Dec 13, 2022 - News

Atlanta forest carbon credit plan could generate cash

Illustration of an aerial view of treetops in the shape of a dollar sign.

Illustration: Megan Robinson/Axios

Money, you may have heard, doesn’t grow on trees. But trees can turn into money, and maybe, city officials say, curb the effects of climate change.

What’s happening: City Hall wants to add Lake Charlotte Nature Preserve, the 216-acre old-growth forest it purchased in 2020, to a carbon credit program that officials say could generate millions of dollars in revenue to maintain the southeast Atlanta nature preserve.

  • Called a carbon registry, the program issues “credits” that companies can buy to offset their emissions and meet climate goals or mandates.

In the weeds: Trees absorb carbon from the atmosphere, making forests big weapons in the battle against climate change. But they’re constantly threatened by development, logging or industry.

  • Carbon credits create an economic model that many hope will slow greenhouse gas emissions by keeping trees in the ground — and carbon in the trees — and give researchers and the private sector more time for clean energy research and policy change.

Details: Under legislation approved last week by the Atlanta City Council, the city would pay City Forest Credits up to $392,500 total to apply for the program and calculate Lake Charlotte’s carbon offset potential.

The Seattle-based nonprofit works with local governments, land trusts and others to measure how many carbon credits they can sell based on the size and makeup of their urban forests.

  • In June, credits issued by CFC were sold to a blockchain software development company for $1 million, Axios’ Alan Neuhauser reported. That’s four times the sale price of offsets from rural forests.
  • The owners of the forests will use that cash to clean up the wooded areas, restore streams, or, in the case of Richmond, Virginia, engage and educate the public about two African American cemeteries’ histories.

Why it matters: The credits could deliver millions of dollars over the 40-year agreement, John R. Seydel, the city’s deputy chief sustainability officer, told Axios.

  • For Lake Charlotte, that funding could help pay for long-term maintenance costs. If the program works, the model could be used for other new city forests or even the roughly 2,000 tree plantings performed by the city parks department every year.

The other side: Some researchers argue that carbon credits — especially those using large rural forests — can overstate their offset potential.

What’s next: The city has a Jan. 5 deadline to submit the application to CFC.


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