Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Carbon Canopy’s position on how forest policy should be developed under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change?


Forests and their climate role are taking center stage in international negotiations on climate change, so it’s an exciting time to be collaborating on the development of a credible approach to forest restoration and conservation practices in the largest wood producing region of the world - the Southern US.  We hope the Carbon Canopy’s work will serve as a model that can inform government decision-makers who are looking to develop credible, innovative, market-based incentives for the protection, restoration and conservation of forests.

What is the groups’ position on the proposed United States climate legislation?

Protecting, restoring and conserving forests is critical in to reducing climate change – forest loss and degradation is the second leading cause of carbon emissions worldwide. Carbon Canopy is focused on building credibility within the US carbon market, rather than supporting specific legislation.  We hope the work of the Carbon Canopy’s diverse set of stakeholders to develop a credible model will inform the development of sound government forest and climate policy.

Should global and domestic climate legislation include forest-based offsets?

Forest loss and degradation is the second leading cause of carbon emissions. In order to prevent catastrophic climate change, we must protect, restore and conserve the Earth’s forests, including our forests here in the US – inaction is no longer an option.  Given the predominance of private forests in the US and specifically in the South, we need to create financial incentives that support private forest owners to:

·      Manage older, more mature natural forests for long-term carbon storage; and,

·      Manage working forests to the high standards of Forest Stewardship Council certification. 

The emerging carbon market could provide such an incentive for private landowners to enhance conservation on their land. However, forest carbon “offset” projects and schemes are often criticized as lacking credibility.  We must develop widely-accepted, credible models for encouraging investments in forest protection, restoration and conservation and that support landowners in certifying working forests to the high standards of FSC.  We hope the work we are doing as a diverse set of stakeholders to develop a credible model will inform the future development of sound government forest and climate policy.

What is the group’s position on carbon offsets?  

Currently, forest landowners do not have access to viable roadmaps or sufficient economic incentives to help them conserve, restore and/or manage working forests to a high environmental standard.  The potential of earning income from forest carbon sequestration could provide incentive for private landowners to enhance forest protection, restoration and conservation. However, forest carbon “offset” projects and schemes are often criticized as lacking credibility.  

Carbon Canopy is working to develop a widely-accepted, credible model for encouraging investments in forest protection, restoration and conservation and that support landowners in certifying working forests to the high standards of FSC. Through our initial pilot project, we will “test” a carbon offset project model based on the rigorous environmental protocols of the Voluntary Carbon Standard and Climate Action Reserve and the forest certification standards of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).  The pilot project will focus on improved forest management practices that expand protection for biodiversity and water quality while also increasing carbon storage and sequestration. 

The pilot project will provide Carbon Canopy stakeholders with a greater understanding of the role that forest carbon offsets might play in a broader context of forest and climate policy in the United States.   The Carbon Canopy is also open to exploring market-based models beyond carbon offset generation that create meaningful value for carbon sequestration as well as other ecosystem services such as biodiversity and watershed maintenance on private lands in the South. 


Aren’t carbon offsets simply a means of allowing big polluters to buy their way out of emission reductions?

Carbon offsets are often criticized as serving as a crutch for polluters who prefer to buy their way out of having to implement true carbon emission reductions.  Because the Carbon Canopy’s members strongly believe in the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before and alongside of purchasing and retiring offsets to compensate for emissions that can’t be reduce, we seek to work with corporations that are committed to transparency in reporting and demonstrate real leadership in developing sustainable conservation models to significantly reduce their operational and supply chain climate impacts.  


I’ve heard that it is hard to measure carbon sequestration in forests. How do you know how many tons of carbon that can be sold from a particular forest?

There is a large and ever-evolving body of research on how forests absorb and store carbon, as well as methods of monitoring change in carbon stock in forests over time. It is crucially important to any carbon credit project – forest-based ones as well as any other type – to use appropriate calculation tools, identify the project’s scope and complete a full accounting on how emissions are created and sequestered in the course of a forest’s management   during the project period. The initial pilot project of the Carbon Canopy will be validated and verified by third parties to the highest standards in the voluntary market (Voluntary Carbon Standard and Climate Action Reserve) to ensure that all calculations and management systems are credible.

How will Carbon Canopy ensure that the carbon reductions sold by its project represent permanent reductions in emissions from the forest, when landowners have no control over natural disasters that might destroy their forests?  

The potential for substantial carbon losses from natural disasters is limited.  However, in recognition of the need to mitigate this risk, any credible carbon project must establish a buffer reserve whereby a percentage of the emissions reductions achieved every year must be set aside and only utilized in case of natural disaster or other loss of carbon stocks outside of the control of the project proponent.  The determination of this reserve is set forth by the standard to which the project is validated and verified. In the case of the Carbon Canopy’s pilot project, the highest standards in the voluntary market will be used– the Voluntary Carbon Standard and Climate Action Reserve.

The validation standard also sets requirements for how long landowners must commit to participation in the carbon project, and the minimum can be as much as guaranteeing that each  carbon reduction ton be kept out of the atmosphere for 100 years.  Landowners are held liable for losses from changes in ownership or project management. Part of the goal of the Carbon Canopy pilot will be to assess how this might work with landowners in the South.

What’s the real financial benefit to the landowner?
We will have a better sense of the true benefits to landowners upon completion of the pilot project.  However, we are confident that landowners who are interested in selling in the carbon market will be able to earn a higher price per ton of carbon if they meet rigorous standards such as those we will be using in the Carbon Canopy pilot project.  The project will provide technical and market assistance to landowners in navigating carbon project development and value chains for certified forest products. 

What do you mean by “credible forest carbon markets”?

We are working to develop a credible, workable carbon market model in the Southern US.  We believe credibility within the carbon market hinges upon the following three criteria:

1-   Positive on the ground impacts -- forest management must yield positive ecological results that include real, permanent, verifiable and additional carbon sequestration while also protecting biodiversity and watersheds. Our initial pilot project will be focused on shifting management practices from high grading, clearcutting and the conversion of natural forests to plantations to selective logging and thinnings aimed at restoring, conserving and increasing the abundance of older, natural forests. . 

2-   Successful validation and verification to leading third-party standards consistent with #1 above - The initial project will be designed to meet the rigorous carbon accounting standards of the  Voluntary Carbon Standard and the Climate Action Reserve forestry protocol. Forest management practices will meet Forest Stewardship Council certification standards. 

3-   Finally, to be credible, the forest carbon market must not be designed to be used in lieu of strategies to achieve significant reductions in carbon emissions from fossil fuel use. In order to achieve the reduction in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses necessary to mitigate catastrophic climate change, we must pursue mitigation opportunities and emissions reductions. Credits from forest carbon projects such as the Carbon Canopy pilot should be used to offset emissions only when the offsetter has made an effort to reduce their emissions as much as possible prior to purchasing and retiring carbon credits.  The Carbon Canopy seeks to work with corporations committed to transparency in reporting and who demonstrate leadership in developing sustainable conservation models by first reducing their operational and supply chain environmental impacts.


How are small landowners going to be able to effectively participate in carbon markets?

Independently, small forest landowners do not enjoy the economies of scale that allow larger forest landowners to quickly recuperate the initial start-up costs associated with forest carbon projects.  Forming project cooperatives, where several small landowners “bundle” projects to defray start-up costs over multiple landowners, may allow small forest landowners to overcome this initial hurdle and effectively participate in carbon markets.  Carbon Canopy plans to pilot this cooperative approach – especially in the context of Forest Stewardship Council group certification as it might be combined with carbon project protocols and verification in the future.

Don’t plantations sequester more carbon than older, natural forests?

Plantations often have higher growth rates than older, more mature forests, but because the overall volumes of biomass in plantation forests are generally less than those in mature natural forests, they do not sequester as much carbon. A useful analogy is the bank account: an account accruing a high rate of return (growth rate) on a small principle (volume) is going to be less lucrative than one with a lower rate of return on a much larger principal. Older forests represent far greater “principal” than plantations, even if they grow more slowly. Risk is also an important consideration when it comes to the durability of forest carbon storage. Because plantations are homogeneous, they often are at a higher risk of emitting carbon from catastrophic wildfire or destruction by forest pathogens. Conversely, healthy, more natural forests are generally more heterogeneous. This makes them more resistant and resilient to disturbance, and provides a safer investment for forest carbon investors.

Why is Carbon Canopy focused on Forest Stewardship Council certification?

The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) standards present the most rigorous forest management certification system in existence and the only certification system supported by a broad range of forest conservation and protection organizations.  The FSC is the only certification system that places meaningful restrictions on practices that diminish carbon stocks, biodiversity and watershed protection such as large-scale clearcutting and the conversion of natural forests to plantations.  As a result, large corporate consumers and producers of paper and wood products that have made strong commitments to environmental responsibility, such as the partners in the Carbon Canopy, increasingly source products from FSC certified forests. 

Doesn’t the Climate Action Reserve protocol allow clearcutting? 

The Carbon Canopy’s pilot project will focus on testing how landowners might benefit from expanding carbon stores through management practices such as select logging thinning that increase the average age of the forests.  Our project is not focused on testing models for selling carbon from clearcuts.