The Case for Forest Carbon Offsets
Restoring Forests as a Solution to Climate Change
Imagine yourself in a forest. The trees rise above you, the birds chatter around you, and the sunlight filters through the leaves. Maybe you take a deep breath of clear forest air.
As you breathe out, the trees and plants around you take in the carbon dioxide and use it to build their leaves, branches, trunk, and roots. The trees store carbon in their biomass, effectively removing it from the atmosphere. Every day, the trees remove CO2 from the atmosphere. Every day, forests capture and lock away carbon that otherwise would be in the air.
Carbon dioxide is increasing in the earth’s atmosphere. CO2 is a key gas driving climate change, one of the biggest challenges of our generation, leading to erratic weather and instability. Global CO2 emissions are continuing to increase each year. Restoring forests draws CO2 out of the atmosphere, directly impacting climate change and its effects.
As climate change continues to deepen, everyone is responsible for their CO2 emissions. Leading companies and organizations are pledging to become carbon neutral, meaning zero net CO2 emissions, and are voluntarily purchasing carbon offsets. Forest carbon offsets are a cost effective way to reach carbon neutrality goals. Restoring forests offsets CO2 emissions while supporting biodiversity and helping communities thrive.
Forests carbon offsets are one of the most effective solutions to climate change.
Forests Capture Carbon
Trees capture CO2 from the atmosphere and store the carbon in their biomass. Trees and plants use CO2 and water along with sunlight during photosynthesis to produce sugars and oxygen. As the tree grows, it uses the sugars containing the carbon to build its biomass. Trees capture, or sequester, carbon during their life cycle, processing more CO2 each year the tree is alive. By weight, 3.67 pounds of CO2 from the air becomes one pound of carbon in a tree’s biomass. A mature sycamore stores about one ton of carbon in its form both above ground and below ground.
If one tree captures about one ton of carbon, forests around the world capture trillions of tons of carbon, taking immense amounts of CO2 out of the atmosphere. Healthy forests are considered carbon sinks because they remove carbon from the atmosphere long-term. When forests are cut or burned, the CO2 is released back into the atmosphere in one quick burst.
Carbon storage capacity varies from tree to tree and forest to forest. Trees cover about 30% of land mass, about half of what was once covered in forest, and there are about three trillion individual trees across the globe. Forested land is typically considered land with at least 10% canopy cover that is not used for other purposes like agriculture. Dense tropical forests sequester more carbon than any other type of forest, and they are also currently the most heavily deforested.
Deforestation has increased significantly in the last century and continues every day. In 2018, the planet lost 3.6 million hectares of primary tropical forests, or an area about the size of Belgium. Many more millions of hectares of forests are lost each year. South America, Africa, and Southeast Asia are the most heavily deforested areas. Forest carbon credits can help avoid deforestation and restore degraded forests.
How Forest Carbon Credits Work
While the first step is always to reduce CO2 emissions as much as possible, companies and individuals who emit CO2 can purchase carbon offsets to balance their emissions. Offsets are still an emerging market, which received global support with most countries passing the 2015 UN Paris Climate Agreement to limit the sources of climate change. Forest carbon offsets are one of the most climate effective options for organizations looking to offset remaining emissions.
Carbon offsets are either required by governmental regulations or they are voluntary for companies and individuals who care about climate change. Some countries and states, like California, are legislating carbon emissions and operate their own markets. In the voluntary markets, companies and individuals purchase carbon offsets from projects designed to balance the excess CO2 emitted. Restoring forests, when properly verified and monitored, is one of the best options for carbon offsets.
Forest landowners develop projects to protect or restore their forests, which must be verified by certified registries regulated by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Some forest carbon projects are part of the UN’s Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) program. Projects must undergo a thorough certification process to enter the carbon credits market:
- Tree’s biomass is measured to determine the storage capacity of the forest above a baseline level.
- The project is issued carbon credits verified by the registries. (One carbon credit is equal to one metric ton of CO2 or an equivalent amount of other gases.)
- The carbon credits are sold to those looking for offsets and the project is responsible for the approved work.
In addition to traditional verification techniques, today is possible to do remote sensing verification and monitoring. Pachama uses machine learning models to analyze satellite images and determine carbon storage in forests with a high degree of accuracy, allowing for real-time monitoring of the projects. Our customers can remotely monitor their chosen projects to confirm and track the restoration of the forest.
Forest carbon offset projects either work to avoid deforestation, to manage forests more sustainably, or to restore degraded land to forest. Avoiding deforestation is one of the best ways to keep carbon in the forest because preserving existing forests also preserves biodiversity and the livelihood of the local community. Reforestation projects also sequester carbon and allow new forest ecosystems to grow, and new research is showing restored forests could sequester more carbon than older forests. The best projects work directly with local people to restore the forest.
Forest carbon offset projects must prove that they are:
- Net carbon negative, either preserving forest land that would have otherwise been deforested or restoring forest that otherwise would have been left degraded (Additionality),
- Not displacing deforestation to another location (Leakage), and
- Creating forested land that will remain into the future keeping the carbon stored for the long term (Permanence).
Pachama works with the top certification organizations that have strict methodologies and protocols for carbon credits issuance including American Carbon Registry, Climate Action Reserve, Verified Carbon Standard, and Gold Standard. We list and give access to the highest quality forest carbon offset projects certified by these organizations.
Companies on the leading edge of corporate climate initiatives are setting goals to become carbon neutral. Companies across industries like Google, Apple, Disney, Maersk, Bosch, Lyft, Stripe, and Patagonia are making a commitment to carbon neutrality and getting ahead of regulations. Forest carbon offsets are a key piece of a carbon neutral strategy.
Global Forest Potential
Significant land is available globally for forest offset projects. Recent research shows that there is the potential for 0.9 billion hectares of new forest land around the globe, an area about the size of the United States. This new forest represents the possibility to sequester 205 billion tons of carbon. Russia, the US, Canada, Australia, Brazil, and China have the most available land for planting new trees. Research from 2014 shows there are up to 2 billion hectares of existing forest land that is degraded and can be restored.
There is potential around the globe for forest restoration and planting, and forests are a vetted solution to climate change. Forest carbon credits are a way for CO2 emitters to do their part in a changing climate. Pachama’s tech verifies the credits and monitors the forests over time to keep the trees in the ground.
More than Just Trees
Forests are more than just the trees. They are living, thriving communities of plants, animals, and people. Forest is the word for home to many. Forests affect air and water movement on large scales. The Amazon rainforest pumps water across the continent, what has been called “flying rivers”. The trees support other plants, fungi, insects, birds, and bigger animals. The forest ecosystem is a center for biodiversity, including endangered animal species, like the jaguar and sloth, and endangered plant species, like the orchid.
Restoring forests preserves critical biodiversity around the world.
More than 1.6 billion people depend on the forests for their livelihoods. For many indigenous cultures, the forest is ancestral homeland and the center of life. The UN notes forests as critical for many of its sustainable development goals including clean air and water, reducing poverty, and empowering women and girls. Humans around the globe are dependent on forests and trees for food, medicines, and a surprising number of products from baseball bats to toothpaste. Forests are important for human health and well-being, and a walk in the woods has been proven to reduce stress.
For some people, the forest is just a place to visit, enjoy, and then head home. But the forest is so much more. Every tree in the forest is using CO2 to build roots, wood, and branches as it grows. The carbon is stored in the tree during its lifetime, removing the CO2 from the atmosphere and reversing climate change. Every breath is interconnected with the trees nearby and with forests globally.
Climate change is happening now. Companies and individuals are responsible for their emissions. Forest carbon offsets restore forests and represent the most effective way to take action today.