New Research Shows Over Half of Land Within CARB’s Carbon Offset Program at Risk of Catching Fire

Published May 13, 2024


Climate and Energy

Moments ago environmental organization Food & Water Watch released a new report detailing a fatal flaw in California’s carbon offset program: over half of the country’s forests that are set aside to make up for fossil fuel and other corporations’ climate pollution are at risk of literally going up in smoke. This new research bolsters what climate and environmental justice advocates have been saying for years: carbon offset markets are climate scams that benefit polluters and other industry players at the expense of our climate and our communities. 

Key findings include: 

  • Over half of all land within the California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) forest offset program is located on moderate to very high wildfire hazard potential land — amounting to nearly 3 million acres. Nearly 30 percent (over 1.7 million acres) is on high or very high wildfire risk land. 
  • If the CARB forests on high / very high land were lost in wildfire, they could release more than 51 million metric tons of carbon — equivalent to the yearly emissions of over 11 million cars. 
  • This 51 million metric ton loss would more than deplete CARB’s entire 2021 credit “buffer pool” set aside for losses from wildfires and other risks, leaving a deficit of over 20 million credits (or 20 million metric tons of carbon). 

CARB’s Compliance Offset Program is nothing more than an elaborate accounting trick that allows the fossil fuel industry and other corporations to pollute more. Essentially, CARB sells credits generated from projects that plant trees, preserve forests and capture methane to polluters who can purchase the credits to avoid having to reduce their emissions. However, by design these offset markets preserve carbon stored in forests for only 100 years while the consequences of fossil fuel emissions in our atmosphere are effectively permanent.

Programs like this do nothing to actually reduce carbon emissions from these polluters and can even lead to additional emissions as it gives license for these operations to simply buy credits instead of making real efforts to lower emissions. And, if these forests were to catch fire, they could release a devastating amount of carbon into our atmosphere.

Said Chirag Bhakta, California Director of Food & Water Watch, “As we face a looming wildfire season, amidst years of unpredictable and extreme weather fueled by climate change, one thing stands firm in my mind: we must stop investing in these false, market-based solutions that end up actually causing more harm than good. CARB’s carbon offset program incentivizes polluters to keep polluting, sometimes at even higher rates than before, and disproportionately affects already burdened communities living on the frontlines of the climate crisis.  

“Over the past few years, the American West has experienced some of its worst wildfire seasons on record thanks to climate change, loss of insurance due in part to wildfires, and the risk of wildfires is only expected to increase in the coming decades. We don’t have time to waste on so-called solutions, especially ones that at best are temporary and at worst completely fail to realize their claims of offsetting pollution. CARB and Governor Newsom must take on the polluters head on that are ultimately largely responsible for our climate crisis in the first place.” 

Press Contact: Madeline Bove [email protected]