Some Observations on Measurement

The evolution of ecosystem service markets is dependent upon the ability to accurately measure.

In order to measure, a number of other issues become important. Scale, for example, is relevant to the level of precision. Temporal issues need to be considered because of the ‘changes’ that occur over time with what you are measuring.  In essence, any measurement is a function of a number of physical and chemical condtiona and properties.

Thanks to computers (and the people that concieved of and built them), we are able to model many of those spatial and temporal effects and can ‘measure.’ 

We’ve recently been involved in a number of issues with regional land surveyors. It would seem that with the advent of very high accuracy GPS, GIS, and database systems we would be able to make stable high accuracy ground measurements. Once those measurements are made, we would only need to remeasure if the physical conditions related to the measurements changed. Well, as it works out, the professional of land surveying rest on the fundamental premise that the ‘measurer’ is the standard for measurement …..not the physical measure itself.

I can understand that the history of land surveying is based upon judgements from previous physical descriptions of the land (‘twenty-seven steps east to maple tree’). In that historical context, the standard for measurement WAS the ‘measurer’s interpretation. Today, GPS, with proper control standards, allows the tool to be the standard, and that tool is more accurate than other human measuring methods.

All of this silly talk is merely to say that, as we are better able to measure and quantify environmental conditions and ecosystem services, we also need to be aware of existing historical standards and practices and be willing to ‘update’ those policies as we improve the environment by properly valuing it.

A Greenpeace Scientist on Forest Carbon Offsets

From the Macau Times:

Including forest protection measures in carbon markets would cause carbon prices to crash, and could undo efforts to rein in global warming, according to a Greenpeace report released earlier in the week.
Prices in a future carbon market would plummet by 75 percent, making it cheaper for industries in rich nations to buy deforestation offsets than reduce their carbon output at home, a study commissioned by the green group found.
It would also starve developing countries of investments for clean and renewable technologies, said the report, released on the margins of climate talks under the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change.
“Cheap forest credits sound attractive, but a closer examination shows they are a dangerous option that won’t save the forests or stop runaway climate change,” said Roman Czebiniak, a forest expert at Greenpeace International.
Negotiators from 175 nations have gathered here to hammer out a climate treaty – slated for completion by year’s end – to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which runs out in 2012.
Finding a way to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation in developing countries – an effort known as REDD – has emerged as a key element in the negotiations.
The continuing destruction of tropical forests accounts for 20 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, and it will be virtually impossible to curb global warming unless forests are protected, scientists say.
Brazil and Indonesia each account for about one third of forest-related emissions, making them the world’s top carbon polluters after China and the United States.
“There is broad consensus now that the post-2012 agreement will include some sort of incentives for tropical countries to reduce their deforestation,” said Steve Schwartzman, a forests expert at Environmental Defense, an advocacy group based in Washington D.C.
But sharp differences remain on whether these aims are best achieved primarily through market mechanisms, including a future global carbon market, or varvious forms of public funding and grants.
“Forests are the wild card in these negotiations – it could be used to bring us closer to our goals, or to water them down,” said Czebiniak.
Currently, the largest functioning carbon market operates within the European Union. The market has proven fragile, and has been hit hard by the economic crisis and the drop in oil prices.
The Greenpeace report argues that flooding carbon markets with offsets would devalue carbon even further, and make it too easy for the industrialised world to avoid making necessary energy reductions.
“Of the many options for forest financing currently on the table, this one ranks as the worst,” said Czebiniak.