Warning Bells for the REDD+ Market

A new report by the NGO Conservation International assessing the state of REDD+ markets would be an excellent student reading. It provides a good overview of the exigencies driving REDD+, the promise and perils of voluntary markets for carbon credits, and the need for stronger price signals to ensure the viability of the mechanism for the longer term.

Among the conclusions of the report:

  1. Annual investments of $15-45 biIlion are required in order to halve levels of deforestation by 2020, which would ensure a meaningful role for forests in climate policymaking;
  2. Early action on REDD+, largely supported by international donors and NGOs, has enhanced management of 14 million ha of forests. Beyond reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 5MtCO2e, these projects have delivered social and environmental benefits, including ecosystem and species protection and providing livelihood opportunities for many communities;
  3. Serious storm clouds are on the horizon for REDD+, with potentially issued credits from REDD projects reaching 10-20 MtCO2e by 2020, while demand in voluntary markets may be less than 6.8 MtCO2e. As a consequence, prices may plummet to unsustainable levels or prevent projects from getting off the ground;
  4. Institutional efforts to date to increase demand have proven inadequate. For example, the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility isn’t likely to begin purchasing credits until 2015, and only one Verified Carbon Standard REDD project falls under the rubric of potential FCPF investments; very little of the financial resources of the World Bank’s FCPF Carbon Fund and Forest Investment Program have been disbursed to date;
  5. The collapse of REDD+ projects could result in serious immediate pressure on 14 million ha of forests and threaten a knowledge and experience base that would be difficult to re-establish. It would also undermine political support for such projects;
  6. Among the potential ways to bolster the prospects for the REDD+ system are Advanced Market commitments; expansion of risk insurance instruments; dedicated funding windows by pertinent institutions, including FCPF, UNREDD and the Forest Investment Program under the Strategic Climate Fund, and movement away from viewing REDD+ projects as “offsetting” to “paying for impact,” including contributions to delivering sustainable development outcomes. This could attract funds from major private sector groups, e.g. the Consumer Goods Forum.

Among the discussion questions that this article could generate are the following:

  1. Would resolution of the outstanding questions associated with REDD under the UNFCCC/Kyoto Protocol enhance the viability of the mechanism over the next decade?;
  2. How do we weigh the opportunity costs associated with funding REDD projects v. other potential programs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?;
  3. How does one value the alleged ancillary benefits of REDD projects, e.g. species protection or contribution to sustainable livelihoods?


Upcoming EPC Forum Event at Johns Hopkins

Into the Great Wide Open? A Roundtable Discussion on Climate Change Geoengineering

October 17, 2013, 12.00-1.30pm

Johns Hopkins University, 1717 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC, Room 204

RSVP for live event:

Online streaming of event, in collaboration with Climate Nexus:  http://www.livestream.com/climatenexus

Moderator: Wil Burns, Associate Director, Energy Policy & Climate program, Johns Hopkins University


  • Lee Lane, Visiting Scholar, Hudson Institute
  • Michael MacCracken, Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs, Climate Institute, Washington, DC
  • Simon Nicholson, Assistant Professor of International Relations, School of International Service, American University

Up until recently, climate change geoengineering, defined by the UK’s Royal Society as “the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change,” was viewed as outside the mainstream, or as Professor David Victor has put it less charitably, “a freak show in otherwise serious discussions of climate science and policy.” However, the feckless response of the global community to climate change ensures that temperatures are likely to rise to levels during this century that could have potentially catastrophic implications for human institutions and ecosystems. This had led to increasingly serious consideration of the potential role of geoengineering as a potential means to avert a “climate emergency,” such as rapid melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, or as a stopgap measure to buy time for effective emissions mitigation responses. This roundtable will examine the ethical, legal and political issues associated with climate change geoengineering research and development and potential deployment.

Implications of Mitigating Short-Lived Climate Pollutants for Projected Sea-Level Rise

Given the increasing likelihood that projected levels of carbon dioxide emissions will lead to temperature increases of 3C or more, there has been an increasing focus in recent years on the potential to reduce so-called short-lived climate pollutants (SLCPs), including black carbon, ozone, methane and hydroflourocarbons. Combined, SLCPs are estimated to as much as 40% to radiative forcing. In a new study in the journal Natural Climate Change, researchersAixue Hu et al. assess the potential impacts of various SLCP scenarios in terms of potential global sea-level rise.

Among the findings of the study:

  1. In the period up to 2050, CO2 mitigation can only reduce  projected warming by about 0.1ºC, while mitigation of SLCPs can ratchet down projected temperatures by 0.6ºC, delaying 2C warming by three decades to beyond 2050. By 2100, however, CO2 mitigation becomes critical for limiting warming below 2ºC, tamp down temperature increases tenfold, to 1.1ºC;
  2. By 2050, efforts to arrest SLCPs can reduce the rate of sea-level rise by 18% (and a whopping 48% in terms of thermal expansion impacts); by contrast, CO2 mitigation would have negligible impacts. By 2100, however, CO2 mitigation matters greatly, potentially reducing the rate of sea-level rise by 24%, with SLCP potentially contributing to an additional 24% reduction in this rate;
  3. Mitigation of CO2 and SLCPs could reduce projected sea-level rise by 31-50% and the projected sea-level rate by 50-66% by 2100.

This article would be a good starting point for discussing the implications of controlling SLCPs. Among the questions it could generate for class discussion:

  • Would efforts to substantially reduce SLCPs be cost-beneficial, and by what standards?;
  • Would it prove politically and/or technologically easier to ratchet down SLCPs than carbon dioxide, why or why not?;
  • Could reductions in SLCPs moot the need to consider climate geoengineering options?;
  • What are the appropriate forums for regulating SLCPs?


New Study on Methane Emissions Rates from Natural Gas Production

Many commentators and policymakers, including the Obama administration in the United States tout natural gas as a “bridge” fuel in the transition to decarbonizing the world’s economy. However, while natural gas produces far more energy per carbon dioxide molecule formed than coal (177%) and oil (144%) major concerns have been raised about the leakage of methane from natural gas from the point of extraction to consumption. Indeed, given the global warming potential of methane over a 100-year time horizon (25x more potential carbon dioxide), recent studies have indicated that natural gas leakage rates of more than 3.2% would yield greater climatic impacts than from combustion of coal.

Unfortunately, the rate of methane emissions from natural gas production remain highly contested. For example, in the United States, the U.S. EPA’s estimates of leakage rates have varied by as much as a factor of 10 over the course of only a few years. In a new study published in Geophysical Research Letters, nineteen researcher contend that this disparity in estimates may be attributable to “bottom up” assessments “in which emission factors for multiple processes are multiplied by an inventory of activity data.” Moreover, EPA’s 80 different EPA emissions factors associated with the oil and gas industry are based on a study conducted in the 1990s and, questionably, assumes consistency by industries in a number of different regions.

The researchers sought to assess emissions factors using a “mass balance” approach, a measure-based method to estimate total emissions released from a defined point, facilitating direct assessment of uncertainties associated with the magnitude of methane leakage rates. The study presented results from a natural gas and oil production field in the Uintah Basin in eastern Utah.

The results of the study yielded a natural gas leakage rate of 6.2-11.7% on February 3, 2012, negating an short-term (<70 years) climate benefit of natural gas production compared to electricity production from oil or coal. Appropriately, the researchers of the study cautioned against drawing hasty conclusions given the fact that this was only a one-day snapshot of regional emissions. However, they also pointed out that their results were consistent with several other recent “top-down” studies utilizing that had found bottom-down inventory assessments substantially underestimating methane leakage rates.

At the very least, this study emphasizes the need for continued research in this context. This study would afford students with extensive energy and atmospheric science expertise with an excellent opportunity to wrestle with the merits of starkly different methodological approaches. For students with less expertise, it would provide an excellent gateway into discussing the importance of global warming potentials of various greenhouse gases and to remind them of the importance of life cycle assessments of various energy options.

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