. There is little detail in the bills on how this transition period would work. But Waxman-Markey stipulates that US emitters would generally not be allowed to claim international forestry credits from project-level activities after five years. There is an avenue offered for project activity to continue in least-developed countries out to 8 or 13 years where there are extra obstacles to the development of a robust national forest plan.

Importantly, the provisions only apply to forest nations with less than 1 per cent of global emissions and less than 3 per cent of global forest-related emissions. This would appear to rule out project-based forest carbon activity at all in Brazil and Indonesia from eligibility for US carbon credits.

As the CRS report underlines, a lot of significant detail is left out of these bills to be decided in the regulations and/or by other authorities. So it's hard to be sure of the exact nature of their intent and potential impact should they materialise in law.

There is also no hard list of forest carbon activities that would be eligible, only an outline of potential activities for consideration by other authorities such as the EPA or the President. They are broadly in line with what is envisaged under the emerging UN deforestation programme, ‘REDD+’:

  • avoided deforestation and degradation
  • afforestation and reforestation
  • improved forest management and forest restoration

There is also mention of activities to prevent of carbon loss in forested wetlands or peatlands.

International Forestry Issues in Climate Change Bills: Comparison of Provisions of S.1733 and H.R. 2454 by Pervaze A. Sheikh and Ross W. Gorte, US Congressional


Extpub | by Dr. Radut