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California Climate Action Registry Forest Protocols

Forests and Climate Change

Senate Bill 812 modified the Registry’s enacting legislation to include a greenhouse gas
(GHG) accounting framework for the forest sector in a manner that creates benefits for
the climate while also benefiting the local environment (e.g. California’s native forests,
biodiversity, water quality and species habitat). The forest sector is the second largest
global source of anthropogenic (caused by humans) carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions,
contributing roughly 23% of total CO2 emissions. This is largely a result of
deforestation. California alone loses approximately 60,000 acres of forestland annually
to non-forest uses and the rates of forest conversion in California are increasing1. Forest
loss, whether global or local, means the loss of our forests’ existing climate benefits, as
well as the loss of any future additional climate benefits that these forests would provide -
not to mention their biodiversity, species habitat and water quality benefits.

While the forest sector is part of the climate change problem, it can also be a part of the
solution. When trees are cut down, they become a source of CO2 emissions. When an
area is re-forested, when an existing forest is allowed to grow longer, and when a tree
harvesting rotation is extended and trees are allowed to get older, forests sequester CO2
and are considered carbon sinks, which create significant climate benefits.

SB 812
SB 812 is a law that requires the California Climate Action Registry to create a protocol
to encourage sink activities by creating an incentive for forest landowners to undertake
forest conservation, conservation-based management, and reforestation projects.

Key requirements of a forestry protocol, as outlined in SB 812 include:

• Forestland registered as part of a forestry project must be dedicated permanently

to forest use through the use of a perpetual conservation easement. The easement
helps ensure that climate and other environmental benefits gained by forest
projects today are not eliminated in the future through conversion to other uses.
In the event of a natural disaster, the easement would provide the assurance that
the forest and its climate benefits would be restored over time.

• All projects must promote and maintain California’s native forests.

• All forest management projects must utilize natural forest management practices
(i.e. managed forests must have mixed ages and species), so the attainment of

The 1997 revised National Resources Inventory indicates that more forest in California was lost in the
mid-nineties than in the previous decade. The USDA predicts that an additional 20% of non-industrial
forestland in northern California will be lost to other uses by 2050. Private forests elsewhere in the U.S.
demonstrate similar trends.

climate benefits is not achieved at the expense of other local environmental issues
such as water quality, biodiversity and species habitat.

Protocol Development Process:

To implement the mandate set forth in SB 812, the Registry developed a multi-
stakeholder protocol development process that encouraged expert and public
participation. The process included the following components:

• Voluntary multi-stakeholder workgroup. Group tasked with developing the

draft protocol recommendations
• Internal Review. Workgroup members’ respective organizations reviewed the
drafts and provided feedback.
• Expert Review. Revised drafts were sent to over 50 industry, policy and
academic experts, along with targeted questions and solicitation of general
comments. Hosted an expert reviewer meeting in Sacramento.
• Technical Advisory Committee. The TAC was briefed on the protocols.
• Agency and Public Review. Revised drafts were posted on the CEC and
Registry websites, listserv messages were sent to the Registry’s database to solicit
comments, and a public workshop was held in Sacramento. Responses to public
comments will be posted on the Registry’s website.
• Board Review and Consideration
• Ongoing opportunity for public feedback and comment.

Executive Summary of the Registry’s Forest Protocol Recommendations

The Forest Protocol Workgroup2, on behalf of the California Climate Action Registry
(the Registry), is pleased to present the draft forest protocol recommendations for the
quantification and reporting of forest carbon stocks located in California to the Registry’s
board of directors for your consideration.

The suite of protocol recommendations (forest protocols) consists of three documents.

• Forest Sector Protocol

• Forest Project Protocol
• Forest Certification Protocol

Key components of the three documents are outlined below:

The Forest Protocols Workgroup includes the California Climate Action Registry, California Department
of Forestry and Fire Protection, California Energy Commission, Hancock Natural Resources Group,
Mendocino Redwood Company, The Nature Conservancy, The Pacific Forest Trust, and Winrock
International. The workgroup has been developing these draft protocol recommendations since April 2003.

Forest Sector Reporting Protocol:

• Protocol Purpose: Provide guidance to forest entities to account for and report
entity-wide biological forest carbon stocks and biological emissions over time.
• Forest entity: Legal entity or individual who owns > 100 acres of commercial or
non-commercial trees.
• Geographic Boundaries: Landowner can report CA only or nationwide, though
GHG data is only certifiable in CA at this time.
• Consolidation Methodology: Equity share or management control. Equity share
strongly recommended.
• Required Emissions: CO2 only. As with the General Reporting Protocol, all
Kyoto gases are required in the fourth year of participation.
• Entity Baseline (optional, though strongly encouraged): Includes a
characterization of forest practices over 100 years and corresponding
quantification of carbon pools
• Accounting approach: stock change accounting
• Required (i.e. certified) carbon pools: Live tree biomass (tree bole (trunk),
roots, branches, leaves/needles) and dead tree biomass (standing and lying dead
wood); all other pools are
• Optional (i.e. not certified) carbon pools: Soil, wood products, and herbaceous
• Carbon Quantification: Requires a complete inventory3 and direct sampling
with use of models
• GHG Emissions: calculated as decreases in carbon stocks over time
• GHG Reductions: not calculated at entity level; entity must follow Project
Protocol guidance to qualify for and calculate GHG reductions

Forest Project Reporting Protocol:

• Forest project: A planned set of activities to remove, reduce or prevent CO2

emissions in the atmosphere through the conservation and/or increase in on-site
forest carbon stocks.
• Protocol Purpose: To provide guidance to landowners to quantify and monitor
GHG reductions resulting from specific forest activities
• Project Types: Reforestation, Conservation-based forest management and
• Geographic boundaries: Projects can be reported and certified for California
• Environmental Integrity: Projects must promote and maintain native species;
forest management must be “natural forest management,” and project area must
be secured with permanent conservation easement

A complete inventory includes: a minimum confidence standard, sampling methodology, inventory plots
no older than 10 years, a stratification system, and description of analytical methods used to translate field
measurements into volume/biomass.

• Project Baselines (required): Forecasted characterization of forest practices (or
lack thereof) in the project area over time, which varies by project type4, and
corresponding quantification of carbon stocks.
• Project Additionality: Project activity must additional to baseline, including any
mandatory laws (e.g. CA Forest Practice Rules).
• Project Permanence: Project must be secured with a perpetual easement. Annual
registry reporting determines duration of any calculated GHG reductions; if entity
stops reporting to Registry, reductions are no longer valid.
• Leakage: Activity-shifting leakage (within entity boundaries) assessment and
quantification is required; Entity-level reporting required if reporting forest
projects; market leakage reporting is strongly encouraged; Registry will continue
to pursue approaches for tracking and quantifying market leakage and activity-
shifting leakage outside of entity boundaries
• Accounting approach/Carbon quantification: Same approach as Entity
Protocol, but difference include higher minimum confidence standard and
application of deductions (sliding scale) based on confidence of estimates.
• GHG Emissions: calculated as decreases in carbon stocks over time.
• GHG Reductions: calculated as increases in project carbon stocks over time.

Forest Certification Protocols (Entity and Project):

• Purpose: Provide guidance to “approved third party certifiers” to conduct a

standardized and accurate assessment of reported GHG data at forest entity and
project levels; third party certification is essential for credibility of reported GHG
emissions (biological and non-biological)/reductions.
• Process: Certifier assesses entity’s methodologies, estimations, models and
• Specialized expertise: Approved certifiers must include a Registered
Professional Forester.
• Direct Sampling: Certification process includes direct sampling of required
carbon pools at the beginning and end of 5-year certification intervals.
• Annual Monitoring Reports: Certifier assesses annual monitoring reports
submitted by entity, checks reports against public information.
• Material misstatements: Reported data must be free of material misstatements
(e.g. entity’s direct sampling results must be within 15% of certifier’s results)

The Forest Protocols are an important addition and expansion to the existing Registry
program in a number of ways:

• They are the first “industry-specific” protocols to be added to the Registry

Reforestation requires the project land area to be out of forest cover for a minimum of 10 years and
characterization of baseline will be based on practices (or lack thereof) that has kept area out of forest
cover; Conservation-based forest management characterization is based on California’s forest practice rules
and Conservation projects can be characterized either by a site-specific immediate threat or county
conversion trends (based on FRAP data)

• They address GHG emission reductions (in the form of GHG projects) for the
first time
• They require that emission reductions must exceed practices that are required by
current law, so that the resulting climate benefits are greater than what would
likely have occurred in the absence of the forest activity
• They differentiate biological and non-biological emissions
• They address both GHG emissions and sinks