March 2, 2021
From deforestation to global warming, the mark made by humankind on the planet has not always been a kind one. Only in recent years have we truly begun to come to terms with the problems created by human activity. Because of the wicked problems we face, there is no quick fix, no ‘one size fits all’ solution. Moreover, we must be mindful of more than just carbon if we are to continue inhabiting our planet as we have done in the past.
This is where forestry projects fit in. They can help to mitigate a range of problems faced by both people and the planet. Secure incomes can be created, old ecosystems can be restored and carbon can be captured. By working with nature-based solutions, we have the potential to simultaneously tackle many interlocking issues.
Below is a three-part rationale for how forestry projects have the potential to benefit people and the planet and how this process works.
Part 1 – The Planet
Research from Stockholm University identified Planetary Boundaries, limits to the earth’s systems that should not be crossed. These boundaries include land-system change, biodiversity loss and climate change alongside 6 others. We have so far overstepped the limits of biodiversity loss, meaning that the number of species that have become extinct is at a dangerous level. We are also close to transgressing the safe boundaries of land-system change and climate change. There is an urgent need to address these issues now before irreversible tipping points are reached. One way to help mitigate these issues is through the adoption of holistic tree planting projects.
The deforestation of tropical rainforests is a key driver of global biodiversity loss, to preserve biodiversity, we must protect the forest. Reforestation projects that use a diverse set of native tree species can help to restore lost ecosystems back to their former strength. In time, animals will return to their natural ecosystems, endangered species will have a home once more and their endangered status can become a thing of the past.
While the newly planted trees grow into a diverse forest ecosystem, they also sequester CO2 from the atmosphere, hence bolstering climate change mitigation. While the trees are absorbing CO2, their roots are preventing soil erosion, their shade permits other species to thrive and their berries provide food for small mammals and birds. From seed to tree, forests can be restored.
Part 2 – The People
Reforestation projects also have the potential to support the livelihoods of local people. By investing in carbon offsets through forestry, local people can get a secure income, communities can have reliable electricity and children can go to school. In 2015, the United Nations set out 17 Sustainable Development Goals, with the aim to accelerate the improvement of human life and planetary health by 2030. These goals include no poverty, zero hunger and responsible consumption and production. But all 19 of these SDGs can be helped along, at least in some capacity, by well thought out forestry projects involving local people.
One example of this is the Bujang Raba project in Sumatra, which has helped to protect primary rainforest from the pressures of palm oil agriculture, while also giving food security and a source of income to local people. While, in the Khasi Hills of India, reforestation projects are helping to create microfinance opportunities for local women, securing their traditional way of life and supporting local decision making.
Part 3 – The Process
Paying for carbon offsets is one way for companies to be part of this process, offsetting their carbon while also promoting the co-benefits described above. Without businesses investing in offsets, these ecosystems may never be restored and potentially millions of people would not be granted life-changing opportunities.
The co-benefits go a way to explain the difference in price for different forestry-based carbon offsetting projects. Simple ‘tree planting’ schemes can sequester carbon, but they do not support ecosystems or local people. In some cases, they have been detrimental to biodiversity and neighbouring communities. When paying a premium price for carbon offsets that are certified by Plan Vivo, that certification guarantees the empowerment of local people and the protection of biodiversity. It also means that trees are not just planted, they are nurtured and supported until they become part of the forest ecosystem.
Despite the excellent co-benefits associated with holistic forestry offsets, the best business practice is still to avoid emissions entirely. However, many businesses are burdened with some emissions that are outside of their control. After changing supplier, courier and energy provider offsetting residual emissions is the optimum solution. And when choosing how to offset, it is important to remember, it’s about more than just carbon.
Ashley Farber, ZeroMission intern