Worrying Finding in California’s Multi-Billion-Dollar Climate Initiative Reveals Problem with Using Forests to Offset CO2 Emissions

[cr comment: HaHa]

Peer-Reviewed Publication


Researchers have found that California’s forest carbon buffer pool, designed to ensure the durability of the state’s multi-billion-dollar carbon offset program, is severely undercapitalized. The results show that, within the offset program’s first 10 years, estimated carbon losses from wildfires have depleted at least 95% of the contributions set aside to protect against all fire risks over 100 years. This means that the buffer pool is unable to guarantee that credited forest carbon remains out of the atmosphere for at least 100 years. The results, published in Frontiers in Forests and Global Change, illustrate that the program, one of the world’s largest, is likely not meeting its set requirements.

Carbon offset programs have become popular action plans to combat the climate crisis. California’s carbon offset program was established to utilize the ability of trees to absorb and store carbon and applies to around 75% of statewide emissions allowances.

The program allows forest owners to earn ‘carbon credits’ for preserving trees. Polluters buy credits so that they can emit more CO2 than they’d otherwise be allowed to under state law. Each credit represents one ton of CO2. This exchange is supposed to balance out emissions to prevent an overall increase of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Buffer pool

To ensure this balance, carbon pools should permanently store carbon. But trees are only temporary carbon pools, explained corresponding author Dr Danny Cullenward, of CarbonPlan

“Fossil CO2 emissions have permanent consequences, but carbon stored in trees won’t last forever. Forests face a wide variety of risks, including drought, disease, and — as the last few years in the American west have made painfully clear — wildfires.”

The durability of carbon stored in such temporary pools is therefore important to consider when evaluating the efficacy of climate crisis mitigation strategies. 

As California law requires a storage duration of at least 100 years, the California Air Resources Board, which implements the state’s primary climate law, has developed a self-insurance mechanism called a buffer pool.

“Individual projects affiliated with the program contribute a share of the credits they earn to the buffer pool, which then stands ready to absorb any losses when trees in participating forests die and release their carbon back to the atmosphere. So long as there are credits in the buffer pool, the program is properly insured against future risks to forest health,” continued Cullenward.

Cullenward and his colleagues have previously researched California’s forest offset program, and now looked at the performance and durability of the buffer pool.

They found that the estimated carbon losses from wildfires within the offset program’s first 10 years have depleted at least 95% of the contributions set aside to protect against all fire risks over 100 years. Likewise, the potential carbon losses associated with a single disease and its impacts on a single species are large enough to fully hinder the total credits set aside for all disease- and insect-related mortality over 100 years.

“In just 10 years, wildfires have exhausted protections designed to last for a century. It is incredibly unlikely that the program will be able to withstand the wildfires of the next 90 years, particularly given the role of the climate crisis in exacerbating fire risks,” said co-author Dr Oriana Chegwidden, of CarbonPlan.

Wildfires and disease pose a threat

The researchers performed an actuarial analysis (an analysis that assesses the probability of an event and its financial consequences) of the buffer pool’s performance to estimate actual carbon losses from two specific durability risks: historical wildfires and estimated losses from disease and insects, in this case sudden oak death that affects tanoak. The study covers the program from its beginning, in 2013, through the end of 2021.

Their analysis shows that the buffer pool is severely undercapitalized. This means that the program’s supposed self-insurance mechanism does not justify ongoing CO2 pollution from companies on the basis of mitigation achieved through forest management schemes. 

If the assumption is made that no additional wildfires or diseases will impact forests, the results show that carbon reversals from historical wildfires will nearly drain and likely deplete the wildfire component of the buffer pool, and sudden oak death alone has the potential to fully deplete the disease and insect component of the buffer pool. 

The future of forest offset programs

The study shows a fundamental design problem with California’s forest carbon offset program. The climate crisis is accelerating and intensifying risks such as wildfires, diseases, and droughts. From the results, it looks like California’s buffer pool is not prepared to deal with such risks.

“More and more companies and governments are using ‘nature-based’ offsets to market consumer-facing claims. While there are many good reasons to invest in forest health and conservation, forest carbon offsets don’t deliver climate benefits that justify ongoing fossil CO2 emissions,” said Cullenward.

“The problems we observe here aren’t unique to the California program and raise broader concerns about the integrity of offsets’ permanence claims,” concluded co-author Freya Chay, of CarbonPlan.


Frontiers in Forests and Global Change



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Coeur de Lion
August 5, 2022 2:13 pm

What lunacy!

Bryan A
Reply to  Coeur de Lion
August 5, 2022 2:52 pm

Well it is a SCHEME… what would one expect from schemers

Reply to  Coeur de Lion
August 7, 2022 1:33 am

Stupid is as stupid does .
We have the same stupidity here in New Zealand .
Our Labour Green government has been pushing Carbon Farming to offset carbon from fossil fuel users .
Well how do you farm carbon?
The government encourages investors to buy up good sheep and beef farms and plant them with pine trees that will never be harvested .
The THEORY is that our native bush will take over and sequest carbon .
The fault with the idea is that as the pine trees age they fall over in storms and become fire hazards .Nothing burns like dead pine trees .
Whole communities are being decimated as land is planted and work in these areas dries up .
Instead of earning overseas funds and employing many people close by and in the meat and transport industries money will be sent overseas to the owners .
This is in direct contradiction to what the US has stated .
” Do not take action to limit climate change that effects food production . ”
Our plantation forestry planted on marginal land not only provides work in planting pruning and harvesting and radiata pine grows very well here and can be harvested every 28 years .
Buildings built with the treated timber will last well over 100 years and treated pine fence posts will last at least 50 years .
Plantation forestry is a carbon sink but it also provides people with work and our country with export funds .

Mike Lowe
Reply to  Graham
August 7, 2022 6:28 pm

That’s what we got for electing a scientifically-ignorant Marxist to run the country. Chickens are now coming home to roost!

August 5, 2022 2:16 pm

Too bad the Bossy Pantses behind this farce have no sense of humor.

Rud Istvan
August 5, 2022 2:22 pm

Whoda thunk! If you don’t log and prescribe burn (horror, releasing carbon), you eventually get a big forest fire (horror releasing that same carbon faster but more intermittently. Ma Nature in the end is ‘carbon neutral’ (preindustrial steady state 280ppm per the warmunists), so the whole financial Carbon Offset thingy was AGW nonsense from the beginning.

What is amazing is that these yo-yos finally figured that out and got published.

Reply to  Rud Istvan
August 6, 2022 8:40 am

Surprisingly little known fact: firewood grows on trees.

August 5, 2022 2:23 pm

Not to worry. More CO2 is better. Makes more trees. More lawns. Better crops.
It does not hurt a fly…..

Gary Pearse
August 5, 2022 2:23 pm

Communicate this to the climate change arsonist academics in California.


August 5, 2022 2:26 pm

This is just a fraud. The forests are there anyway. This is just a shell game and con scheme without any real, so called carbon benefit.

I have trees on my property. You can pay me carbon offsets not to cut them down.

Bryan A
Reply to  HwyEng
August 5, 2022 2:55 pm

Like paying valley farmers to Not Grow Rice

william Johnston
Reply to  HwyEng
August 5, 2022 7:02 pm

The one benefit I can see belongs to those facilitators who buy and sell the credits. Or maybe they work pro bono.

Reply to  william Johnston
August 6, 2022 2:42 pm

The movie Trading Places, Duke and Duke always make money, they just trade other peoples money for a cut.

Like Hilbillary”s stock profits. The trading house made multiple opposite trades then assigned the “winning” trades to Hilbillary and the losing trades to Hers and Bill’s benefactors. Payoff completed.

Don Perry
August 5, 2022 2:51 pm

“Carbon offset programs have become popular action plans to combat the climate crisis.”

And WHY, pray tell, do we continue to refer to mild warming as a climate crisis? What is the crisis?

Kevin R.
Reply to  Don Perry
August 5, 2022 5:39 pm

You know what their response to that is: Wildfires.

Reply to  Don Perry
August 6, 2022 8:41 am

The crisis is that there is no crisis. No crisis, no funds to special interests to react to said crisis. No funds equals a crisis.

August 5, 2022 2:52 pm

Oh No. Now, California will have to steal plan other taxpayer paid offsets in order to meet their goal of saving the world.

Peta of Newark
August 5, 2022 3:18 pm

A problem so very easily solved with 5 tonnes per acre of crushed basalt – or what many gardeners call and use ‘Volcanic Rock Dust’

Or, rescue/reuse the silt and sediment that flows out of rivers and out into the sea.
It is that exact reason why potatoes growing on the Cambridge Fen don’t need any irrigation whereas the spuds growing 70 miles away in Nottinghamshire require 40mm of water every week.
Why roadside verges in Cambs are bushy and green while the verges in Notts. are brown and (seemingly) dead, and have been for a month now at least.

It does not have to be trees.
Just put some fertility back into the dirt and Ma Nature, Gaia, God or Natural Variation (your choice, let’s not fall out over it) will do the rest.
Oh, and do try to get the notion of ‘invasive species‘ out of your head while you’re about it.

If there ever was an ‘invasive species’ on this Earth it’s what you see in the mirror.
While claiming that ‘Humans Can Adapt’
Magical Thinking at its finest.

August 5, 2022 3:28 pm

What about the wood in my house? If I promise that I won’t burn down my house for at least 100 years can I sell the carbon credits?

August 5, 2022 3:38 pm

As a consulting forester in my own business in the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, I could write a book on the forestry rackets like “green certification”. But the latest bs the state is pushing is “Climate Smart Forestry”. The wealthy “nonprofit” the Nature Conservancy and others are promoting the “Family Forest Carbon Program”. You’ll get a whopping $10-15/acre/year but you have to lock up your land for 20 years and be restricted on how you manage it. The “carbon credits” will be sold on the “carbon markets” bought by corporations that want to buy these carbon indulgences so that they may achieve carbon “sainthood”. The “Climate Smart Forestry Management Plans” require more paperwork including assessments on the climate risks to our forests as well as “carbon accounting” which means when you harvest you have to calculate how much carbon you are taking off and how long it will be before that amount gets re-sequestered. I just don’t have time for this bs. All I want to do is basic forest management plans for my landowner clients (in our current use program) so they can continue to get the tax break and practice great silviculture by marking improvement cuttings in my Forest Cutting Plans.

Joseph Zorzin
Reply to  Mike Leonard
August 6, 2022 7:05 am

Right on Mike! And you still have the best forestry web site on the planet: https://www.facebook.com/MikeLeonardConsultingForester/photos/?tab=albums

August 5, 2022 3:46 pm

You couldn’t make it up. What a total and utter bunch of idiots. It is actually quite amusing, however. How many of Meghan and Harry’s trips on Elton’s private plane have just gone up in smoke…

The very people believing they were paying to reduce carbon dioxide have actually paid to increase it!

John Shotsky
August 5, 2022 3:49 pm

Someone forgot to tell them that the world’s plants emit 11X more CO2 than all human activity. So, let’s plant trees. Uh…

Shoki Kaneda
August 5, 2022 4:05 pm

Planting trees is a good thing. Engaging in corruption and superstition is not. Sadly, in California, it’s the latter two.

John Hultquist
August 5, 2022 4:28 pm

 Did not Martin Luther begin his problems with the Catholic Church over the concept of indulgences? Paying for the right to emit CO2 is much the same.

The current situation – trees with an indulgence attached – can be fixed.
Just cut the trees and chip the small parts. Next move all of the mass to the highest and driest part of the State. So placed the neatly package CO2 containing material would last well past 100 years or when the climate threat to the planet is declared over.  

Reply to  John Hultquist
August 6, 2022 12:58 am

Even if there was a climate threat to the planet, the watermelons will never declare it over – they’ll just move on to the next scare tactic to keep the rest of us under the thumb

August 5, 2022 5:05 pm

Such studies are designed to put doubt in ecological restoration and conservation. This way carbon solutions are only to be found in venture capital injections for tech solutions. This, when 10x the mass of organics is found naturally below the soil surface as compared to what’s visible above. The carbon content irrelevant, but the moisture storage capacity critical. For 1 gram organics in spongy soil stores 8 grams moisture. Ecologies sort them selves out, in terms of vegetation density, canopy structure, and species composition and abundance. The plantations are pointed out as a failure. Because they are. The industrialists capitalize on this false representation of ecology. The failure is due to viewing ecosystems solely in terms of trees, as sticks for storing carbon. When one sees the ecology for what it really is (once was), the system becomes quite elegant. Biosystems are self regulating, and moderate climates by balancing evapotranspiration to moisture availability. It is the human failure to recognize this that results in valuation only in terms of carbon storage. By the arrogance to select the monoculture and spacing. Nature must sort out these details. By biblical scripture humanity has been taught we are external to the ecosystem, as gods of nature. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is the externalization of ourselves from the ecosystem that has led to this misunderstanding.

Tom Abbott
August 5, 2022 6:45 pm

From the article: “Carbon offset programs have become popular action plans to combat the climate crisis.”

What climate crisis?

Reply to  Tom Abbott
August 5, 2022 7:31 pm

The money trough was getting low for the number of snouts.

August 5, 2022 11:59 pm

There you are then: Corrupt Concepts breed Corrupt consequences.

The Concept that CO2 in the atmosphere heats the Earth is corrupt; as epitomised in the grossly FALSE MEME of CAGW.

Fortunately here, the two corrupt practices balance each other out and produce the solution to this problem in that; as the first concept is False then the second concept cannot occur.; so we can all go back to sleep and let inflation sort out the problem while we lesser mortals pick up the tab.

Could someone advise me whether or not I should insert a Sarc character here.?

August 6, 2022 1:04 am

From the very beginning, anyone who knows anything about forest management understood that forests are at best a carbon pool, not a sink. The entire “forest offset” was a scam from the start. Mature forests don’t accumulate carbon, they just recycle it, through growth, limb, bark and leaf loss, death, and decay or fire.

The strategy of not permanently clearing a forest in return for carbon credits is akin to saying that because I not yet shot my annoying neighbour and his psychotic pit bull terrier means I have saved both their lives.

Setting aside the question of, “do we have a problem with CO2?” – the only way a plantation forest can contribute to the issue is if you grow it, harvest it for fuel and regenerate it, in a perpetual cycling of contemporary CO2. The chip fuel is a form of solidified solar energy without the fossil steps of coal, oil or gas.

The stupidity of forests as carbon sinks is consistent with the state of affairs in energy supplies in general, where people with PhDs in medieval French literature and the like are making policy based upon solar and wind, and cost-free batteries created from nothing.

Michael in Dublin
August 6, 2022 3:01 am

Over fifty years ago I was living in Cape Town an area with a Mediterranean climate. Despite the good winter rains, fires were common in the hot dry summers and did a lot of good. These promoted much new growth and germination of protea and fynbos seeds.

The problem was the growth of “alien” vegetation and trees like the Port Jackson willow. Clearing large areas of invasive growth has had significant benefits and provides jobs to unskilled workers who are not lazy. In a mountainous area some 80 km from the city a project to clear 54 000 hectares (133 000 acres) of alien trees by expert crews is underway.

We have to exercise great care in trying to balance human needs and care for our environment and world. Farmers have been successful for many millennia but now the politicians, government experts and activists have an agenda that is divorced from reality. Someone commented on this situation: Ecological heaven versus economic dystopia; that is the opportunity cost of simplistic models that attempt to explain and govern complex systems.” (my emphasis). This applies equally to the enviroment as it does to using fossil fuels and to CO2 emissions.

August 6, 2022 4:08 am

Too bad, so sad. The crash test dummies lost their airbags.

August 6, 2022 3:19 pm

Must’ve been a class project for the kids who took the short bus to school.

August 6, 2022 7:53 pm

This article is so stupid I can’t believe it was published. The only failure is continuing to pay and prop up the green devils responsible for this whole mess. Carbon offsets are crap, a wrong answer to a non problem. This madness needs to end.

August 7, 2022 5:58 am

CO2 is not a problem, now or ever.

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