May 26, 2024

What is the value of a tree? It can provide a cool place to rest in the shade, a snack in the form of fruit, wood to build a house, and cleaner air. But trees are increasingly prized for one thing: their ability to capture carbon and counteract climate change.

Billions of dollars flow into projects to plant and protect trees so that governments and businesses can claim to have canceled their emissions. Saving forests and planting trees is often portrayed as a “triple win” for the environment, economy and people. According to s great report which will be presented at the United Nations Forum on Forests on Friday, however, this goal turns out to be more complicated than expected.

The conversation about how to manage forests “has been overtaken by the climate discussion,” said Daniela Kleinschmit, an author of the report and the vice president of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations, the network behind the research. The result? Indigenous peoples are being pushed off their lands as a result of carbon offset projects. Native grasslands are being turned into forests, albeit grasslands themselves large, overlooked reservoirs of carbon. And offset projects in forests, more often than notfailed to achieve all the emissions benefits promised by their backers.

The new report, the first comprehensive assessment of how the world manages its forests in 14 years, offers good news – global deforestation rates have slowed slightly, from 32 million hectares per year in 2010 to 25 million in 2020. But what the report calls the ” “climatization” of forests has led to the rise of carbon sequestration markets that prioritize short-term profits over long-term sustainability, it found. Experts say it is possible to pursue the global goal of sequestering carbon in forests while also keeping local residents happy – it will just take a more thoughtful approach that takes into account the trade-offs and the people most affected be involved.

Daniel Miller, a professor of environmental policy at the University of Notre Dame, said that a narrow focus on forests’ environmental benefits “misses a big part of the story.” Miller’s research has shown that forests can help fight poverty, as the edibles found in them are often available during times of the year when people may be hungry. Having forests nearby can make land more productive, and increase crop yields more than 50 percent in some cases. This is because forests can enrich the soil, rainfall increases, and help with pollination. More than 3 billion people live within 1 kilometer (a little over half a mile) of forests and depend on them for work, such as harvesting wood, and for food such as nuts and mushrooms.

Forests can also help people adapt to a warming world. They regulate floods and landslides and sustain livelihoods threatened by climate change, said Ida Djenontin, a professor of geography at Penn State.

But what looks like a promising carbon sequestration effort can have unexpected consequences that undermine those benefits. For example, Finland’s agriculture ministry is trying to fertilize its forests to make them grow faster, hoping they will quickly absorb carbon and help the country reach its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2035. But according to the new report, the government failed to take into account the energy-intensive process of producing and transporting fertiliser, a major source of carbon emissions. The report also points out that fertilizing forests can ultimately harm reindeer herds, as it stifles the growth of lichens that eat reindeer; one study found that it can also reduce berry production in forests by 70 percent. “It appears that the ongoing climate crisis has to some extent legitimized excessive forest management techniques, such as fertilization,” the report concludes.

Many forest offset projects do not work as intended. A survey last year found that only eight out of 29 rainforest offset projects approved by Verra, the world’s largest certifier, has significantly reduced deforestation. The rest of the projects “had no climate benefit,” according to The Guardian, in part because the threat of cutting down those forests was largely overstated.

The narrative that forests can save the world from climate change is an attractive one for businesses and politicians – they can seemingly keep their climate promises if they are willing to fork over money without doing the hard work of reducing emissions. It also allows people to skip the difficult conversations about cutting consumption, Kleinschmit said. The market for voluntary carbon offsets – those companies choose to buy – is expected to grow from around $2 billion in 2021 to $250 billion by 2030.

Another problem is that “carbon cowboys” – a term for those who want to profit from carbon offset schemes – could end up driving indigenous people from their homes. In 2015, Cambodian officials more than sidelined 1,900 square miles of rainforest in the country’s Cardamom Mountains for a carbon offset project without consulting the Chong people who lived there for centuries. Villagers were forced off their lands, and some were even arrested for collecting resin from trees, as carbon offset areas were monitored to stop locals from using the forest’s resources. In the United Arab Emirates, the company Blue Carbon negotiated agreements for millions of hectares so it can launch offset projects aimed at protecting forests across Liberia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Much of that land is owned by indigenous peoples. Since 1990, an estimated quarter of a million people around the world have been pushed out of their homes in the name of conservation.

Of course, global climate goals do not has to come into conflict with local needs. Experts say it is possible to effectively balance the two. Prakash Kashwan, an environmental studies professor at Brandeis University, said that local residents can use resources from trees, at least on a smaller scale, without harming a forest’s ability to sequester carbon. according to his research. Studies have shown that it involves Indigenous people and local residents in the decision-making process are key to better social and environmental outcomes – including carbon sequestration.

“Giving communities a say in how forests are managed is absolutely essential to more effective, sustainable and equitable forest management, and to tackling these major global challenges we face,” said Miller.

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