Date: 18 Aug 2009

A virtual “field test” of forest management carbon offset protocols: the influence of accounting

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Abstract

Of the greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation options available from U.S. forests and agricultural lands, forest management presents amongst the lowest cost and highest volume opportunities. A number of carbon (C) accounting schemes or protocols have recently emerged to track the mitigation achieved by individual forest management projects. Using 50-year C cycling data from the Calhoun Experimental Forest in South Carolina, USA, C storage is estimated for a hypothetical forest management C offset project operating under seven of these protocols. After 100 years of project implementation, net C sequestration among the seven protocols varies by nearly a full order of magnitude. This variation stems from differences in how individual C pools, baseline, leakage, certainty, and buffers are addressed under each protocol. This in turn translates to a wide variation in the C price required to match the net present value of the non-project, business-as-usual alternative. Collectively, these findings suggest that protocol-specific restrictions or requirements are likely to discount the amount of C that can be claimed in “real world” projects, potentially leading to higher project costs than estimated in previous aggregate national analyses.