Fine Richmond for damaging the carbon sink?

A message from a Friend of Garden City asks, “How much should the City of Richmond have to pay for the carbon sink damage to the Garden City Lands?”

I first thought the suggestion was fines, but it may be about buying carbon credits to make up for damage. In any case, I sent this reply, including some review of basics so that it could double as a blog post. 

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When the City of Richmond signed the B.C. Climate Action Charter, it committed to be carbon neutral by 2012. There are never fines under the charter, but the city’s inaction on the Garden City Lands since it obtained the title 31 months ago would be bad for the goal. Here’s why.

Since they’re mostly peat bog, the Garden City Lands are a carbon sink, as you know. That’s often good, but only when there’s more carbon going into the sink than coming out. In this case, the reverse is more likely: too much carbon being emitted in greenhouse gas.

Turn down the pH in here!The crux of the problem is that the total area of living sphagnum is small, threatened, and neglected except for the annual mowing. I’ve seen an email exchange from last year that reveals a lot: a respected leader of a respected organization followed the proper protocol to seek permission for a crew under expert direction to do a cleanup of a particular invasive species problem that is the biggest threat to the Garden City sphagnum bog; however, that request was turned down by the city authority because a study had not yet been done. (That’s like refusing to treat a patient in order to do studies that will show how she has died. I’m told it’s just how city hall works, but surely someone can do something to change it.)

In any event, most of the bog is just peat. In other words, it’s non-living sphagnum that doesn’t capture carbon. It only stores carbon, losing a little to the atmosphere each year. The bog/sink is probably sending out more greenhouse gas from its stored carbon than it takes in.

That can be reversed. The bog will take in more greenhouse gases if living sphagnum is restored or regenerated on a significant area. As one of the many good effects, Richmond would be acting responsibly under the B.C. Climate Action Charter.

More important, it would be conserving one of our greatest legacies from Richmond Past for today’s community and the generations to come “our children’s children.” That would be a sphagnum bog ecosystem, restored to health, in the city centre. As far as I can find out, that would be truly unique—the only one in the world. On top of that, it would be a river-delta sphagnum bog with a particularly rich geological/botanical history.

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