A first nations group is gearing up to promote and sell carbon offsets from the Great Bear Rainforest, hoping to capitalize on the global cachet of the region while fuelling local economic development.
"It is part of a plan that we have been putting together over the last dozen years," Art Sterritt, executive director of Coastal First Nations, said on Friday. "Because the traditional economy was kind of limping along, we've had to look in all sorts of unusual things and go places where people hadn't been before – and carbon credits was one of them."
The Great Bear Rainforest Project plans to sell carbon offsets provided by trees that sequester, or absorb, carbon. Under the plan, revenue would be split between Coastal First Nations – an umbrella group for aboriginal groups from the north and central coast – and the province, Mr. Sterritt said. The project also involves Offsetters, a private-sector company based in Vancouver that would be the sales agent for the offsets.
The carbon offsets would come from a coastal rainforest that comprises more than 6 million hectares and sweeps from Alaska to the northern end of Vancouver Island. After high-profile anti-logging campaigns, landmark agreements in 2006 and 2009 set aside protected areas and set conservation targets.
It's not known how much income the project would generate. Currently, offsets are selling for about $10 per tonne and the project is expected to generate up to 1 million tonnes of offsets a year. Funds would go to forest management and investment in other ventures such as ecotourism and aquaculture.
"Part of the story is to talk about what we do with it," Mr. Sterritt said. "First nations don't need to hold their hand out to government to make sure they can employ their guardians and their watchmen and their ecotourism operations – they can just make a decision as to how they can spend their money to do that."
Not everyone supports the concept. Bob Simpson, independent MLA for Cariboo North, has doubts about the project's scientific and economic rationale.
"Private-sector money has not bought into the fact that standing forests can be assigned a carbon credit," he said Friday. "To my knowledge, the only dollars to buy this are from Pacific Carbon Trust, and to date, it has not been successful in getting the private sector onside."
Pacific Carbon Trust is a crown corporation that provides carbon offsets for private – and public-sector customers. A PricewaterhouseCooper review last year said the trust's investments had pumped more than $200-million into provincial GDP and created an estimated 2,836 jobs.
The Canadian Taxpayers Federation, however, has called for the agency to be scrapped, saying it drains money from institutions such as schools and health authorities that are required by law to be carbon-neutral and funnels it to corporations to spend on projects that they may have undertaken on their own.
The B.C. Auditor General's Office is currently conducting an audit of B.C.'s "carbon-neutral" government, including the Pacific Carbon Trust.
There is nothing stopping other parties – whether aboriginal groups, private landholders or governments – from pursuing similar projects to the Great Bear Rainforest Project, said James Tansey, CEO of Offsetters.
But rather than seeing such potential startups as competition, he says he would welcome them as a practical way to address climate change and promote healthy communities.
"For marginal agricultural and forestry land in Canada – of which there's a lot – I think we should be thinking about this as part of the way we support community across Canada," he said.
"'If Canada's going to continue to grow its emissions from expanding the oil sands and natural gas, then we should be looking with a huge land base at how we compensate for that across the whole of the land base."