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three-headsCanada played a key role in developing the voluntary international standards for quantifying greenhouse gas reductions,  ISO-14064 and 14065. After all that hard work, it’s wonderful to see a Canadian government taking them seriously.  Both standards are key features of British Columbia’s Emission Offsets Regulation, which came into effect December 8, 2008, under the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act.

The GGRTA requires each public sector organization to be “carbon neutral” for every year, starting in 2010. The Provincial government must already be carbon neutral for emissions directly related to public officials travelling on public business at public expense. This means that each public sector organization must calculate its emissions under the Carbon Neutral Government Regulation, and purchase credits or offsets to offset them. Eligible offsets must be validated and verified “in a manner consistent with ISO 14064-3”. As of July 1, 2010, the validation and verification teams must be properly accredited under ISO 14065.

One controversial question is whether tree planting should count as generating greenhouse gas emission offsets. In the international Kyoto Protocol regime, forestry has been stigmatized as providing only “temporary” emission reductions, because of the risk that any carbon sequestered by the trees will be released back into the atmosphere when they die, burn, or are cut down.  However, British Columbia believes that forestry is capable of creating permanent carbon sinks. Its Pacific Carbon Trust has been set up  to deliver “quality, made in B.C. greenhouse gas offsets”, and it will accept afforestation as eligible. British Columbia has already launched Trees for Tomorrow,  a partnership program to plant 4 million trees in five years.

England’s Forest Carbon offers an excellent precedent for afforestation credits. It generates credits by planting native trees on private land, supported with legally enforceable covenants and large financial penalties should the owner cut the trees down. Regular monitoring ensures that the trees are still there.  To ensure that their credits are conservative, they only sell 35% of the credits that they calculate their trees will generate, and the calculation is calibrated to the particular type of tree and its known growth rate in that area.

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