Lots of individuals and businesses choose to mitigate their carbon footprint by donating to Cool Earth. But how does protecting the rainforest help the climate, and what makes Cool Earth different from traditional offset schemes?
The Stern review of 2015 looked at the economics of climate change. It said that greenhouse gasses released from the destruction of tropical forest accounts for c18% of global emissions every year1. If counted as a single entity, deforestation ranks as the third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses behind just the US and China2. The call to action was clear. If individuals and businesses don’t take immediate action on deforestation, we can’t solve climate change.
Tropical forests have the highest carbon density of all forest types. If tropical deforestation was halted altogether, we could capture nearly one-third of all anthropogenic carbon emissions produced today3.
Most rainforest stores between 260 and 340 tonnes per acre in above-ground biomass. As no two patches of rainforest are the same, Cool Earth has gone for a conservative estimate of 260 tonnes of carbon stored per acre in its partnerships. It’s worth pointing out that our figures don’t include soil or other below-ground carbon storage, which increases the carbon storage capacity of rainforests substantially.
The figures for each partnership, and the average CO2 per acre figure, come from the following research papers:
Peru: 233 (Saatchi et al (2011) PNAS)
DRC: 270 (Kearsley et al (2013) Nature Communications)
PNG: 313 (Vincent et al (2015) Austral Ecology)
CARBON MITIGATION VS. OFFSETTING
Carbon offsetting is very expensive. It’s much more effective, and cheaper, to prevent the release of the carbon in the first place. A simple way to do this is through avoided deforestation programmes. Carbon mitigation with Cool Earth costs just 25p per tonne, whereas offsetting costs in the region of £6/7 per tonne.
You could mitigate 100,000 tonnes of carbon by protecting 385 acres of rainforest for just £23,100. Traditional offsetting methods could cost up to £1,000,000.
IS CARBON MITIGATION WITH COOL EARTH CERTIFIED THROUGH REDD+?
Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD or REDD+) is a mechanism for rewarding countries that do just that. It has been developed by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and receives funding from the Green Climate Fund (a pot of money the UN manages), the aviation industry and the voluntary carbon market. The voluntary carbon market is made of businesses that want to reduce carbon emissions beyond what they can do on their own.
REDD+ is without doubt an important tool for encouraging countries to tackle the contribution of forest loss to climate change.
It is also a very complex one that focuses on action conducted at the national level. The benefits go to that level as well. This makes sense because a great deal of money has been pledged by governments without rainforest; £10bn at the last count. It also means there are many controls in place. The verification process, for example, is lengthy and expensive. It frequently takes up to five years to complete.
This makes REDD+ an avowedly top-down approach.
In contrast, Cool Earth champions a bottom-up methodology. We believe that the people who live in the forest have most to lose from its loss. They are also best placed to address the rapid, informal degradation that now accounts for a staggering 70% of all tropical forest loss.
This is not just our opinion. Indigenous peoples and other local communities are described as “effective biodiversity and conservation managers”, and the “primary custodians of most of the world’s remaining tropical forests and biodiversity hotspots4.” Indigenous Peoples and local communities manage at least 24 percent (54,546 MtC) of the total carbon stored above ground in the world’s tropical forests, a sum greater than 250 times the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global air travel in 20155.
The relative absence of forest people from the REDD+ has been a long-standing criticism6. So too has been the pace of implementation which, in the worst examples, can take a decade.
This makes REDD+ very different to Cool Earth’s approach. We only work with communities that have forest that is at immediate threat of destruction. This is because even a small gang of illegal loggers can clear forest at an alarming rate. For every tree removed up to 30 more can be severely damaged by the timber harvesting operation itself.
This is not to say that our partnerships can be created instantaneously. The process of establishing free and prior informed consent takes at least a year and must be repeated on a regular basis. But our process of measurement is certainly less involved than the methodology used by the UNFCCC.
HOW CAN I KNOW IT WORKS?
Cool Earth’s direct action, mitigation program is backed by robust carbon figures, and endorsed by a host of respected third parties, all of whom who have expertise in the carbon and/or environmental field. We use satellite analysis and ground-truthing with the result that we have an up to date and verifiable evidence of carbon stored in the protected forest.
The above image shows the enormous variation in aboveground carbon density within Peru, particularly the carbon-rich rainforest to the east of the country, where Cool Earth’s Peruvian partnerships are based.