Diversification is Key on the Path to Net-Zero Carbon
With limited time and numerous scenarios available to mitigate climate change, how does the global community best achieve its goal of net-zero carbon? Or, in other words: should we be prioritizing any one approach over another?
There are multiple methods available for dealing with humanity’s carbon problem, the majority falling into the categories of avoidance, reduction and removals (sequestration). As we race against rising temperatures, a debate has surfaced about whether we should be more focused on one category of projects over another.
There is no question that we need to increase the world’s carbon removal potential. Carbon dioxide is the leading culprit when it comes to the greenhouse gases (GHG) affecting our climate. There is also a feeling of action that goes hand in hand with removal projects. It’s a comforting feeling knowing that we are solving the problem and reversing the damage from human activities such as the use of fossil fuels. Consider, for example, our nature-based options and how it feels to be planting millions of trees in order to reforest thousands of hectares, compared to simply protecting an existing forest from logging.
Tree planting makes sense because although carbon emissions have become a problem for humans, carbon is a crucial resource for trees. Trees pull carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere, after which they bind it up in sugar in order to grow, and then release oxygen as a by-product.
Removal options, such as reforestation (replanting trees in a forest where the number of trees has been decreasing) and afforestation (new trees are planted in an area where there were no trees before) are powerful options. In fact, research has indicated that should an additional 900 million hectares be forested worldwide, those trees could store around 200 billion tonnes of carbon at maturity. This would have the potential to store a whopping 25% of the current atmospheric carbon pool.i
However, avoidance projects will also be key to the world reaching its temperature goals. Let’s again take a look at the role of trees as part of the world’s carbon cycle. Young trees grow rapidly, removing much more carbon dioxide each year from the atmosphere than an older forest covering the same area, however, mature trees have accumulated more carbon. If you end up cutting down an existing forest then you’re releasing all of the stored carbon built up over the years, as well as losing its future sequestration potential.
Reforestation and afforestation (i.e. removal) are critical tools in the fight against climate change, however, they cannot initially compete with preventing deforestation (i.e. avoidance).
- Slow starters. New trees are very small and do not capture or store much carbon during their first few years.
- Vulnerable. Unlike mature forests, young trees are not resilient, and are thus far more susceptible to disease and natural disasters.
- No ecosystem. Reforestation simply produces a collection of trees, not a forest ecosystem and it takes decades for biodiversity to form. This is why studies indicate that planted forests that do succeed in reaching maturity may never store as much carbon as existing forests.
In addition, studies have shown that tropical forest loss accounts for 8% of global annual carbon emissions. If tropical deforestation were a country, it would be the world’s third-biggest emitter, behind China and the United States.ii There’s no point in planting new forests if we’re not protecting the ones that we have now.
Answering Any Question of Prioritization
As with all things climate related, there are levels of complexity involved in avoiding, reducing and removing GHG emissions and often, these initiatives are at their most effective when integrated with one another. Any question on prioritization is, in fact, quite easy to answer.
Avoidance projects that protect land and marine forests, as well as other critical biospheres, are sequestering carbon today. These projects ensure that our existing climate projection remains intact. Removal projects, such as reforestation, take time to deploy and reach full effectiveness and will deliver the vital additional sequestration that we will need in the future so that we can reach net-zero carbon by 2050.
In other words, the global community needs both avoidance and removals projects, which essentially translates into the need for a diversified approach.
It is for this reason that Carbon Streaming intends to use stream financing to fund carbon offset projects that avoid, reduce and remove/sequester carbon emissions. We believe each project type is critical in the race to net zero and the best way to move forward is with a strategy of diversification.
Our team continues to evaluate a wide variety of projects in our pipeline as we look to build a balanced portfolio of high-quality carbon credit streams. If you’ve not yet had a chance to check out our current investments, you can find them by visiting our asset map and clicking on each project.
ii Rainforest Alliance, “Our Mission to Protect the World’s Forests,” December 19, 2019
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