Coalition Statement Against Offsets in US Climate Bill

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Honorable Henry Waxman
Chair, Committee on Energy and Commerce
The Honorable Edward Markey
Chair, Subcommittee on Energy and Environment

Dear Chairmen Waxman and Markey,

We commend you on the effort you have undertaken in crafting your draft "American Clean Energy & Security Act of 2009." While there is much to applaud in this bill, there are also areas for substantial improvement. While we will be communicating to you separately with respect to other issues, our organizations are concerned in particular about one key element that threatens to undermine its integrity and effectiveness in addressing climate change: the large carbon offsets provisions of the draft bill. As pointed out in recent testimony before your Energy and Environment Subcommittee by the Government Accountability Office,[1] quality assurance for carbon offsets is all but impossible to verify. To craft a bill that allows for 2 billion tons of offsets per year - roughly equivalent to 27% of 2007 U.S. greenhouse gas emissions - is to allow for continued and dangerous delay in real action by our country at a time when the world is looking to the U.S. for leadership on climate change.

Initial calculations suggest that allowing for 2 billion tons of offsets per year would mean that covered entities in the U.S. could use offsets to avoid curtailing their own significant greenhouse gas emissions until 2026.[2] Given current climate science[3], such a delay in investing directly in new low-carbon energy infrastructure is unacceptable.

Increasing evidence is revealing the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the world's biggest carbon offset market, is failing to deliver real climate or sustainable development benefits.[4] Most fundamentally, the CDM has actually facilitated an increase in overall greenhouse gas emissions -undermining the most fundamental and critical goal of all - stemming the growth of greenhouse gas emissions in the Earth's atmosphere.

The draft bill intends to reduce emissions from tropical deforestation via two contrasting approaches. The first, called Supplemental Emissions Reductions from Reduced Deforestation, is a fund-based approach with the aim of slowing tropical deforestation emissions by at least 720 million tons per year by 2020. The fund approach as written into the draft bill could enable effective policies, activities and measures to slow tropical deforestation, which unfortunately would be undone through the second approach based on bringing hundreds of millions of tons of international forestry offsets into the U.S. carbon market each year.

Forest offsets as proposed in the draft bill fail to acknowledge forest governance problems, as well as the customary land and forest rights of Indigenous peoples including the rights of free, prior and informed consent of Indigenous peoples in forest regions to participate, or choose not to participate, in the new carbon commodity market. Forest credits have a well-recognized potential to destabilize carbon markets by introducing large volumes of cheap offsets, huge variations in estimates of carbon stocks and fluxes over time, and uncertainties over how to monitor emissions and the impacts of policies upon rates of deforestation and emissions.

Domestically, environmental justice organizations and activists are equally concerned that all offsets - whether in criteria pollutants or in carbon - will add to the pollution burden of already overburdened communities of color while increasing incentives for corruption.

As the United States moves forward on domestic climate legislation, we urge you to ensure that your basic reduction targets for greenhouse gases and other agents, such as black soot[5] are bold enough and achieved quickly enough to keep global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius. We urge you to:

1) Take the lead on strong action on climate change at home by opposing any international carbon offsets, including forest offsets, as part of any compliance regime on climate change; and
2) Ensure that the domestic offset market does not become part of a compliance system to regulate emissions.


Adam G. Gerhardstein, Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
Brent Blackwelder, Friends of the Earth
Bradley Angel, Greenaction for Health and Environmental Justice
Carroll Muffett, Greenpeace USA
Chad Simmons, Safe & Green Campaign
Daphne Wysham, Sustainable Energy & Economy Network
David A. Kraft, Nuclear Energy Information Service
Devin Helfrich, Friends Committee on National Legislation
Dr. Arjun Makhijani, Institute for Energy & Environmental Research
Gillian Caldwell, 1 Sky
Jane Williams, California Communities Against Toxics
Kimberly Wasserman, Little Village Environmental Justice Organization
Marie Dennis, Director, Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns
May Boeve,
Michael Brune, Rainforest Action Network
Michael Mariotte, Nuclear Information and Resource Service
Mike Ewall, Energy Justice Network
Mike Tidwell, Chesapeake Climate Action Network
Nia Robinson, Environmental Justice Climate Change Initiative
Neil Tangri, Global Anti-Incinerator Alliance
Pam and Lan Richart, Eco-Justice Collaborative
Patrick McCully, International Rivers
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Shalom Center
Rajya Waghray, Church World Service
Robert Weissman, Essential Action
Tom Goldtooth, Indigenous Environmental Network
Tyson Slocum, Public Citizen

[1]"Observations on the Potential Role of Carbon Offsets in Climate Change Legislation," Statement of John Stephenson, Director, Natural Resources & Environment, before the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment, March 5, 2009.

[2] Analysis of the offsets provision in the American Clean Energy and Security Act from International Rivers and Rainforest Action Network

[3] E.g., Hansen, J., Mki. Sato, P. Kharecha, D. Beerling, R. Berner, V. Masson-Delmotte, M. Pagani, M. Raymo, D.L. Royer, and J.C. Zachos, 2008: Target atmospheric CO2: Where should humanity aim? Open Atmos. Sci. J., 2, 217-231, doi:10.2174/1874282300802010217; and recent measures of glacial and polar ice melting rates (see here).

[4] Carbon Offsets: The U.S. Voluntary Market Is Growing, but Quality Assurance Poses Challenges for Market Participants (Washington, D.C.: August 29, 2008), and International Climate Change Programs: Lessons Learned from the European Union's Emissions Trading Scheme and the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism, GAAO-09-151 (Washington, D.C.: Nov. 18, 2008).

[5] Third-World Stove Soot Is Target in Climate Fight, The New York Times