Reforestation of the Amazon as a key climate change solution
Written by Mercedes García, Climate Change and Sustainability Manager
Between January 1st and August 18th, 2019, forest fires have increased 83% compared to the same period of 2018, according to the National Space Research Institute of Brazil (INPE). According to the INPE satellite images, more than 70,000 spotlights were produced, of which more than half were located in the Amazon region. However, fires are not the only elements that are devastating the Amazon rainforest, the country’s deforestation has reached its highest level in the last 10 years.
According to a new study in the journal Science, “planting billions of trees around the world would be the cheapest and most effective way to tackle the climate crisis”. The same study confirms “a program at this scale could remove about two-thirds of the carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions caused by human activities since the start of the industrial revolution”. Taking into account that up to 20% of annual GHG emissions come from deforestation activities, the impact of properly managing these activities could imply a reduction of more than one million tons of CO2e (study published in Global Change Biology, carried out jointly with scientists from the Global Forest Watch of the World Resources Institute (WRI).
However, for many small landowners in developing countries, it is not profitable to maintain a small tree plantation. Without aid, financing or awareness policies, these small owners will choose to continue cutting down trees to allow livestock to enter their property rather than conserving the forest in its natural state or reforesting the degraded. This is the key point to work on, and that is why REDD projects that generate carbon credits are so beneficial for society and the fight against the climate crisis.
But, what exactly is the REDD mechanism? To understand the mechanism, it is necessary to go back to 2005 when a group of countries, led by Papua New Guinea, managed to talk about avoided deforestation at the Conference of the Parties, held in Montreal (COP 11). From that moment the discussion on the role of forests in the fight against climate change returned to the international debate and it was two years later, in Bali, when the UNFCCC recognized the reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD) as a valid mechanism in the fight against climate change.
According to the Bali Action Plan signed by the Parties at that conference, REDD + refers to the reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation; in addition to conservation, sustainable management and improvement of the carbon stock of forests in developing countries. It is a more complex mechanism than a GHG emission mitigation project of the CDM type since it is necessary to work on forest governance ensuring the rights of local communities and forest-dependent indigenous peoples.
However, the result is that the REDD mechanism allows conserving forests immediately and profitably. The REDD mechanism is based on calculating (using internationally accepted methodologies) the amount of carbon that is no longer emitted, and converting it into a carbon-offset carbon credit. These credits are sold to large companies that require offsetting GHG emissions from their activities, and part of the income obtained is reinvested in local communities to contribute to local economic development. There are examples of successful initiatives in many countries, and the reinvestment of those benefits has allowed activities as beneficial to society, for example, the creation of cooperatives for local trade, conversion of “illegal loggers” into forest protection agents, infrastructure reinforcement such as schools and hospitals, distribution of water purification systems or efficient kitchens that reduce biomass consumption.
The fight against the climate crisis is not easy or cheap, but it will be more difficult and expensive to face the consequences of not doing so, and the REDD mechanism can be configured as one of the most sustainable, profitable and beneficial engines in the short and medium-term of the fight.