Climate Change, California’s Forest Carbon Plan, and the “Point of No Return”

By
Thursday, October 6th, 2016

Clearcut logging in the Westside Timber SaleAs the calendar turns to October 2016, global climate change scientists have recently announced that atmospheric carbon dioxide content levels have now officially surpassed 400 parts-per-million, a threshold scientists have dubbed, “the point of no return.” Scientists say our planet has entered into a new epoch in global history, called the Anthropocene, or the, “Age of Man,” in which human-induced changes to the physical environment and natural world are so extreme that we have now surpassed the point when we can reasonably correct or fully undo the damage to our planet and its vital ecological life-support systems.

California has committed—on paper at least—to reducing greenhouse gases. In 2006, the State Legislature passed AB 32, titled the “the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006,” which mandated that the state reduce greenhouse gas emissions to pre-1990 levels by 2020. Earlier this year, the legislature raised the stakes: SB 32, which requires that California reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, a far more ambitious, albeit necessary reduction target.

As dictated by the legislature, California is to make a two-pronged attack: first minimize greenhouse gas emissions; second, store, or “sequester,” more carbon dioxide on-the-ground. California’s timber products industry affects both—cutting trees releases carbon and growing trees stores carbon—that’s why AB32 required the development of the California Forest Carbon Plan to be developed by the inter-agency Forest Climate Action Team (FCAT). The California Forest Carbon Plan is supposed to provide the roadmap for California’s forest products industry sector to meet state-mandated reduction targets for the forestry and working lands industry sectors to complement and augment greenhouse gas reduction targets and objectives state-wide.

California’s forests can, and should, play a large role in sequestering carbon dioxide. By changing forest management and objectives to grow more wood fiber, commonly referred to as “volume,” California can store more carbon dioxide to offset and mitigate ongoing emission of greenhouse gases. How will we get there? A combination of rule changes and new incentives will need to be developed.

It has already been ten years since the legislature created the framework for a California Forest Carbon Plan. Attempts to force action have been slow-going, to put it nicely. While the Plan is being developed by the FCAT, but actual changes to forestry regulations will ultimately have to be adopted by the state Board of Forestry and Fire Protection. The FCAT intends to release its draft of the Forest Carbon Plan in the coming weeks, with an eye on codifying the Plan by the end of 2016 to meet legislative mandates. Many questions remain, however, as to the actual contents of the plan, the implications of those contents, and whether, to what extent, or how, any of what is eventually included in the Plan can be made legally binding and enforceable so as to actually change forest products industry practices, and bottom-line orientations.

EPIC has been working at the Board of Forestry to remind it of the mandates of the legislature, and its obligations under the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, and has begun strategic engagement on a project-by-project basis, critically evaluating the landscape-level planning mechanisms of the timber products industry as it pertains to increasing forestland productivity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and calling for enhanced sequestration of carbon dioxide, along with other public environmental, social, and economic values.

Moving into 2017, EPIC’s private lands forest policy advocacy work will shift substantially towards heavy engagement in the development and implementation of law, policy, and regulation changes aimed at ensuring that the state’s forest products industry makes the necessary changes to meet and exceed legislatively-prescribed sector-specific, as well as state-wide greenhouse gas reduction and carbon dioxide sequestration objectives.

For more information about the California Forest Carbon Plan and opportunities for public involvement, visit the FCAT website: http://www.fire.ca.gov/fcat/ or e-mail Rob DiPerna, EPIC’s California Forest and Wildlife Advocate, at rob@wildcalifornia.org.