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Nature-Based Benefits in Focus: Let's not lose sight of the forest for the carbon

Published: April 26, 2022 by Editorial Team

The topic of GHG emission reductions versus removals has been a contentious issue of late. Responding to rising demand for removals driven at least in part by the adoption of SBTi emission reductions standards, The American Carbon Registry recently announced that they would allow projects to distinguish between the different credits.

The Climate Trust believes a premium for quality removal credits is critical to financing large-scale reforestation/afforestation and ecosystem restoration projects. However, carbon market participants should be cautious to not lose sight of all that is being accomplished through nature-based projects that produce primarily emission reduction credits.

In a carbon market where removals are valued far above reductions, project financing would likely flow primarily to reforestation, afforestation, restoration and tech-based solutions. While this sounds well and good, one of the biggest successes of carbon markets to date has been the legal conservation of relatively mature forest systems that are only now recovering from generations of degradation from mining, aggressive logging, and clearing for agriculture.

Today’s reductions are tomorrow’s removals

Healthy, diverse, and legally protected forests will continue to grow and thus remove and store carbon from the atmosphere for decades, and in some cases, centuries to come. These forests are also critical to providing social and ecological climate resilience by providing wildlife habitat, clean water, and vital open space and natural areas. Preserving and restoring these areas can provide benefits that young, newly planted forests will require decades, and in some cases centuries, to achieve. In addition to the ecological and social co-benefits of mature forests, studies have shown atmospheric emissions to be asymmetrical – to quote the author, “additional CO2 removal is required to compensate for an emission if the atmospheric CO2 concentration is to remain unchanged. In other words, balancing a CO2 emission with a CO2 removal of the same size would result in higher atmospheric CO2 than avoiding the CO2 emission in the first place(2).

It is not difficult to envision a dystopian world where we have balanced the terrestrial/atmospheric carbon equation but are left with nothing but plantation forests and direct air capture machines.

Established forests remain the most cost-effective way to remove and store carbon from the atmosphere. Healthy and diverse forests provide a relatively stable carbon store in the face of increasing threats from climate change impacts.

Carbon markets must be careful not to take a myopic view of carbon and lose sight the world we want to live in, i.e., let’s not lose sight of the forest for the carbon.


News + Resources

1.Avoidance and removal of carbon emissions: the big misunderstanding, Renat Heuberger,
2. Why CO2 removal is not equal and opposite to reducing emissions,Prof Kirsten Zickfeld,