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Province to buy carbon offsets that other firms won't touch

The crown corporation that buys carbon offsets for the province issued a call for projects this week that are already standard practice in the forest industry – leading some to question whether they should count as offsets at all.

On Wednesday, Pacific Carbon Trust (PAC) issued a $3 million call for forest-based offset projects in three areas: afforestation, seed selection and fertilization.

Marvin Eng of the B.C. Forest Practices Board, said the forest industry and ministry do fertilize, and that fertilization has been increasing, particularly in the interior, over the past couple of years. Eng said that while, 'class A' or superior quality seeds are not required, they are often selected as part of companies' operational practices "because you get better volume out of them. Whether or not it's carbon or timber volume."

Offering offsets for 'business as usual' is a waste of money, said Valerie Langer of ForestEthics.

She said that quality carbon offset guidelines require what's called additionality -- one of the most contentious issues in the carbon offset market.

"You have to prove that it wouldn't have been done otherwise. That the money actually made something additional happen for the climate," Langer said.

But according to the province's Greenhouse Gas Reduction Targets Act website, "Projects will not be excluded strictly on the basis of being "common practice" (i.e. not widely observed nor commonly carried out in the relevant sector and region), but the proponent must demonstrate financial, technological, or other obstacles to carrying out the project."

In a PAC press release, John Yap, minister of state for climate action, is quoted as saying, "B.C. has the best forest practices in the world, and Pacific Carbon Trust’s procurement of forest sequestration offsets will result in world-class offsets that produce real greenhouse gas reductions."

But it's because B.C.'s already good forest practices that makes these types of projects ineligible as far as the carbon offsetting firm Offsetters is concerned. Offsetters was the official carbon offset firm of the Vancouver Olympics and has clients around the world.

The forest sector, at least in B.C., is "not a sector that we see a whole lot of viability in, probably for the same types of reasons as ForestEthics," said Morgan McDonald, vice president of research and development.

Langer says that afforestation projects could be beneficial if they account for other environmental and ecosystem benefits, but says "the best option is avoided logging."

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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