Nov 29 2023

Nearly a third of California’s forest offset buffer pool has gone up in smoke

Grayson Badgley 
Grayson Badgley

For the third time in a row, the “Finite Carbon - Colville IFM project” (ACR255) has filed paperwork indicating that the project has lost more carbon than it gained. That puts the project in reversal and means California’s forest offset buffer pool will need to step in to insure against those losses.

California’s forest offsets program requires that roughly 20 percent of generated credits be deposited into a buffer pool, which is a reserve of credits set aside to protect against unforeseen carbon losses due to events like wildfires or disease.

The newest round of paperwork filed by ACR255, which is accompanied by a third-party verification statement, shows that the Colville project lost over 1.79 million tons of CO₂ during its seventh reporting period, which ran from July 2021 to July 2022. The project recorded two previous reversals, which totalled over 3.71 million tons of CO₂. This new reversal, which the project attributes to the 2021 wildfire season, brings the project’s carbon losses from the last three reporting periods to over 5.5 million tons of CO₂.

From a program-wide standpoint, ACR255’s newly reported reversal brings total wildfire-related losses to nearly 11 million credits. Records indicate that just over 33.5 million credits have been placed in the buffer pool over the program’s full history. That means nearly a third of the buffer pool has already been consumed by wildfire in just 10 years. The scale of wildfire reversals far exceeds the buffer pool’s design. We estimate that California’s forest offset program has only set aside 6.6 million credits to insure against wildfire for the next 100 years, a number now dwarfed by the scale of reported wildfire reversals.

The program’s regulator, the California Air Resources Board, has already announced its intentions to reform the mechanics of the buffer pool. Given the current pace of carbon losses, those reforms cannot come soon enough.

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