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Report: Carbon Storage, Sequestration Value of California’s Native Habitats Overlooked

by Center for Biological Diversity
Offset Programs Over-Credit Developers, Fall Short of Climate Goals
OAKLAND, Calif., July 24, 2023 — The untapped potential of carbon storage and sequestration in different native habitats is too often ignored in California’s land-use decisions, according to a new report published today by the Center for Biological Diversity.

The report, Hidden In Plain Sight, shows that the carbon-storing benefits of trees and forests are often recognized, while the value of shrublands, grasslands, deserts and riparian corridors across the state as important carbon sinks is overlooked. Developers and decisionmakers dismiss these important but dwindling local ecosystems in favor of poorly planned tree-planting schemes and flawed carbon-offset programs that fall short of promised carbon storage gains.

“The record-breaking heat waves are yet another alarm demanding that we take the climate emergency seriously and open our eyes to conservation’s role in limiting warming,” said Tiffany Yap, D.Env/Ph.D., a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity and lead author of the report. “We’re missing opportunities to combat the climate crisis in our own backyard when we pave over intact ecosystems. We have to do more to confront this global emergency now.”

The report highlights that when developments go through California Environmental Quality Act review, officials often ignore or underestimate the carbon storage and sequestration loss caused by habitat destruction. Ill-conceived tree-planting schemes and purchasing ambiguous carbon credits are often proposed to make up for a development’s carbon emissions even though other habitat conservation measures can be more beneficial to the climate.

For example, habitats in arid and semi-arid regions can store significant amounts of carbon and they’re drought resilient. Native grasslands may seem unimpressive above ground, but below ground they can store as much or more carbon as trees.

Since 2013 California’s cap-and-trade program has over-credited developers, corporations and governments an estimated 30 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents — valued at approximately $410 million in 2021 market prices — for unreliable, vague and ineffective carbon-offset schemes.

The report recommends comprehensive and accurate accounting of carbon storage and sequestration loss when approving development projects. Also, mitigation should include preserving California’s diverse habitats instead of ambiguous carbon offsets in areas far from the project or misguided tree-planting programs.

“Protecting California’s dwindling wildlife habitats goes far beyond carbon sequestration. It also protects our state’s rich biodiversity, reduces wildfire risks and offers equitable access to open space,” said Yap. “These commonsense strategies to combat the climate emergency are available right now. We just need our leaders to deploy them.”

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.
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