Uncertainty in Science and Policy: Calculating the Net

June 16, 2012

As the United States considers a carbon-limited economy through a cap-and-trade regime, carbon offsets generated in forestry-based projects are likely to play a large role in both the policy developed as well as the eventual market itself. While it is generally understood that offsets must be quantifiable and accountable, coming up with reliable values in the forestry setting is challenging at best. There is great scientific uncertainty involved in calculating the net benefit for the climate from any given project, due to the variety and quantity of inputs and outputs of carbon in a managed ecosystem. Even more uncertainty exists due to the lack of a national standard for forestry-based offsets.  Policymakers and practitioners must be aware of the complexity of these offsets projects in order to put in place a reliable framework and to properly operate within forestry offsets regulations.