The ‘shop local’ trend in forest carbon markets

Companies that emit carbon may seek to pay for quality carbon credits that come from forests in their backyard.
Forest carbon
Carbon markets

June 19, 2024

To understand how our forests are changing, it’s important to understand who owns and manages them. One of the best resources for this, at least for the largest owners, is Forisk’s list of North America’s Top Timberland Owners and Managers.

Forisk published their 2024 list last month, with familiar names like Weyerhaeuser and JD Irving topping the timberland owners list. Timber investment management organizations like American Forest Management and Manulife/Hancock managed the most acres of timberland.

Timber has and continues to be a priority for the companies that you find on these lists. Increasingly, carbon has become another forest product that is integrated in the management of these forests. For example, last year Weyerhaeuser enrolled 50,000 acres in Maine in a voluntary forest carbon project. Rayonier has produced an excellent carbon report that showcases the amount of carbon stored and sequestered in its timberland, and how forest carbon relates to emissions associated with their business activities.

An interesting company appeared for the first time on Forisk’s list last year: Aurora Sustainable Lands (formerly Anew). Aurora is categorized as a private owner with 1.6 million acres owned primarily in the northern US. Their objectives as a large landowner are vastly different from other companies on the large timberland owner list, with their website mentioning “reducing harvest rates by a minimum of 50 percent from prior ownership’s practices” across their portfolio. Aurora has been in the news for adopting this strategy over the past year, most notably with a local community in New Hampshire raising concerns about the limited harvest practices. The increasing holdings of large landowners like Aurora might be a sign of different management objectives across large forest landowners.

Also last month, Ecosystem Marketplace released their State of the Voluntary Carbon Market, a great summary of the current status and trends in carbon markets. Across all sectors, Ecosystem Marketplace reported a slight decrease in the value for carbon credits. But prices in the Forestry and Land Use category saw increases.

In 2023, credit prices for Improved Forest Management (IFM) and Afforestation-Reforestation and Revegetation (ARR) projects increased. Prices for IFM credits increased from $14.67 to $16.21 from 2022 to 2023 (+11%) and ARR credits increased from $12.05 to $15.74 over the past year (+31%). The total volume of transactions decreased considerably for both project types, with the conclusion that buyers are more focused on quality, not quantity of carbon credits.

Ecosystem Marketplace also reported a tremendous decrease in volume and prices of REDD+ carbon credits, the type of projects often used internationally (especially in Latin America and Asia). These types of projects have continued to see scrutiny in the methods used to inform baselines and aspects such as additionality. The report also mentions a key finding from their survey:

“… many buyers in higher income countries are seeking credits from projects closer to home.”

In short, US companies that emit carbon may seek to pay for quality carbon credits that come from US forests. We might call this the “shop local” trend in forest carbon markets. These trends and the management objectives of large landowners may only become more common in your discussion with forestry colleagues. The producers and manufacturers that rely on procuring timber from forest owners should take note.

By Matt Russell. For more, subscribe to my monthly email newsletter to stay ahead on data and analytics trends in the forest products industry.