Forests are essential to human survival: They filter our air and water, keep carbon out of the atmosphere and even provide us with life-saving prescription medicines.
Despite all of these benefits, humans have already destroyed almost half of the world’s forests.
But there’s good news: Companies, communities and governments are stepping up to conserve existing forests and restore the ones we’ve already cut down. Here are three recent stories showcasing solutions for forest conservation.
REDD+ is a United Nations-backed framework that aims to curb climate change by stopping the destruction of forests. REDD stands for “Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation”; the “+” signifies the role of conservation, sustainable management of forests and enhancement of forest carbon stocks.
REDD+ helps countries value the carbon and ecosystem services their forests provide, and create financial incentives to reduce deforestation (when forests are converted to other uses, such as agriculture); reduce degradation (when forests lose their ability to provide ecosystems services); and promote sustainable management (ensuring social, ecological and economic benefits for future generations).
Put simply, REDD+ is the framework through which countries, the private sector, multilateral funds and others can pay countries to not cut down their forests. For example, REDD+ could be used by the world’s airlines as a way to offset those emissions. REDD+ could be an option for the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the UN body that governs airlines and which is currently working out a plan to cut emissions across the sector.
The current levels of multilateral, bilateral and civil society funding are inadequate to protect the world’s forests and achieve the targets set out in the Paris Agreement. Only 3% of public funding for climate change goes to natural climate solutions. Greater private finance is needed.
There has been a growing interest from companies. According to Forest Trends an estimated $430 million has been invested by the private sector in REDD+ projects. Adam Schoenberg, Senior Director, Corporate Partnerships at Conservation International, explained: “In previous years, interest has stemmed from voluntary carbon neutral goals. It’s shifted in the last year to 18 months (post-Paris) to looking at natural climate solutions as more of an investment. It’s exciting that companies are now coming to us and asking questions about how to sustainably finance REDD+ and other natural climate solutions.”
Emission reductions generated via REDD+ projects and other natural climate solutions present significant opportunities for immediate action that support companies’ sustainability commitments while also helping to achieve the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. It’s in companies’ best interest to step forward in supporting forest conservation, biodiversity, local communities and the climate.
Carbon credits are not a silver bullet. They are just one of the ways to generate financing to protect nature and enhance its ability to regulate the climate. And scrutiny of forest carbon credit programs is a good thing. The worst thing we can do is to throw good money after bad, to waste the limited time we have to try to build something that fails.
A recent ProPublica article spoke well to the daunting challenges and complexity that such initiatives face: How can we prevent “leakage” (the displacement of deforestation from one place to another)? How do we ensure that emissions credits don’t simply allow polluters to continue polluting? How do we assure “permanence” (the durability of protections for forests) and “additionality” (that the emissions cuts would not have occurred without the carbon credits)? And not least: How do we pay for all of this?
These are all challenges that can be solved. To use past failures to meet these challenges as reason for condemning all carbon credit programs to failure is not only wrong; given the brief timeframe that humanity has to prevent runaway climate change, it’s dangerous. Going forward, all forest carbon credits traded internationally will need to meet requirements agreed under the U.N., including use of a national baseline against which deforestation rates are measured to ensure that emissions are being avoided; a national forest monitoring system so that changes against that baseline can be accurately measured; a national strategy for avoiding leakage; and adherence to safeguards that ensure permanence and documented participation of local stakeholders, including indigenous peoples.