Great Bear Rainforest offsets key to AMS carbon neutrality announcement

The AMS greeted the new year by announcing net carbon neutrality, fulfilling its pledge to achieve net zero carbon emissions three years before its 2025 deadline.

Key to doing so was the purchase of carbon offsets from the Great Bear Rainforest Carbon Project, which reduces global greenhouse gas (GHG) levels by protecting lands that would otherwise be logged on the territories of its member nations, including Wuikinuxv, Heiltsuk, Kitasoo/Xai’xais, Nuxalk, Gitga’at, Gitxaala, Metlakatla, Old Massett, Skidegate and the council of the Haida Nation. The project also replants trees in deforested areas and plants in areas that have never been logged.

AMS VP Administration Lauren Benson said the AMS was able to achieve carbon neutrality “much quicker than expected” due to the work of its Sustainability Committee and the team at Ostrom Climate, an organization that manages the marketing and selling of carbon credits from initiatives such as the Great Bear Rainforest Carbon Project.

Carbon offsetting often comes under fire because it can allow entities to buy offsets and claim carbon neutrality while their emissions continue to rise.

This is not the case with the AMS, which has seen emissions fall since the announcement of its sustainable action plan in 2020. According to Benson, the AMS has no intention of allowing emissions to stabilize and relying on offsets to maintain neutrality.

“While we are offsetting our carbon emissions, we’re also looking to continue to decrease them every year,” Benson said. “[While] offsetting isn’t enough, it’s a step in the right direction.”

There are three key aspects to look at when assessing a good carbon offset: additionality, permanence and traceability.

Additionality refers to if the carbon would be emitted if the offset was not bought. According to Paul Kariya, the senior policy advisor at Coastal First Nations, the Great Bear Rainforest Carbon Project is assessed for additionality by independent foresters to the BC Carbon Forest Standard.

Permanence refers to the likelihood of the carbon being emitted in the future. Kariya stressed that the forests involved in offsetting emissions are overseen and managed by First Nations surveyors known as the Guardian Watchman, whom Kariya referred to as “the eyes and ears of the member nations.”

Funding for the watchman comes from the sale of carbon credits. Sixty-five per cent of funds from these credits go to the stewardship of the ecosystems involved, with the remaining 35 per cent going to First Nations to use as they see fit.

An offset’s traceability ensures two buyers could not purchase the same offset — rendering the two buyers’ combined emissions no longer net-zero.

Kariya said the offsets are mapped geographically, and that the AMS’s investment is traceable “to a broad sub region” but that he “couldn’t point to a [specific] tract of land.”

The Great Bear Rainforest Carbon Project’s website specifies the Nations reserve the right of who to sell to and “can choose not to sell to companies that are investing in the Alberta tar sands or attempting to ship tankers through the coastal waters of the Great Bear Rainforest.”

Kariya said that the project has “been approached by some of the companies in mining and oil and gas” and while they have not made a sale to those companies yet, “a dialogue persists.”

To Kariya, the choices made in selling carbon credits are “built upon both traditional considerations and teachings, but also the best of modern science.”

Benson expressed pride in the AMS’s involvement with the Great Bear Rainforest Carbon Project. “It's made for sustainable development, reconciliation [and] improving relationships with indigenous communities.”

Benson said it’s important for students to educate themselves on carbon offsetting, as if you’re not well-educated on it, it can seem like “a perfect solution.”

“Especially since that's often how it's marketed to us through media through companies and advertisers … being educated on carbon emissions ... is a responsibility especially on the trajectory we're headed.”