Combining FSC & REDD Certification

Carbon Markets

Avoided emissions of carbon and other greenhouse gases are much harder to manage than other forest products (such as timber) because they are essentially intangible. – If the forest totally disappears a buyer can ascertain that they have been duped, but otherwise it is hard for customers to be really sure of what they are buying when they purchase carbon offsets.

Because of the risks involved in the carbon markets, both sides rely on trusted intermediaries to demonstrate that the product is genuine and meets all the requirements of additionality and permanence. They also often require that carbon savings be calculated conservatively and that a significant proportion of carbon offsets generated should be put aside in a risk buffer as insurance in case one or more conditions are found to be violated. Essentially all these boil down to a set of accounting rules for determining under what circumstances carbon savings can be included, and at what rate they can be converted into saleable carbon offsets.

The global community has spent years trying to iron out the details of a REDD+ mechanism under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (the Kyoto Protocol etc.), but negotiations have yet to result in a fully operational mechanism in place (and some believe an agreement won’t be reached until 2020).  Therefore, the only REDD credits being sold and traded today are being done through the voluntary carbon market, which has a number of different voluntary offset standards to choose from.

A method for quantifying carbon gains

MCDI prepared our REDD project to meet the best known and toughest international certification standards for the existing voluntary carbon market and a potential regulated carbon market (adopted under the UNFCCC process), as defined by the Verified Carbon Standard (VCS).

The VCS accepts any methodology that has been approved under the United Nation’s Clean Development Mechanism. It also has a host of already approved VCS methodologies that project developers can use to quantify their project’s emissions reductions.  However, for some projects, such as is the case with MCDI, there is no appropriate methodology that currently exists, and VCS allows project developers to develop their own methodology, which then needs to be assessed and validated by VCS through their methodology approval process.

MCDI’s REDD project is the first globally to focus on fire management in dryland forests. This meant that, when we started our REDD project, there were no existing VCS methodologies to quantify carbon gains from effective fire management in dryland forests, so we, working with our partners, Value for Nature and the University of Edinburgh, developed our own method from scratch (see assessing carbon stocks to learn more). It is suitable for the forest type and drivers of deforestation in our project area.

We sought to design our methodology so that it can be widely used by anyone wishing to fund fire management in these ecosystems via the carbon market. The method was submitted to VCS in February 2014, and accepted in March 2015, opening up a whole new frontier of opportunities for communities to earn revenues from selling carbon offsets generated through improved fire management, incentivising them to protect local miombo woodlands from forest fires. These miombo woodlands – and the communities that rely on them – stretch across some 2.8 million km2 of southern Africa, one of the largest expanses of fire-affected dryland forests in the world.  You can download the method here, and read more about the VCS method development in our REDD project report.

Certifying social and environmental benefits

We will also seek project validation with a second certification body: the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance (CCBA). CCBA does not issue or register carbon credits, but instead validates a project’s socio-economic and environmental co-benefits on top of its ability to deliver robust and credible greenhouse gas reductions. The CCBA Standard is typically used in conjunction with another standard (most commonly VCS), which certifies a project’s carbon credits. These two leading standards – VCS and CCBA – are often combined to verify carbon offsets and the additional social and environmental values and benefits of a REDD project.

Monitoring biodiversity

Both the Forest Stewardship Council and CCBA standards require biodiversity to be monitored in certified forests. Working with our partner, Carbon Tanzania (formerly Ecological Initiatives), MCDI developed an appropriate monitoring strategy to track biodiversity responses to improved fire management through early burning. This community-based biodiversity monitoring method focuses on three selected indicator bird species, as well as opportunistic recording of large mammals, and data is collected by community patrol teams. We also intend to add a second strand of expert-led monitoring looking at relative species abundance in birds. As well as looking at broad scale shifts in the commonest birds, we will look for changes in ground-nesting birds as we think these are most likely to be impacted by changes to the fire regime.