Story and images by Mark McPherson, Executive Director of the Urban Forest Carbon Registry
The urban forests of the U.S. are long overdue to earn certified carbon credits. Carbon buyers purchased $700 million in carbon credits in the U.S. over the last decade ($4.5 billion worldwide). Yet not a single dollar of that money can go to the trees in the cities and towns of America.
Everyone in urban forestry knows the documented benefits of ecosystem services provided by trees in cities, yet urban forests receive relatively little funding as municipalities struggle to meet basic utility and human service needs. Furthermore, urban tree canopy is being lost in many cities due to growth and development.
The Urban Forest Carbon Registry (the Registry) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is working to make it possible for urban tree planting and preservation projects to earn and sell carbon credits. Money from the sale of the credits would go directly to the projects that earned those credits.
The Registry has developed practical carbon protocols for urban forestry projects. These protocols, one for tree planting and one for tree preservation, will be the “rulebooks” that projects must follow to earn certified credits.
The Registry assembled a drafting group of national stakeholders from many areas of urban forestry including Greg McPherson, Scott Maco, and Andy Trotter to address the quantification issues—as well as representatives of municipal forestry, non-profit tree organizations, utilities, transportation professionals, and watershed experts. You can view the protocols on the Registry website at www.ufregistry.org.
Here is how projects and credits will work:
An applicant wishing to obtain credits will submit an application for its project to the Registry. Applicants can include cities or towns, quasi-municipal entities, parks districts, utilities, educational institutions, and private property owners. Projects must meet certain eligibility requirements. For example, they must be located within the U.S. Census Bureau-mapped Urban Areas (these generally extend past suburban areas to the rural interface), within any incorporated or unincorporated city or town, or within designated watershed zones or utility rights-of-way.
The Registry will review the application and approve the project for commencement if eligible. For tree planting projects, the Registry will issue credits to projects in intervals over a 25-year period as specified project benchmarks are met. The Registry verifies that credited trees are still alive and healthy at each project benchmark before the next round of credits can be issued to the applicant.
For tree preservation projects, the Registry will issue credits to projects that preserve trees from development or removal. Projects must preserve trees through an easement, a deed covenant, or in the case of public land, a management plan. Credits for CO2 stored in trees preserved can be received beginning with completion of an easement, deed covenant, or management plan that preserves the trees.
Carbon buyers will purchase credits from project applicants and not from the Registry. This puts revenue from certified carbon credit sales directly in the hands of the projects that can then use those monies to recoup initial project costs, maintain the credited trees, or fund other urban forestry projects that in turn may be eligible for additional credits. The Registry thus acts as a verification and credentialing entity that issues credits to projects.
The Registry has developed an innovative “bundled” credit that includes the quantified value of storm water retention, energy savings, and air quality improvements, in addition to a metric tonne of CO2. These bundled urban forest credits will be highly valuable to voluntary carbon buyers as “charismatic” credits, a term carbon buyers use to describe credits that deliver more than CO2 storage.
Urban forest credits also provide many valuable media opportunities for carbon buyers as the buyers “give back” to their communities and as projects grow over time to transform community parks, schools, neighborhoods, riparian areas, and other urban and suburban sites.
Urban forest projects can also provide equity and environmental justice, if they take place in disadvantaged urban communities where tree cover is often lower than in more affluent neighborhoods.
In sum, the Registry is working to establish a new funding source for urban and community forestry in the United States. There are many challenges in blazing this new trail, but connecting urban forests with carbon buyers is overdue.
Could this effort be used by cities and towns internationally? Yes, and the protocols developed could help jump-start this in other countries. For now, the Registry is working to launch and prove the concept here in the U.S. before devoting resources to international development.
The Registry welcomes your comments on the protocols or any other element of this new effort.
Please go to www.ufregistry.org to download copies of the protocols or learn more about the Urban Forestry Carbon Registry. You can also email Mark McPherson, the director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.