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A $50 Price on Carbon Will Boost Forest Carbon Sink 15 Percent: Study

Gabriel daSilva

The generally-accepted social cost of carbon is roughly $100 per ton of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, but voluntary carbon prices rarely top $10 per ton. New research shows that a price of just $20 per ton can dramatically slow deforestation, especially in Africa, and mop up nearly 6 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide.

29 May 2019 | The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) tells us that we must pull greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere if we’re to have any hope of meeting the Paris Agreement target of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Trees are still the most elegant and effective tools for pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and new research finds that low-cost reforestation programs, coupled with programs to end deforestation, can increase the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed between 2020 by 5.7 gigatonnes, or 5.6 percent, with a carbon price of just $20 per ton, or by 15.1 gigatonnes (14.8 percent) at a price of $50 per ton.

The research is found in one of four papers that have been making the rounds today.

The first paper, hot off the presses at Nature Climate Change, estimates the potential for tropical reforestation to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at low cost.

The second paper explains why stable forests offer an important and under-recognized solution to climate change.

The third paper develops principles for assessing evidence on sustainability challenges that transcend academic disciplines.

The fourth paper describes why India’s ecological fiscal transfers (EFTs), which provide $6-12 billion per year to Indian states in proportion to their forest cover, are useful for testing the payment-for-performance premise of reducing emissions from deforestation (REDD+).

Further Details

  1. “Low-Cost Opportunities for Carbon Dioxide Removal Through Tropical Reforestation”

Jonah Busch, Jens Engelmann, Susan Cook-Patton, Bronson Griscom, Timm Kroeger, Hugh Possingham, Priya Shyamsundar

Nature Climate Change (2019), 9:463-466.

Abstract: Achieving the 1.5–2.0 °C temperature targets of the Paris climate agreement requires not only reducing emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) but also increasing removals of GHGs from the atmosphere. Reforestation is a potentially large-scale method for removing CO2 and storing it in the biomass and soils of ecosystems, yet its cost per tonne remains uncertain. Here, we produce spatially disaggregated marginal abatement cost curves for tropical reforestation by simulating the effects of payments for increased CO2 removals on land-cover change in 90 countries. We estimate that removals from tropical reforestation between 2020–2050 could be increased by 5.7 GtCO2(5.6%) at a carbon price of US $20 CO2–1, or by 15.1 GtCO2 (14.8%) at US$50 tCO2–1. Ten countries comprise 55% of potential low-cost abatement from tropical reforestation. Avoided deforestation offers 7.2–9.6 times as much potential low-cost abatement as reforestation overall (55.1 GtCO2 at US$20 tCO2–1 or 108.3 GtCO2 at US$50 tCO2–1), but reforestation offers more potential low-cost abatement than avoided deforestation at US$20 tCO2–1 in 21 countries, 17 of which are in Africa.

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  1. “Securing the climate benefits of stable forests”

Jason M. Funk, Naikoa Aguilar-Amuchastegui, William Baldwin-Cantello, Jonah Busch, Evgeny Chuvasov, Tom Evans, Bryna Griffin, Nancy Harris, Mariana Napolitano Ferreira, Karen Petersen, Oliver Phillips, Muri G. Soares, Richard J.A. van der Hoff

Climate Policy (2019), DOI: 10.1080/14693062.2019.1598838.

Abstract: Stable forests – those not already significantly disturbed nor facing predictable near future risks of anthropogenic disturbance – may play a large role in the climate solution, due to their carbon sequestration and storage capabilities. Their importance is recognized by the Paris Agreement, but stable forests have received comparatively little attention through existing forest protection mechanisms and finance. Instead, emphasis has been placed on targeting locations where deforestation and forest degradation are happening actively. Yet stopping deforestation and forest degradation does not guarantee durable success, especially outside the geographic scope of targeted efforts. As a result, today’s stable forests may be at risk without additional efforts to secure their long-term conservation. We synthesize the gaps in existing policy efforts that could address the climate related benefits derived from stable forests, noting several barriers to action, such as uncertainty around the level of climate services that stable forests provide and difficulties describing the real level of threat posed. We argue that resource and finance allocation for stable forests should be incorporated into countries’ and donors’ comprehensive portfolios aimed at tackling deforestation and forest degradation as well as resulting emissions. A holistic and forward-looking approach will be particularly important, given that success in tackling deforestation and forest degradation where it is currently happening will need to be sustained in the long term.

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  1. “Cross-discipline evidence principles for sustainability policy”

Edward T. Game, Heather Tallis, Lydia Olander, Steven M. Alexander, Jonah Busch, Nancy Cartwright, Elizabeth L. Kalies, Yuta J. Masuda, Anne-Christine Mupepele, Jiangxiao Qiu, Andrew Rooney, Erin Sills and William J. Sutherland

Nature Sustainability (2018), 1:452-454.

Abstract: Evidence-based approaches to sustainability challenges must draw on knowledge from the environment, development and health communities. To be practicable, this requires an approach to evidence that is broader and less hierarchical than the standards often applied within disciplines.

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  1. “Monitoring and evaluating the payment-for-performance premise of REDD+” the case of India’s ecological fiscal transfers”

Jonah Busch

Ecosystem Health and Sustainability (2018), 4(7):169-175.

Abstract: The central premise underlying international payments for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) is that offering governments ex post payments for verified success in reducing emissions will motivate them to protect and restore forests. However, the extent to which performance-based payments motivate governments to protect and restore forests has yet to be evaluated quantitatively. Researchers have only quantitatively evaluated performance-based payments to non-governments for forest outcomes (e.g. payments for ecosystem services) and to governments for non-forest outcomes (e.g. results-based aid). We describe how researchers now have an opportunity to more easily evaluate performance-based payments to governments for forest outcomes thanks to India’s new ecological fiscal transfers (EFTs), which provide $6-12 billion per year to Indian states in proportion to their forest cover. India’s EFTs differ from REDD+ programs in that they pay for states’ stock of forest area in the recent past rather than reductions in the rate of forest carbon loss in the near-future. Nevertheless, India’s EFTs focus on a single outcome and have many recipient governments, significant financial scale, lack of contemporaneous confounding policy changes, universal participation, and long-term data collection. These features make India’s EFTs especially useful for testing the payment-for-performance premise of REDD+.

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Gabriel daSilva covers finance and trade flows as well as forestry and land use.

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