Environmental Law and Policy Clinic students draft guide for forest carbon trading

February 8, 2011Duke Law News

Students in Duke Law School's Environmental Law and Policy Clinic have helped their client produce and publish a “how-to” guide for the forest carbon-trading process. Daniel Ribeiro LLM ’09 and Ryan Stoa ’11 worked with client Forest Trends, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting payments for ecosystems services in forest ecosystems, on the development and publication of the guide. Among other contributions, the two drafted a model contract for forest carbon trades.

Professor James Salzman, who has worked with Forest Trends for nine years, explained that demystifying the complex forest carbon-trading process “will hopefully reduce transaction costs and make these types of payments for ecosystem services more common.” Salzman, Duke’s Samuel Fox Mordecai Professor of Law and Nicholas Institute Professor of Environmental Policy, facilitated the partnership between the NGO and the clinic.

“Forest Trends’ basic mission is to promote payments for ecosystem services in forest ecosystems,” Salzman said. “The way that Michael Jenkins, who is the founder of the project describes it is that he wants to make forests worth more standing than cut down. So there’s a question of how do you set up systems, programs, a market that creates new streams of revenue for conservation of forests, for management of forests that still maintain biodiversity and their other attributes. The idea is you can actually get people to pay for services the forest provides like water purification or biodiversity. In this case it is carbon sequestration.”

Among the obstacles to fostering a healthy forest carbon trading market are transaction costs, he said. “Any time there’s a payment arrangement, you need some kind of contract, some kind of understanding. And so the clinic students put together something close to a model contract for getting paid for maintaining forest carbon. It’s really for folks who want to set these things up but don’t want to reinvent the wheel or pay a lot of money for a lawyer. It explains the elements of an agreement, the ways you can structure an agreement, and why these are important decisions.”

Ribeiro and Stoa researched the basis for such an agreement, and worked with the client to fine-tune it before the document was released and presented in December at the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Cancun, Mexico.

“The technical knowledge I gained and experience I got – when you roll up your sleeves and get into that, it really develops skills that you can take away from school and into your practice,” Stoa said. “I got a lot of experience in this area, and it’s a growing area. It’s great for me to be able to cite this project as evidence that I’m knowledgeable about climate change.”

Michelle Nowlin ’92, supervising attorney for the Environmental Law and Policy Clinic, said the students’ work for Forest Trends illustrated the value of clinical work. “This kind of thing is valuable to our clinical students who aren’t necessarily planning to go into environmental law, because it gives them practical skills training in interacting with clients and working on contracts, things that can be valuable regardless of career path. And it’s useful for students hoping to go into environmental work, because these types of skills give them a firm grounding in the law, and helps them build their practice on a solid foundation.”