On Monday, December 4, the City Council approved a resolution approving an agreement to purchase “carbon offsets” to help Palo Alto maintain its net zero carbon footprint. The City has been working with its sister city, Oaxaca, Mexico on various sustainability issues and during that process learned about a forestry project that produces high-quality carbon offsets managed by the Integrative Organization of Oaxaca Indigenous and Agricultural Communities (ICICO). Carbon offsets are a form of trade to fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. In this case, carbon offsets are generated through monitored and verified increases to forest stock that result in carbon being sequestered in trees rather than released to the atmosphere.
The City will purchase 17,000 tons of carbon offsets from ICICO. Palo Alto’s $136,000 investment is supporting conservation and restoration activities within 5,900 acres of native forest and will neutralize about 10 percent of
the City’s annual emissions from natural gas use. The remaining offsets will be purchased from projects in the U.S. Revenue from the sale of carbon offsets through ICICO’s program also provides multiple co-benefits for the
Oaxacan community including fire protection, tree care, fresh water spring recharge, and transportation and equipment for local schools.
Palo Alto has been providing 100 percent carbon neutral electricity since 2013. In July, the City also began offsetting 100 percent of its natural gas carbon emissions through carbon reducing projects like this one in Mexico. Unlike electricity, which can be generated from carbon free resources, natural gas is a fossil fuel, and therefore the City purchases offsets as a short-term strategy to neutralize greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas use while continuing to pursue a longer-term goal of reducing natural gas emissions through energy efficiency and electrification of natural gas appliances in buildings.
The carbon offsets generated by the Oaxaca forestry project are similar to those contemplated by the Carbon Neutral Natural Gas Plan that was adopted by the City in 2016.The Mexican forestry project protocol was developed by Climate Action Reserve, one of the largest offset registries in North America used by the California Air Resources Board. You can read the full staff here.