A green Paper on Jamaica's forestry indicates that the state-run Forestry Department is considering offering the private sector carbon offsets in exchange for their support of a national initiative to improve forest reserves.
The Forestry Department, an executive agency falling under the Ministry of Water, Land, Environment and Climate Change, said it is ready to pursue programmes, projects and policies aimed at preserving and protecting forest cover, but needs buy-in from landowners who control the majority of forested lands.
The Green Paper, which should lead to a refinement of the forest policy after public input, says an existing and emerging markets for carbon offsets can "help create incentives for landowners to engage in land management practices that increase forest carbon sequestration and storage capacity".
Carbon offsets are used to compensate for greenhouse gas emissions production in place of reducing emissions. It allows the emitters of carbon to offset their carbon footprints through the purchase of carbon credits in tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).
The Kyoto Protocol has sanctioned offsets as a way for governments and private companies to earn carbon credits that can be traded on a marketplace.
Offsets are gained through support of projects that reduce the emission of greenhouse gases in the short or long term. The most common project type is renewable energy. Others include energy-efficiency projects and forestry projects.
Keith Porter, principal director of Forest Operations at the Forestry Department, said carbon offsets was proposed as one element of a national carbon policy being developed by the Ministry of Science, Technology, Energy and Mining under a broader climate management programme.
"The principle of it is that there must be a precise area under forest which is assessed for biomass and for carbon stored," he said. If the landowner qualifies, the asset becomes tradable.
Credits are tradable on the global market, including the European Union, but Porter said that a local registry would first have to be established for carbon offsets.
Most of Jamaica's local forests, almost two-thirds, are privately owned.
"The forest cover of Jamaica is 40 per cent, and of that cover, two-thirds is owned by private landowners. We would like to keep all 40 per cent but legally all we have is one-third. We are working with private landowners to keep all or a portion of it forested," he said.
Currently, landowners can claim remission of property taxes paid each year when the department does it assessment and certifies that the forest cover remains in place.
About 335,915 hectares of Jamaica's land mass has been classified as forests, but coverage is diminishing. The Forestry Department estimates that Jamaica loses approximately 350 hectares of forests every year.
Said the Green Paper: "Private owners of forest lands can contribute to the stewardship of forest resources on the island but it is recognised that without deliberate action, the quantity and quality of forest cover on private lands will decline."
The aim, therefore, is to develop "appropriate incentives" to encourage private landowners to retain standing forests; engage in reforestation practices; and prevent soil erosion.
Incentives already exist for private landowners to obtain property-tax relief on an annual basis by declaring their land a forest reserve under the Forest Act, which is then governed by and subject to a forest management plan.
The last national forestry plan of 2001 identified 69,244 hectares of forested or partially forested land with reforestation potential, only 2,190 hectares of which were within government-owned forest reserves.
"It is recognised that a radical shift is only possible if incentives meet the needs of private landowners, who may have divergent interests based on the size of lands owned, tax structures affecting landowners, and their individual future needs," the new Green Paper states.