Offsetting the Cost of Emissions Reductions: Maine Forests and California’s Cap-and-Trade Market

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John Wargo
Essay Abstract: 
California’s cap-and-trade marketplace allows regulated entities to offset a portion of their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions with investment in Improved Forest Management (IFM) projects. The rich debate over offsets’ validity as a cost containment tool in climate change mitigation provides key metrics for evaluating the IFM program. This research highlights four of them, namely project: 1. Measurability, 2. Additionality, 3. Permanence, and 4. Accessibility. Proceeding stepwise through the stages of IFM project development, this research grounds a discussion of offsets’ effectiveness in the experiences of Maine foresters and landowners. Their perspective reveals the IFM program’s failure to deliver meaningful GHG emissions reductions. Despite the strength of the administrative process governing offset creation, IFM projects demonstrate insensitivity to local ecological conditions and a failure to attract landholder interest.