Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: February 2013

17 - Opportunities and Challenges for Offsetting Greenhouse Gas Emissions with Forests



A strong consensus is building on the need to slow the rate of climate change. Emissions must be reduced, and where emission reductions are not financially feasible, mechanisms need to be in place to allow investment in reductions in neighboring areas, neighboring countries, and across the Earth. Forests have a large potential role to play in this system, and the environmental, social, and economic benefits of investing in forests are high. However, challenges exist if we are to maximize the potential of forests to affect climate change.

What Are Offsets?

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions regulations typically place a cap on permitted emissions. It is unrealistic to expect industries and companies to immediately and drastically decrease GHG emissions. As a result, a system exists that allows entities that cannot sufficiently reduce their own emissions to invest elsewhere to stimulate emission reductions or increases in sequestration. The financial instrument is typically known as an offset and is measured by Mg carbon dioxide (CO2), or a carbon dioxide equivalent for non-CO2 GHGs (Mg CO2e), which have varying potentials to cause global warming.

Achard, F., DeFries, R., Eva, H.D., Hansen, M., Mayaux, P., and Stibig, H.-J. 2007. Pan-tropical monitoring of deforestation. Environmental Research Letters, 2:045022.
Angelsen, A. 2008. How do we set the reference levels for REDD payments? In Moving ahead with REDD: Issues, options and implication, ed. A. Angelsen. Bogor, Indonesia: CIFOR, pp. 53–64.
Asner, G.P. 2009. Tropical forest carbon assessment: Integrating satellite and airborne mapping approaches. Environmental Research Letters, 4:034009, .
Asner, G.P., Broadbent, E.N., Oliveira, P.J.C., Knapp, D.E., Keller, M., and Silva, J.N. 2006. Condition and fate of logged forests in the Brazilian Amazon. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103(34):12947–12950.
Asner, G.P., Knapp, D.E., Broadbent, E., Oliviera, P., Keller, M., and Silva, J. 2005.Selective logging in the Brazilian Amazon. Science, 310:480–482.
Aukland, L., Moura Costa, P., and Brown, S. 2003. A conceptual framework and its application for addressing leakage on avoided deforestation projects. Climate Policy, 3:123–136.
Baker, D.J., Richards, G., Grainger, A., Gonzalez, P., Brown, S., DeFries, R.,…Stolle, F. 2010. Achieving forest carbon information with higher certainty: A five-part plan. Environmental Science and Policy, 13:249–260.
Brown, S. 2002a. Measuring carbon in forests: Current status and future challenges. Environmental Pollution, 116(3):363–372.
Brown, S. 2002b. Measuring, monitoring, and verification of carbon benefits for forest-based projects. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, 360:1669–1683.
Brown, S., Burnham, M., Delaney, M., Vaca, R., Powell, M., and Moreno, A. 2000a. Issues and challenges for forest-based carbon-offset projects: A case study of the Noel Kempff Climate Action Project in Bolivia. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Climate Change, 5:99–121.
Brown, S., Masera, O., and Sathaye, J. 2000b. Project-based activities. In Land use, land-use change, and forestry: Special report to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ed. R.T. Watson, I.R. Noble, B. Bolin, N.H. Ravindranath, D.J. Verardo, and D.J. Dokken. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 283–338.
Brown, S., and Pearson, T. 2009. Forests and carbon markets: Opportunities for sustainable development. In Climate change policy: Recommendations from the 2009 Brookings Blum Roundtable. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, pp. 35–41.
Brown, S., Pearson, T., Slaymaker, D., Ambagis, S., Moore, N., Novelo, D., and Sabido, W. 2005. Creating a virtual tropical forest from three-dimensional aerial imagery: Application for estimating carbon stocks. Ecological Applications, 15:1083–1095.
Brown, S., Sathaye, J., Cannell, M., and Kauppi, P. 1996. Management of forests for mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions. In Climate change 1995: Impacts, adaptations and mitigation of climate change: Scientific-technical analyses, ed. R.T. Watson, M.C. Zinyowera, and R.H. Moss. Contribution of Working Group II to the Second Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 776–794.
Chomitz, K.M. 2002. Baseline, leakage, and measurement issues: How do forestry and energy projects compare? Climate Policy, 2:35–49.
DeFries, R., Achard, F., Brown, S., Herold, M., Murdiyarso, D., Schlamadinger, B., and De Souza, C. 2007. Earth observations for estimating greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation in developing countries. Environmental Science and Policy, 10:385–394.
Denman, K.L., Brasseur, G., Chidthaisong, A., Ciais, P., Cox, P.M., Dickinson, R.E.,…Zhang, X. 2007. Couplings between changes in the climate system and biogeochemistry. In Climate change 2007: The physical science basis, ed. S. Solomon, D. Qin, M. Manning, M. Marquis, K. Averyt, M.M.B. Tignor,…H.L. Miller. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 499–587.
Frisch, R. 1933. Editor's note. Econometrica, 1:1–4.
GOFC-GOLD. 2009. A sourcebook of methods and procedures for monitoring, measuring and reporting anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and removals caused by deforestation, gains and losses of carbon stocks in forests remaining forests, and forestation. GOFC-GOLD rep. version COP15–1. Alberta, Canada: GOFC-GOLD Project Office, Natural Resources Canada.
Grassi, G., Monni, S., Federici, S., Achard, F., and Mollicone, D. 2008. Applying the conservativeness principle to REDD to deal with the uncertainties of the estimates. EnvironmentalResearch Letters, 3:035005, .
Griscom, B., Shoch, D., Stanley, B., Cortez, R., and Virgilio, N. 2009. Sensitivity of amounts and distribution of tropical forest carbon credits depending on baseline rules. Environmental Science and Policy, 12(7):897–911, .
Hansen, M.C., Stehman, S.V., and Potapov, P.V. 2010. Quantification of global gross forest loss. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(19):8650–8655, .
Hamilton, K., Chokkalingam, U., and Bendana, M. 2010. State of the forest carbon markets 2009: Taking root and branching out. Ecosystem Marketplace. .
Hardcastle, P.D., Baird, D., and Harden, V. 2008. Capability and cost assessment of the major forest nations to measure and monitor their forest carbon. Edinburgh, Scotland: LTS International.
Harris, N.L., Petrova, S., Stolle, F., and Brown, S. 2008. Identifying optimal areas for REDD intervention: East Kalimantan, Indonesia as a case study. Environmental Research Letters, 3(3):035006. .
Herold, M. 2009. An assessment of national forest monitoring capabilities in tropical non- Annex I countries: Recommendations for capacity building. The Prince's Rainforests Project, London and Government of Norway. .
IPCC. 2003. Good practice guidance for land use, land-use change and forestry, ed. J. Penman, M. Gytarsky, T. Hiraishi, T. Krug, D. Kruger, R. Pipatti,…Wagner, F. IPCC National Greenhouse Gas Inventories Programme, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, Hayama, Kanagawa, Japan.
Meridian Institute. 2009. Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD): An options assessment report. Prepared for the government of Norway by A. Angelsen, S. Brown, C. Loisel, L. Peskett, C. Streck, and D. Zarin. .
Meridian Institute. 2011. Modalities for REDD+ reference levels: Technical and procedural issues. Prepared for the government of Norway by A. Angelsen, D. Boucher, S. Brown, V. Merckx, C. Streck, and D. Zarin. .
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. 2005. Ecosystems and human well-being, vol. 1, ed. R. Hassan, R. Scholes, and N. Ash. Washington, DC: Island Press. .
Murray, B.C., McCarl, B.A., and Lee, H. 2004. Estimating leakage from forest carbon sequestration programs. Land Economics, 80(1):109–124.
Nabuurs, G.J., Masera, O., Andrasko, K., Benitez-Ponce, P., Boer, R., Dutschke, M.,…Zhang, X. 2007. Forestry. In Climate change 2007: Mitigation, ed. B. Metz, O.R. Davidson, P.R. Bosch, R. Dave, and L.A. Meyer. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 543–578.
O’Sullivan, R., Streck, C., Pearson, T., Brown, S., and Gilbert, A. 2010. Role of the private sector in generating carbon credits from REDD+. Report to the UK Department for International Development (DFID).
Pearson, T., Harris, N., Shoch, D., and Brown, S. 2009. Estimation of aboveground carbon stocks. In GOFC-GOLD: A sourcebook of methods and procedures for monitoring, measuring and reporting anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and removals caused by deforestation, gains and losses of carbon stocks in forests remaining forests, and forestation. GOFC- GOLD rep. version COP15–1 Alberta, Canada: GOFC-GOLD Project Office, Natural Resources Canada, pp. 2-42–2-64.
Pearson, T.R.H., Brown, S., Harris, N.L., and Walker, S.M. 2010a. Methodological barriers to the development of REDD+ carbon markets. In Pathways for implementing REDD+: Experiences from carbon markets and communities, ed. X. Zhu, L.R. Møller, T.D. Lopez, and M.Z. Romero. Perspectives series 2010. Riso Centre, Denmark: UNEP, pp. 41–55.
Pearson, T.R.H., Brown, S., and Sohngen, B. 2010b. Review of transaction costs with regard to AFOLU carbon offset projects. Report to the Environmental Protection Agency under #EP-W-07-072, task order 112.
Peskett, L., Brown, J., and Schreckenberg, K. 2010. Carbon offsets for forestry and bioenergy: Researching opportunities for poor rural communities. ODI report for the Ford Foundation. .
Peters-Stanley, M., Hamilton, K., Marcello, T., and Sjardin, M. 2011. Back to the future: State of the voluntary carbon markets 2011. A report by Ecosystem Marketplace and Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Ecosystem Marketplace. .
Putz, F.E., and Pinard, M.A. 1993. Reduced-impact logging as a carbon-offset method. Conservation Biology, 7:755–757.
Saatchi, S.S., Harris, N.L., Brown, S., Lefsky, M., Mitchard, E.T.A., Salas, W.,…Morel, A. 2011. Benchmark map of forest carbon stocks in tropical regions across three continents. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108(24):9899–9904. .
Schrope, M. 2009. When money grows on trees. Nature Reports Climate Change, 3:101–103.
Sohngen, B., and Brown, S. 2004. Measuring leakage from carbon projects in open economies: A stop timber harvesting project in Bolivia as a case study. Canadian Journal of Forest Research, 34:829–839.
Souza, C., and Roberts, D. 2005. Mapping forest degradation in the Amazon region with Ikonos images. International Journal ofRemote Sensing, 26:425–429.
UNFCCC. 2007. Report of the Conference of the Parties on its thirteenth session, held in Bali, Indonesia, December 3–15, 2007. FCCC/CP/2007/6/Add.1, Decision 1/CP.13.
UNFCCC. 2009a. Cost of implementing methodologies and monitoring systems relating to estimates of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, the assessment of carbon stocks and greenhouse gas emissions from changes in forest cover, and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks. Tech. paper FCCC/TP/2009/1. .
UNFCCC. 2009b. Report of the Conference of the Parties on its fifteenth session, held in Copenhagen, Denmark, December 7–9, 2009. Addendum decisions adopted by the Conference of Parties FCCC/CP/2009/11/Add.1, 4/CP.14.
UNFCCC. 2010. Report of the Conference of the Parties on its sixteenth session, held in Cancun, Mexico, November 29–December 10, 2010. Addendum decisions adopted by the Conference of Parties 1/CP.16. .
Van der Werf, G.R., Morton, D.C., DeFries, R.S., Olivier, J.G.J., Kasibhatla, P.S., Jackson, R.B.,…Randerson, J.T. 2009. CO2 emissions from forest loss. Nature Geoscience, 2(11):737–738.