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Cool Earth and Climate Change Mitigation

Earth’s climate is changing as never before. We are now experiencing the unprecedented breakdown of a stable climate that is vital to life as we know it.

Climate change is already having an impact on lives around the world, particularly on those least able to adapt. Droughts are becoming more frequent and severe, rainforest is at risk, and wildlife is threatened due to a changing climate. 

As the climate and natural world become unstable, so does our way of life.

The average global temperature is 1°C warmer than it was before the industrial revolution. In the Paris Agreement in 2015, nearly 200 countries agreed to prevent that increase going above 1.5°C. We’re heading rapidly towards that limit. 

Scientists repeatedly warn of the impact if average global temperatures do increase beyond that 1.5°C limit. 

There is still time to take action. We need to act now to make a difference. Keeping rainforest standing is the smartest climate action there is.

Why Rainforest?

Cardamom mountains | Cambodia | Crocodile Site | Rainforest | Drone Image

Protecting rainforest is one of the most effective actions we can take to tackle climate breakdown.

Deforestation releases as much carbon into the atmosphere as the global transport sector1. It also destroys the best natural carbon capture and storage technology we have; forests. 

It is also an essential one. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) regard reducing rainforest loss to be a priority if emissions are to be halved by 2030 and global heating is to be kept below 1.5℃2

Cool Earth was created to develop the best ways of working alongside rainforest communities to address multiple drivers of deforestation. 

Mitigating carbon emissions from deforestation is therefore central to our mission and by supporting Cool Earth you are supporting innovation in rainforest protection and emissions reduction.

Aerial shot of river and forest canopy in Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia

This does not earn you a carbon credit or an offset because neither Cool Earth nor our partners participate in carbon trading. Rainforest protection is too complex and too important to fit rules designed for solar lanterns and flight offsets. We explain this in more detail below. 

Building sustainable partnerships to halt destruction is nonetheless key to cutting emissions. So whether you are an individual, a business or a foundation, Cool Earth provides you with everything from satellite data to personal testimony to understand the good you’re investing in.

Supporting Cool Earth earns you a place alongside those who believe rainforest is best protected by the people who live there and best done hand in hand with clear sustainable development goals.

For those supporters who are focused on emission reductions from rainforest protection, Cool Earth has developed a dedicated fund. If you are a business, click here for more information about our Sustainable Development Goal Fund.

Role of rainforest as a carbon store.

Preserving rainforest is the most effective climate action anyone can take. The people best placed to protect rainforest are those that depend on it.
Carbon capture is an experimental technology that aims to trap atmospheric carbon, reduce concentrations of planet heating CO2 and contribute to the fight against climate change. 

This sequestration technology already exists as trees. They remove carbon from the atmosphere and store it in their trunks, roots and canopy. Tropical forests have the highest carbon density of all forest types, with an ability for vast carbon capture storage3

Alongside carbon storage, forests also provide many ecosystem services ranging from local livelihoods to food, water, health and the maintenance of biological diversity. 

But it is being lost at an alarming rate and so this carbon store is becoming a carbon source. Research shows that 8% of all global emissions are from tropical deforestation alone, but that these same forests can provide 23% of the cost-effective climate mitigation needed before 20304.

If large scale action is not taken to protect rainforest over the coming decade critical thresholds will be breached that have kept the world habitable, the Hothouse Earth effect. 

If counted as a single entity, deforestation ranks as the third largest emitter of greenhouse gasses behind the US and China5. From agriculture to urban expansion, there are an increasing number of varied and complex threats that are leading to large-scale forest loss. However, half of deforestation in tropical areas is caused by informal, small-scale livelihood activities such as shifting cultivation and slash and burn6

This is what Cool Earth is working to address. By partnering with rainforest communities, we will learn the best ways of addressing these threats and share this knowledge around the globe.

Asháninka Village in rainforest

Rainforest and offsets

Carbon offsets are products that promise a reduction of CO2 emissions to compensate and negate an emission made elsewhere. These offsets are created by reducing the emission from a prescribed list of activities, of which the largest contributor is installing renewable sources of energy.

These offsets are predicated on four requirements being met:

  1. The reduced emissions must be measured from a specific point in time (“a baseline”) to confirm the size of the offset.
  2. It must be proven that the reduction would not have happened anyway, sometimes termed additionality.
  3. The reduction in emissions must be proven to be irreversible and therefore permanent.
  4. The reduction in emissions must not simply displace the emissions to another location (so-called “leakage”).

Demonstrating how these requirements will be met to a third party certification body can be a costly process and a number of Cool Earth’s partnership projects are not of a sufficient scale to absorb these associated administrative and assurance costs. As a charity, these are costs that we try to avoid so that we can invest in new projects and strengthen our existing partnerships. 
While Cool Earth’s primary objective is certainly to mitigate climate change through avoided deforestation, working in partnership with indigenous communities, we don’t translate this into a price per tonne of carbon. 

Cool Earth’s work is also community-led and adaptive to the changing threats and drivers of deforestation and is therefore incompatible with common approaches and carbon certification requirements.

Undeniably, rainforest protection must play a critical role in the global strategy to avert climate breakdown, helping prevent the release of billions of tonnes of CO2 currently stored in tropical trees. 

But we shouldn’t use rainforest protection as a get out of jail free card and look to offset our negative impact. As environmentally conscious individuals, we should go further. Protecting rainforest is the most urgent climate action we can take.

In place of trading offsets in the carbon market, Cool Earth is committed to publishing monitoring data and the results of its work, and to provide an alternative option for people who want to invest in climate change mitigation.

Co-benefits of rainforest protection

To protect rainforest, we put people first. Indigenous peoples and 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 hotspots.7

“Recognizing the knowledge, innovations and practices, institutions and values of indigenous peoples and local communities and their inclusion and participation in environmental governance often enhances their quality of life, as well as nature conservation, restoration and sustainable use, which is relevant to broader society.” – IPBES Report, 2019

Image of Edgar Rios Shihuanquiri, Asháninka Community Facilitator⁠, Peru.⁠

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 20158.

Cool Earth’s model is unique, we:

  • Put indigenous and rainforest communities at the heart of rainforest protection.
  • Implement a detailed and transparent monitoring system. 
  • Work to understand in detail the threats and drivers of deforestation in our partnerships and understanding that this changes over time.
  • Share knowledge with local communities to support them as stewards.
  • Co-design conservation strategies with local communities.

In addition to mitigating carbon emissions from deforestation, rainforest conservation has a positive impact on many different areas, from social benefits to protecting complex ecosystem services:

  • improving rural livelihoods
  • safeguarding against disease
  • protecting biodiversity
  • promoting food security
  • sustaining watersheds
  • maintaining soil fertility and nutrient cycling
  • house pollinators and seed dispersers
  • provide natural pest and disease control supporting crop production

Cool Earth is transparent, innovative and learning. We know that charities must constantly evaluate and learn from their work programmes in order to remain accountable to their donors, but most importantly to their beneficiaries.

That’s why, in our mission to find the best ways of protecting rainforest, we are always reflecting on our programmes, and our communications with stakeholders. You may have noticed some changes in our messaging, explained here, in order to improve our clarity and effectiveness. 

FAQs: Investing in innovation, not acres

Can I protect specific acres of rainforest with Cool Earth?

Can I protect specific acres of rainforest with Cool Earth?

This option isn’t available unless a donor very generously undertakes to fund an entire partnership over a considerable period of time. 

This is because the work streams that are involved in each partnership to protect rainforest are usually specific to that area and can also vary in cost over time. Cool Earth is also scaling our work in the coming years, and this makes a single figure that applies across the board for acre protection challenging.

We are also conscious that the messaging of protecting a specific acre of rainforest evokes ideas of ‘buying forest’, which is something we do not, and will not do. Cool Earth works with rainforest communities to help them keep control of their trees, land and rights. We are not placing any form of external ownership on this.

We used to donate £60 to mitigate carbon by the acre; is this still the case?

We used to donate £60 to mitigate carbon by the acre; is this still the case?

The threats to rainforest can be different in all of our partnerships.Often, some are immediate while others are more persistent and they can change over time. This is why a cost per acre or cost per tonne of carbon approach has become challenging.  

Cool Earth is currently working on financial analysis to evaluate how the level of support to our partnerships has changed over the years and this will be examined alongside deforestation impacts data. Our aim is to build financial resilience in our partner communities, which will be maintained after we cease funding, with the ultimate goal that the community will continue to resist the threats to their rainforest after the partnership has ended. Even after partnerships have officially come to a close, we’ll continue to monitor key indicators such as canopy cover for several years. 

Cool Earth will be focused on developing these methods and collecting trial data, in the hope that our financial projections to protect rainforest will be more accurate going forward. 

With this in mind, we’re reviewing our ‘cost per acre protected’ and focusing our communications on what we’ve learned in each partnership and providing quality data and analysis that reflects how effectively each pound is spent.

How much does it cost to offset a tonne of CO2 with Cool Earth? How much should I give?

How much does it cost to offset a tonne of CO2 with Cool Earth? How much should I give?

Protecting rainforest with Cool Earth does not create a carbon offset. Cool Earth’s model, being community-led and adaptive to the changing threats and drivers of deforestation, is incompatible with approaches and complex requirements of carbon certification.

The Cool Earth method focuses on a longer-term partnership approach with communities, to build financial resilience. Whilst Cool Earth’s primary objective is to mitigate climate change through avoided deforestation, we don’t translate this into a price per tonne of carbon.

On average Cool Earth donors give around £60 per person and while not offsetting their carbon footprint, are committing to support communities in their key role as guardians of the rainforest while mitigating emissions from tropical deforestation.

What is Cool Earth doing to measure their impact and carbon in rainforest?

What is Cool Earth doing to measure their impact and carbon in rainforest?

In the past, we have used estimates from scientific papers to give our supporters an idea of the quantity of carbon found in rainforest regions we work with. 

However, we want to go further than this. Whilst we cannot currently provide an exact calculation for cost per acre protected in our partnerships, we can accurately estimate the carbon stored in our partnerships and understanding how this changes over time is a critical step to measure our effectiveness.

These calculations will assess the current levels of biomass and carbon in the rainforest areas we work with.

With this in mind, we’re unable to provide a calculation for a specific metric per tonne of CO2 or by individual travel calculation(s). What we can provide you with is an overall figure of what your donation(s) is helping to achieve.

This is much more powerful than focusing on just one hectare or how many tonnes of CO2. We can provide you with communications on what we learn in each partnership as well as quality data and analysis that reflects how effectively our work is carried out.

From Satellite Data to Personal Testimonies

Cool Earth is committed to learning and innovation. This is how we will achieve the biggest possible impact in the long term. It’s why Cool Earth’s Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning team look at everything from satellite analysis to household survey data, with the aim to have an up to date view of the social and environmental realities on the ground.

The team has been developing approaches to monitor canopy cover, to estimate carbon stocks, and to set up an alert system for deforestation events. These approaches include the integration of essential community knowledge and on-the-ground data collection. In addition to this, an exciting new project hopes to start Cool Earth producing maps that forecast where deforestation may take place in the future based on past patterns of canopy loss, which if successful, could have the potential to tailor new and more effective conservation strategies.
Cool Earth is also designing a monitoring framework that will monitor rainforest even after a partnership has formally ended in recognition that it will take time to truly understand the long-term impacts of our work. 

Challenges remain that we are working to understand, evaluate and address, such as how much deforestation would occur if communities were not supported by Cool Earth or how long they’ll remain intact for.

Although we’ve said it’s complex to quantify avoided deforestation emissions, we’re rising to the challenge. Understanding how rates of deforestation are changing is key,  but there will still be significant work in the coming years to link these changes to the most successful strategies for rainforest protection. This is just the beginning for Cool Earth in refining its approach.

 

Further Reading

Zarin et al. 2015 – Biomass maps used to measure carbon stored in our partnerships

Global Forest Watch – Latest data and tools related to forest protection

Climate Care – a good reference point for projects selling carbon credits

  1. Scientific American. (2019). Deforestation and Its Extreme Effect on Global Warming. [online] Available at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/deforestation-and-global-warming/ [Accessed 28 Aug. 2019].

  2. IPCC, 2018: Global warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, H. O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J. B. R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M. I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, T. Waterfield (eds.)]. In Press.

  3. Scientific American. (2019). Deforestation and Its Extreme Effect on Global Warming. [online] Available at: https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/deforestation-and-global-warming/ [Accessed 28 Aug. 2019].

  4. World Resources Institute. (2019). By the Numbers: The Value of Tropical Forests in the Climate Change Equation. [online] Available at: https://www.wri.org/blog/2018/10/numbers-value-tropical-forests-climate-change-equation [Accessed 28 Aug. 2019].

  5. World Resources Institute. (2019). By the Numbers: The Value of Tropical Forests in the Climate Change Equation. [online] Available at: https://www.wri.org/blog/2018/10/numbers-value-tropical-forests-climate-change-equation [Accessed 28 Aug. 2019].

  6. Duguma, L., Atela, J., Minang, P., Ayana, A., Gizachew, B., Nzyoka, J. and Bernard, F. (2019). Deforestation and Forest Degradation as an Environmental Behavior: Unpacking Realities Shaping Community Actions. Land, 8(2),

  7. Tauli-Corpuz, V. (2019). A Letter from the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. [online] Corneredbypas.com. Available at: https://www.corneredbypas.com/ [Accessed 28 Aug. 2019].

  8. Rights and Resources Initiative, Woods Hole Research Center, & World Resources Institute. (2016), Toward a Global Baseline of Carbon Storage in Collective Lands: An Updated Analysis of Indigenous Peoples’ and Local Communities’ Contributions to Climate Change Mitigation.

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