New Research Shows Large-Scale Emissions Reductions Programs Provide Durable Climate Protection

Going big is critical to robustness of reductions across sectors, including forests

August 13, 2021
Raul Arce-Contreras, (240) 480-1545,

In a new article published today in Environmental Research Letters, Environmental Defense Fund and Princeton University researchers show how emissions reductions policies and programs that attain a sufficiently large scale – including large-scale tropical forest protection programs – can drive lasting reductions in carbon dioxide, even if governments and markets change in the future. 

The findings show that achieving emissions reductions over large geographic areas and/or over longer time periods is more important than whether emissions reductions are from fossil fuels or land-based carbon, such as tropical forests. The authors also find rules and procedures for certifying small-scale emissions reductions projects may not make up for lack of scale, and that large national or subnational programs to protect tropical forests provide a model for market-based climate policies more broadly.

“We know living forests are the best technology for getting and keeping carbon out of the atmosphere,” said EDF Senior Director for Tropical Forests and lead author Stephan Schwartzman. “We also know that natural climate solutions are urgently needed to keep warming under 2 degrees Celsius. Now we can see that the scale of actions and policies is critical to ensure that these and other climate solutions are real and lasting.”                             

Key findings from the scientists, economists, academics and policy experts who authored the article are:

  • Environmental integrity of crediting approaches is ensured when the approaches are large in scale – both geographical and length of time. 
  • By scaling up accounting and implementation of an emissions reduction strategy over a larger political jurisdiction – at the state, country or regional level – an emissions reduction is ensured more robust quantification as well as greater assurance of longevity through systemic changes.
  • Large-scale crediting strategies are important to effectively addressing challenges of additionality, leakage and permanence across both fossil and terrestrial mitigation approaches. Leakage happens when an emissions reduction in one place causes emission increases in another; problems of additionality occur when reductions would have happened even without a particular project or program; and permanence issues arise when a reduction at one point in time leads to higher emissions later.  
  • Large, jurisdictional-scale tropical forest credits provide a model for other sectors. The findings help address historical misconceptions over the relative robustness of emissions reductions from fossil versus forest and other natural climate solutions.

The article looks at how Brazil’s reductions in Amazon deforestation from 2004 to 2012 have kept as much as 5.38 gigatons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere – even though efforts to undo environmental regulations have been mounting since 2012 and the current government has aggressively promoted Amazon deforestation and invasions of Indigenous territories. Brazil achieved those reductions through large, jurisdictional-scale efforts to reduce deforestation. 

“Achieving large-scale and long-lived emissions reductions while meeting underlying economic demand, as Brazil did in the Amazon, requires systemic changes,” said EDF Chief Natural Resource Economist  and coauthor Ruben Lubowski. “The debate over the effectiveness of carbon credits has largely ignored the issue of scale as a determinant of quality and systemic change. Ramping up accounting and implementation of climate strategies over large, political jurisdictions – at the country or state level – provides greater assurance that estimated emissions reductions are real and durable. Scale matters not just for tropical forests, where jurisdictional standards exist and have been recognized by the Paris Agreement and major compliance markets, but across other sectors as well.”

The authors recommend decision makers in the public and private sectors:

  • Transition to large-scale crediting strategies in both regulated and voluntary carbon markets and across terrestrial and fossil sources.
  • Enhance transparency over different crediting standards and the use of different types of credits.
  • Provide purchase commitments, price guarantees and complementary finance and capacity development to support implementation of jurisdictional (and nested) emissions reductions across all sectors. 

A new public-private initiative known as LEAF (Lowering Emissions through Accelerated Forest Finance) Coalition aims to further validate the principle that large-scale approaches are important for the integrity of climate action. Donor governments and 10 major corporations are mobilizing an initial $1 billion by the end of this year to halting deforestation in tropical states and countries. More than 30 jurisdictions have answered LEAF’s call for proposals and seek to reduce their deforestation in exchange for compensation for results demonstrated at large scale.

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