WASHINGTON, D.C. – MAY 20, 2021 – Today, the American Carbon Registry’s Director of Forestry, Jessica Orrego, testified in front of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry for its hearing on Federal, State, and Private Forestlands: Opportunities for Addressing Climate Change. ACR, a nonprofit enterprise of Winrock International, was invited to testify at the hearing by Ranking Committee member Senator Boozman of Arkansas based on ACR’s recent work with the Senate Committee staff on the Growing Climate Solutions Act.
The hearing was convened, in part, to discuss opportunities for supporting the growth of forest carbon markets as both a climate solution and a means to generate benefits for different kinds of forest landowners. As an expert with more than 20 years of forest carbon-related work experience in the areas of offset project development, consulting and offset standard operations, Orrego delivered three key messages to the Senate committee.
First, she explained that a robust market with existing infrastructure including standards, verification bodies, investors and technical experts is already in place.
The U.S. forest carbon market includes more than 200 projects on more than 7 million acres across the country that have issued close to 200 million tons of CO2 emission reductions in the last decade. Projects are located in almost every forested region of the US, and almost every type of forest ownership class is represented in the carbon market, including industrial landowners, conservation organizations, family forest owners and tribes. We are now seeing some state and municipal forests enter the market as well.
“Carbon revenue is directly helping landowners meet a number of land management objectives, ranging from tribes using carbon finance to purchase ancestral lands and improving fire management, to companies using the finance to help manage land more sustainably, or to assist in conservation goals, and even to pay for small landowners’ insurance or taxes, or other family expenditures,” she testified.
Second, she explained that the demand for carbon credits is rapidly increasing and will continue to rise, with U.S. forest owners well-positioned to benefit. More than 1,500 companies have now set net-zero targets and demand for offsets is exponentially increasing to new record levels.
“This is good news for the U.S. forest carbon market. But as demand for offsets grows, so too is demand for integrity. Companies want to know that their investment is leading to real results. Integrity must be the basis for growth,” she said.
Finally, she emphasized that there is no need to start from scratch or reinvent the wheel. The market and related infrastructure is already in place and is rapidly evolving and expanding to offer more opportunities.
“Disruption to the existing carbon market could have adverse effects on investments, private capital, and on landowners and other stakeholders participating in this market. It is our hope that the government will support the growth and scaling of the forest carbon offsets market by working with the current market stakeholders and within the existing processes and frameworks,” she said.
Responding to a question from Senator Boozman (R-AR), the ranking member of the committee, on the role that the Federal government can play in supporting forest carbon markets, Orrego said, “I think there is an important role for the federal government to play to support the growth and scaling of the forest carbon market by providing capacity building support or through loans as referenced in the Rural Forests Market Act. However, I do want to reiterate, and as I stated in my testimony, there is no need to reinvent the wheel here. The carbon market is operating already and it is growing rapidly, so we recommend that any role that the government plays complements the carbon market and the existing frameworks.”
Responding to a question from Senator Smith (D-MN) about the integrity of forest carbon markets, Orrego said, “We welcome scrutiny. As I said in my testimony, the growth and long-term sustainability of the market depend on integrity. And so, we are constantly innovating and improving, based on the latest science, to ensure emission reductions are real, credible and verifiable.” She pointed out that, in many cases, criticism focuses on a few cherry-picked examples, rather than examining the broader impact that the forest carbon market is having, “which is a hugely positive story.”
The full written testimony provided to the committee can be downloaded here.