Harnessing the full potential of Sustainable Forest Management in carbon schemes: An interview with I4CE’s Julia Grimault
Planting new trees is not the only way to offset carbon emissions. Managing existing forests to absorb more CO2 through Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) also holds great potential that has partially been recognised by some carbon certification schemes. Still, in practice, the real carbon sequestration capacity of SFM is far from being reflected by most carbon standards due to various technical difficulties – which the INFORMA project aims to help overcome.
The project’s carbon accounting expert Julia Grimault and her team at the France-based Institute for Climate Economics are gathering insights from research and practice on how to make SFM fully count towards carbon credits. Their goal is to improve current standards, support stakeholders working in the field to fund more climate-friendly forest management, and inform policy decisions, for instance, by the European Commission on its new carbon certification framework for removals.
Interested in Julia’s work? Then watch our video interview or read it below to learn about her research in detail!
How can carbon credits foster more sustainable forestry practices?
The objective of carbon crediting is to direct funding, possibly new types of funding, towards climate-compatible practices. There are two types of benefits: first, you can try and get funding that is currently not going towards forestry or other sectors that might also need it – agriculture, for example. Then you make sure that the funding is brought on the condition that it has an actual benefit for the climate. This can happen through, for instance, afforestation, reforestation, improved management, and forest restoration after a climatic event. And you make sure that the use of that funding is efficient.
Talking about a concrete situation: in many European countries, forest owners have been affected by bark beetle attacks, so they clear-cut the forests and now need to plan something new. Would the use of carbon schemes make sense in this situation?
It depends on which type of schemes are implemented. In France, this is typically one of the practices and actions that are eligible. Because often forest owners cut the trees that have been impacted but don’t necessarily regrow any forests because of cost issues and, in some cases, disappointment. Carbon certification then helps to trigger forest restoration. This can also be done with public funding for countries which have a mechanism in place. In France, we have a bit of both. I’m not going to get much into details on how this is articulated but this is typically one of the possibilities to help trigger an action that otherwise we believe would not have necessarily been done.
Can elaborate on how we can bring together Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) and carbon schemes in the INFORMA project? What is your approach?
There are two types of difficulties with SFM. The first one is also linked to all types of forestry projects. It is the uncertainty that you have when measuring carbon impact. Because forests are living things, you have the uncertainty of measurement and non-permanence risk – the risk that the carbon is reemitted at some point to the atmosphere.
Also with Sustainable Forest Management, it is sometimes harder to quantify and evaluate carbon benefits. For afforestation it is easy. You have nothing and then something. Well, not necessarily nothing but it’s easier to quantify. For SFM you don’t always have the tools to measure what impact this or that forest practices will actually have on the carbon stocks and fluxes. We hope that the INFORMA project will help provide the tools to have better and more precise measurements of different types of stands and forests. That way we can better quantify the carbon impact of different practices on the different carbon compartments, such as living biomass, and soils, for example, that we don’t really know how to take into account currently.
Forest management is already included in some of the existing carbon schemes but not necessarily all types of practices. So we hope that the project is going to help provide the tools to either integrate more practices or be more precise in the measurements. But still keeping in mind that the more precise you get, usually the most costly it often gets too. We have to find the balance between precision, cost and being as robust as we can be. At the same time, still provide tools that are accessible and easily usable by stakeholders who are not carbon experts but people working in the field who still need to get comfortable with those tools.
What are you exactly planning to do to improve the measurements and how will you share your knowledge with the stakeholders you want to engage?
First, we want to identify what is already considered in existing carbon schemes. A lot of methodologies and schemes already exist and are still being developed. So first we want to see what is missing in those schemes and what is done properly. And then be able to spot shortcomings and what improvements the project can bring. They could be, for instance, what we call conceptual improvements, maybe for forest compartments that are not taken into account such as soils or harvested wood products that could be better integrated. Or it could be the use of new tools or apps, for instance, to help forest stakeholders and owners monitor carbon more easily and precisely.
Then we are going to present this to the different stakeholders like project developers, intermediaries, buyers and funders of these projects to see what comes out of it: if the tools that we propose actually could be implemented properly and if they are not too costly. We are also going to provide just before that a cost-efficiency analysis, trying to keep in mind this balance between precision and something usable. The end game of all this is to provide overall recommendations to the existing carbon schemes and to the European Commission, which is developing a new carbon certification framework for removals at the EU level.
How to provide EU-level recommendations if carbon schemes are sometimes also based on national laws?
There are some themes that are going to be quite cross-cutting. For example, the cost efficiency of some tools, the economic challenges of additionality, and maybe conceptual challenges such as non-permanence. These are problems that are faced more or less everywhere in Europe. Some recommendations can apply quite widely and others would have to be specific for geographic regions and types of countries. We will find out throughout the project!