State’s cap and trade may reach rain forests

San Francisco Chronicle - - BAY AREA - By Lau­rel Rosen­hall

SACRA­MENTO — With feath­ers adorn­ing his head and red paint dec­o­rat­ing his face, Haru Kun­tanawa hardly looked like a po­ten­tial busi­ness part­ner for Cal­i­for­nia’s oil in­dus­try when he ad­dressed the crowd gath­ered last month in a Sacra­mento con­fer­ence room.

But un­der a plan that state air reg­u­la­tors are con­sid­er­ing, in­dus­tries that emit green­house gas pol­lu­tion in Cal­i­for­nia could form mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar re­la­tion­ships with in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties like Kun­tanawa’s by pay­ing them to pre­serve trees deep in the Ama­zon rain for­est of Brazil.

It’s part of a pro­posal to ex­pand Cal­i­for­nia’s ca­pand-trade sys­tem, which is de­signed to en­cour­age com­pa­nies to re­duce cli­mate­warm­ing pol­lu­tion by mak­ing them pay for it.

Busi­nesses can com­ply, in part, by buy­ing cred­its to sup­port en­vi­ron­men­tal projects that off­set their car­bon emis­sions in Cal­i­for­nia. Oil com­pa­nies and other pol­lut

ing in­dus­tries in the state have been buy­ing off­set cred­its for projects across the U.S. that pre­serve forest­land, cap­ture methane from pigs and cows, and de­stroy gases that de­plete the ozone layer.

Now, state of­fi­cials are eval­u­at­ing whether to ex­pand cap and trade by in­clud­ing off­sets for pre­serv­ing for­est in Brazil. A de­ci­sion is ex­pected next year.

Ad­vo­cates di­vided

The pro­posal has touched off a de­bate that is di­vid­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­vo­cates as Gov. Jerry Brown works to build a legacy of ac­tion com­bat­ting cli­mate change in his fourth and fi­nal term as gover­nor.

Sup­port­ers say pre­vent­ing de­for­esta­tion in trop­i­cal re­gions will have huge cli­mate ben­e­fits for the en­tire globe while keep­ing costs down for Cal­i­for­ni­ans. Crit­ics say the plan doesn’t do enough to fight pol­lu­tion in Cal­i­for­nia and puts the state at risk of fa­cil­i­tat­ing busi­ness with un­sta­ble regimes. Brown has not yet taken a po­si­tion.

“It’s a very fas­ci­nat­ing po­lit­i­cal mo­ment,” said Daniel Nep­stad, an ecol­o­gist who heads the Earth In­no­va­tion In­sti­tute, a ma­jor pro­po­nent of the plan. “I’m con­fi­dent that when the gover­nor sees through some of the po­lit­i­cal risk is­sues that he will make this hap­pen. It is such a big pos­i­tive thing to do.”

Nep­stad’s group, with fund­ing from the Gor­don and Betty Moore Foun­da­tion, brought Kun­tanawa and five other in­dige­nous lead­ers from trop­i­cal re­gions of Peru, Ecuador, Mex­ico and Panama to Sacra­mento re­cently. They met with govern­ment of­fi­cials to ex­press sup­port for the pro­posal and de­scribe how their com­mu­ni­ties ben­e­fit from for­est preser­va­tion.

“When we look at the for­est, we don’t just look at it as car­bon,” Kun­tanawa said through an in­ter­preter at a meet­ing or­ga­nized by the state Air Re­sources Board.

In­dige­nous peo­ple in his state of Acre, Brazil, har­vest nuts and tap rub­ber from the trees. Par­tic­i­pa­tion in Cal­i­for­nia’s cap-and-trade mar­ket would pro­vide them with a huge boon — prob­a­bly between $50 mil­lion and $200 mil­lion from 2017 to 2020, Nep­stad said.

Global so­lu­tion needed

That sounds like a lot of money mov­ing out of the Cal­i­for­nia econ­omy and into the Ama­zon rain forests. But for busi­nesses that must par­tic­i­pate in cap and trade, it’s a rel­a­tively cheap op­tion. That’s why Cal­i­for­nia’s oil in­dus­try sup­ports the pro­posal to cre­ate off­set cred­its in Brazil.

“This is a global prob­lem that needs a global so­lu­tion,” said Cather­ine Re­heis-Boyd, pres­i­dent of the Western States Petroleum As­so­ci­a­tion. “If you con­tinue to just do it in Cal­i­for­nia, you will con­tinue to raise the costs for Cal­i­for­ni­ans — for en­ergy and ev­ery­thing else — and you will do lit­tle to af­fect cli­mate change.”

Others say the state should fo­cus on tack­ling en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems at home, like pol­luted air that causes prob­lems for peo­ple liv­ing near free­ways, re­finer­ies and other in­dus­trial plants.

“What we all need to do to re­duce cli­mate change right now is stop fos­sil-fuel emis­sions,” said Amy Van­der­warker, co-di­rec­tor of the Cal­i­for­nia En­vi­ron­men­tal Jus­tice Al­liance. “These com­plex sys­tems — sav­ing car­bon there while it’s com­ing out here — we don’t feel like those are good so­lu­tions.”

Nige­rian ex­am­ple

Her group and others are lob­by­ing air reg­u­la­tors not to ap­prove a part­ner­ship with Brazil. They point to hu­man rights prob­lems caused by a for­est pre­serve in Nige­ria, and they brought an en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist from that coun­try to the re­cent meet­ing in Sacra­mento.

Nige­ri­ans who re­lied on the for­est for pick­ing fruit and gath­er­ing wood for their cook­ing were banned from en­ter­ing it af­ter of­fi­cials signed a con­ser­va­tion agree­ment, said the ac­tivist, Fyne­face Dum­namene Fyne­face. And the con­ser­va­tion money never made it to lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties.

Cal­i­for­nia of­fi­cials ac­knowl­edge prob­lems with the Nige­rian for­est pre­serve but say they would plan safe­guards to pre­vent any­thing sim­i­lar in Brazil. One dif­fer­ence is a plan to work with re­gional gov­ern­ments in­stead of pri­vate com­pa­nies. Cal­i­for­nia air reg­u­la­tors have al­ready vis­ited the for­est in Brazil and would ex­pect to con­tinue mon­i­tor­ing it if the plan moves ahead, said Dave Clegern, spokesman for the Air Re­sources Board.

Cal­i­for­nia’s decade-old global warm­ing law “charges us with find­ing ways to in­ter­act with the na­tional and in­ter­na­tional com­mu­ni­ties on cli­mate change,” Clegern said. “This is a mech­a­nism for do­ing that, (which) seems to us to have strong pos­si­bil­i­ties.”

Lau­rel Rosen­hall / CAL­mat­ters

Haru Kun­tanawa, a mem­ber of a Brazil­ian in­dige­nous com­mu­nity, speaks in Sacra­mento in April.

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