Forests and the Carbon Market

By purchasing carbon credits, businesses and other entities can offset their carbon dioxide emissions through the activities of others, such as planting trees or conserving forests. This purchase may allow forest owners, both public and private, rural and urban, to gain financially from their contribution to the forest carbon sink.

Current activities across the region related to forest carbon are best described as varied and often exploratory. A framework exists for achieving reductions in carbon emissions in California and the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, but most state forestry agencies have no substantive program dedicated to recruiting or assisting landowners in selling carbon offsets.

Almost universally, though, state forestry agencies have played supporting roles to other organizations in the forest carbon market space. A few states were involved early on in carbon market development over a decade ago, but stepped back when organized carbon exchanges failed to sustain themselves. A few others have been involved in registering state-owned lands in carbon markets.

In addition to the regulatory markets for forest carbon offset credits in California and the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, there are a number of voluntary forest carbon markets. Nearly all of the forest carbon offsets in the U.S. are enrolled in one of the three primary carbon registries: the Climate Action Reserve Registry, the American Carbon Registry and the Verra Registry System. Landowners often work through private carbon project developers to get offsets registered and transacted on both regulatory and voluntary markets. Some of the more active carbon project developers include TerraCarbon, Finite Carbon, and ACRE Investment Management LLC, which includes Green Trees.

Two of the most prominent NGOs working in the forest carbon space are American Forest Foundation (AFF) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC). State forestry agencies work with both of these organizations in various forest carbon capacities. AFF and TNC have teamed up to start the Family Forest Carbon Program, in which the NGOs serve as aggregators in a voluntary market to improve landowner participation. Other national NGOs working in the forest carbon space are Ducks Unlimited and the National Audubon Society.

A number of states have been engaging with Natural Capital Exchange (NCX). NCX is working to create its own marketplace for connecting interested buyers and sellers of forest carbon and other ecosystem services. It is also focused on helping address market barriers for small landowners, both public and private. Other for-profit carbon project developers are also developing a similar approach.

Carbon credit programs are not solely focused in rural areas. City Forest Carbon Credits is a partnership between the City of Austin and Tree Folks to generate carbon credits to enhance urban tree canopy. And while forest carbon market projects are not generally on federal land, the National Forest Foundation has enrolled a tree planting program on federal land in a carbon registry.

For more information on the state forester perspective on forest carbon markets, as well as more technical information on forest carbon offsets, markets, and protocols, visit the NASF Forest Carbon Network webpage.