Connecting public administration and academia to improve carbon offsetting in forestry
With the aim of improving collaboration between public administration and academia in the field of Sustainable Forest Management, the Polytechnic University of Valencia (UPV) held a conference on 3 May highlighting the role of the forestry sector as a carbon sink, as well as UPV’s scientific and technical work to speed up climate adaptation and strengthen the fight against the climate emergency.
Translating scientific knowledge into practice is not easy. For this reason, meaningful communication between different agents in the sector through in-person interactions can be extremely useful. Bringing science closer to all actors in a simple and colloquial language while using scientific data as a basis helps generate confidence when making decisions and establishing policies and regulatory frameworks.
Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) and the opportunity to finance it through carbon offset mechanisms was the common thread of the workshop, as in the last decades, carbon offset markets have strongly emerged as a dual opportunity. On the one hand, for public/private stakeholders committed to sustainability and preservation of natural capital to become climate neutral and offset their emissions at the local level. On the other hand, for local governments to finance the implementation of SFM measures and offer incentives to halt rural depopulation.
The conference “Sustainable Forest Management (SFM) as a basis for carbon offset markets” was organised by the Observatory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions of the Valencian Region and the coordinating team of INFORMA, both belonging to UPV’s ICT Research Group against Climate Change (ICTvsCC). The event was opened by Prof. Dr. Javier F. Urchueguía, Professor of Applied Physics, and Prof. Dr. José Vicente Oliver Villanueva, Professor of Forestry Engineering and coordinator of INFORMA.
After the opening, two didactic presentations were given, highlighting the specific objectives of the conference:
- To analyse and evaluate existing tools (standards and mechanisms) for the establishment of carbon offset markets, at the European, national and regional levels, assessing the opportunities for SFM in adaptation and mitigation to climate change in Mediterranean conditions.
- Quantify and evaluate carbon emissions and sources in the Valencian Region, as a basis for the establishment of a rigorous offset market, supported by the new Valencian Law on Climate Change.
ICTvsCC researcher and technical coordinator of INFORMA, Celia Yagüe, focused her presentation on explaining how carbon offset markets based on rigorous standards and mechanisms represent a great opportunity for the implementation of SFM in our forests. In addition, she stressed that this must be done in compliance with an essential requirement: to favour a territorial, environmental and socially just transition.
Rural areas have traditionally been the most neglected by public investments, but they hold the opportunity to offer carbon credits for SFM, and the recent Valencian Law on Climate Change opens a very important avenue for that, remarked Yagüe. In line with this objective, UPV is taking the first steps to ensure rigorous methodologies that use the latest technological advances through INFORMA. Work is being carried out on the proposal of technological and conceptual improvements, which will be applied to the project’s five European case studies, to check their efficiency in economic and precision terms. Conclusions will be drawn from this work to recommend improvements to the new European regulation for a CO2 absorption certification framework at the EU level.
Dr. Edgar Lorenzo, ICTvsCC researcher and Technical Coordinator of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Observatory, explained the large impact of forest fires in the quantification of greenhouse gases, which can represent a large percentage of total emissions. In this sense, Lorenzo highlighted the importance of developing methodologies for calculating carbon credits from SFM projects aimed at fire prevention within voluntary carbon offsetting mechanisms in Mediterranean forest ecosystems. He stressed how this type of project can help in mitigating and adapting to climate change as well as in the territorial structuring of the territory, generating rural employment and stopping depopulation.
You can access the recordings of the two presentations below (in Spanish):
After these two presentations, two roundtables were held. The first panel, Science at the Service of the Administration, focused on how forest owners (public and private) can expand and improve SFM so that industrial and economic sectors responsible for diffuse emissions can make use of SFM as a carbon offsetting mechanism.
Manuel Civera, from the Valencian Agency for Territorial Protection, focused on waste heat valorisation of regional forest biomass technologies as an opportunity for territorial and rural development.
For his part, Juan Uriol, from the Directorate General of Natural Environment and Environmental Assessment (Valencian Regional Government) indicated the public and voluntary carbon footprint register as a novelty within the new Regulation of the Valencian Forestry Law. The register envisages silvicultural improvements as a way to offset carbon instead of, for instance, charging fees. Another point made by Uriol was that, in order to combat forest fires, investment in fire prevention is vital.
Beatriu Femenia, from the Valencian Regional Government (DG Climate Change-Valencian Regional Government), also underlined the opportunity to include SFM activities in the carbon register of the Valencian Region, highlighting the cooperation between science and administration that is taking place through different channels, including UPV’s Observatory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
Joan Aguado, from the Regional County Council of Valencia, mentioned the Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan (PACES) as a good practice example. However, he pointed out that in many municipalities grants are not executed due to a lack of knowledge or people trained to carry them out. He also pointed out the importance of SFM for sustaining ecosystem functions (adaptation) and the need to quantify, certify and fix carbon as inter-territorial compensation between coastal and inland areas.
Fernando Pradells, from AMUFOR (Association of Forestry Municipalities of the Valencian Region), focused his talk on the need to demand SFM as a goal and not as a tool, in which value is given to the bioeconomy with tangible products.
Edgar Lorenzo, from UPV, pointed out that the economic value of carbon is only a leverage to support other ecosystem services such as biodiversity, the water footprint, or the prevention of forest fires in the Mediterranean basin.
The second roundtable discussed opportunities for voluntary carbon offsetting in companies and other organisations. Among the different statements and insights, the following can be highlighted:
David Álvarez, representative of the Spanish Green Growth Group, commented on how this organisation helps the public administration to optimise policies and instruments for private investment, as they spark interest from businesses but there must be agile regulations and tools to facilitate corporate involvement. He also indicated that “Companies will invest in transformation because it will be part of their business model, not only seen as corporate social responsibility….. so that the activities do not only make sense but also have a purpose”. He mentioned that companies only invest if there are associated returns, so we must be able to transform not only carbon markets but also other forms of profit associated with natural capital. Otherwise, we will not achieve the path to fair transformation.
Eloy Jiménez, from the Hozono Global Group, spoke about the contributions of remote sensing to measure C02, emphasising the importance of quantifying and fixing carbon using tools for small offsets.
Ana-Karen Zapata, Operations Director of ClimateTrade, explained how coherence in the development of regional methodologies helps to follow the sequence of measuring and reducing emissions, with offsetting as the last step. She emphasised the need for tools that provide real-time information and mentioned the high price of offsetting in the international market.
Inés Picazo, Coordinator of the ASECAM Forum, addressed the importance of having a Committee of leading companies at the local level, both in the medium and long term. Picazo considers that programmes and/or policies that already work in other Spanish regions and that represent an opportunity for growth as a country should be taken into account.
Rodrigo Simón, from the Valencia Chamber of Commerce, stated that promoting local and sustainable businesses is the future of municipalities. From his experience, after several audits in Valencian companies, great potential can be seen for the reduction and compensation of CO2, however, more effective calculation tools are still needed.
You can watch the recording of the roundtable sessions below:
José Vicente Oliver, Professor of Forestry Engineering at the UPV, closed the conference by reading out the following takeaway messages:
- Carbon offsetting, specifically in SFM, is an opportunity but it should not be the first priority. First emissions must be calculated, then reduced and then offset.
- There is a lack of mechanisms or standards for SFM specific to actions in Mediterranean forest ecosystems, both in adaptation and mitigation activities.
- In the Valencian Region, there is significant territorial dispersion, which affects not only carbon offsetting but all ecosystem services in general. These services should be articulated as a tool for inter-territorial solidarity for a just transition.
- The offer side (public and private landowners) must do their homework so that regulations and standards between them are coherent, thereby speeding up administrative processes.
- Companies will invest in carbon offsetting mechanisms if it is really part of their business model and not only part of their corporate social responsibility.
- There are technological tools developed by UPV and Technological Institutes at the service of the forestry sector, as well as the rigorous and quality data that support them.