The Carbon Chronicle, 1 March, 2017.
Prior to 2009, industry was chopping the mountain hemlock, fir, yellow cedar and white pine trees in the Cheakamus forest in British Columbia at a rate of 200 hectares per year.
But then eight years ago, the Municipality of Whistler and the First Nations of Squamish and Lil’wat decided to turn Cheakamus into a community forest, which they would manage primarily for conservation with a limited amount of harvesting. In order to make their ecosystem-based management approach financially sustainable, the three groups turned to carbon finance.
As the Operations Manager at Cheakamus Community Forest Tom Cole said, “the benefits that derive from the forest don’t have to come from the logs themselves.” Instead, they come from carbon stored in its live trees.
In 2015, Cheakamus became the first Canadian community forest to achieve an Atmospheric Benefits Sharing Agreement with the provincial government of B.C., which essentiallygives the community forest the right to manage and monetize emissions reductions. Also in 2015, the Cheakamus Community Forest project verified and issued its first tranche of carbon offsets: 44,000 tons. It sold all but 2,000 mainly to the B.C. government but also in the voluntary carbon marketplace.
The finance the carbon offsets brings in is essential to the sustainable forest management strategy.
“The carbon revenue really helps. We wouldn’t be able to do (the plan) without it,” said Heather Beresford, the Manager of Environmental Stewardship for Whistler.
Much of the first influx of funds went to paying project development and auditor fees, but now the three managing parties are making plans for the future. They’re focused on old growth management areas, regions particularly vulnerable to forest fires and managing special zones for First Nations.
The forest carbon offset project in Cheakamus may have created a template for conservation-minded communities across Canada. As Canada continues to move toward carbon pricing, projects such as these are becoming all the more important. B.C. has a Forest Carbon Protocol and Quebec and Ontario have cap-and-trade programs that feature forest carbon offsets. More provinces may allow carbon offsets in the future: last fall, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that every province and territory must put a price on carbon by 2018 either through a carbon tax reaching a 2022 price of $50/ton or by a cap-and-trade system that requires annual emissions reductions in line with Canada’s Paris Climate Agreement commitment of reducing emissions 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.
“We expect provinces with cap and trade systems to show real, annually-verified emissions reductions, ensuring they do their part to achieve Canada’s Paris target,” said Joseph Pallant, who runs the offset project developer Brinkman Climate. “Carbon offset projects are an integral part of these systems, driving investment into emissions reductions beyond the energy sector.”