Carbon Offsets as Ecological Restorations

Galatowitsch, S. M. 2009. Carbon Offsets as Ecological Restorations. Restoration Ecology 17:563-570.
“Compared with social scientists working in sustainable development, restoration ecologists have not offered much advice on the way carbon markets could be configured to support lasting restorations. Under current standards, the market price is likely governing the quality of restorations, not the reverse.
Next year, via legal authority derived from the Clean Air Act Amendments (passed by Bush I), the USEPA will begin to regulate carbon dioxide as a harmful pollutant. Whether and/or how this legal enforcement will result in a US based carbon market is still very much in question. But what is not in question is whether a US carbon market will eventually appear. Restoration fits into the carbon markets through carbon offsets, and the amount of carbon emissions that can be offset varies depending on the emissions trading scheme. The legitimation of biosequestration as an offset mechanism, for example in the Kyoto CDM or the EU ETS, is creating the conditions for large-scale restoration by providing the financing needed to undertake these large projects. But what is the ecologist’s role in these offset markets? Galatowitsch (2009) urgently and forcefully argues that restoration ecologists must engage public policy and help shape the future of these markets. She suggests that ecologists must provide leadership in 1) evaluating “whether current market practices in place are likely to result in ecological restorations capable of carbon offset”, 2) “determine standards for guiding selection, design, implementation, and monitoring,” and I think most importantly, 3) to “advocate for changes needed to ensure restoration produces genuine offsets and vice versa.” Carbon markets are moving forward at an exponential rate, and public policy has surpassed the ecological knowledge needed to support it, therefore “restoration ecologists have an obligation to be a voice in fast-changing, interdisciplinary milieu of carbon trading.” As it currently looks, finance capital plays a hegemonic role in shaping the quality and selection of restoration projects as well as the discourse around carbon markets. (Restoration) Ecology must serve as a counterweight to finance capital and ensure that these markets actually accomplish what they are supposed to do.

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