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Keywords:

  • carbon markets;
  • carbon storage;
  • climate change;
  • forest restoration;
  • monitoring;
  • sustainability

Abstract

The explosive growth of carbon markets is creating unprecedented opportunities for landscape-scale restoration worldwide. Most mandatory and voluntary greenhouse gas reduction programs allow use of carbon offset credits, including biosequestration projects, to replace actual emission reductions. Are the market schemes configured in a way that promotes ecosystem recovery and long-term carbon storage? As importantly, is it likely that these efforts will provide significant social and environmental co-benefits to justify trading offsets rather than actually reducing emissions? 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. A variety of reforms are needed to ensure that biosequestration projects deliver real, additional, and permanent removals of carbon dioxide. In particular, developing and adopting social and environmental impact assessment tools, changing accounting practices to allow for natural disturbances, universal adoption of strong additionality testing, and supporting critical research through tonnage fees could substantially improve what is accomplished through carbon offsets. Given the magnitude and importance of what carbon markets are attempting to achieve, insights from restoration ecologists are urgently needed to help shape their future.