Carbon. Climate. Change.
Trees and forests can capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air, return the oxygen to the atmosphere and store the carbon for centuries. Deforestation is disrupting this vital system, while contributing to global warming and climate change.
Trees and forests can absorb some of the carbon dioxide that we all produce in our daily lives. Unfortunately, our remaining forests are under siege. We can reverse the trend now by demanding forest conservation and reforesting as much land as possible.
We have plans in place to plant millions of new trees across five nations in East Africa, while conserving millions of acres of primary forests. It’s one of the largest bio carbon capture projects on the planet today.
A massive expansion of renewable and renewable energy is imperative to halt runaway climate change. As is a steep reduction of energy demand through energy efficiency investments, energy storage and smarter infrastructure. But we know this will not be enough. A massive and swift deployment of CO2 Capture and Storage (CCS) is also required.
The IPCC 5th Assessment Report states that CCS is crucial and that Bio-CCS – the combination of CCS and sustainable bioenergy that can achieve negative emissions – will be necessary to compensate for the emission cuts we are already failing to make in time.
CO2 emissions are the greatest threat to our climate. CCS must provide the bridge between our current condition and our destination of a low-carbon society. For several energy-intensive industries, CCS is the only proven solution to offset emissions today. Yet until we roll-out CCS on a large scale, power plants and industrial production facilities, old and new, continue to fill the atmosphere with CO2.
Companies and even nations are pursuing carbon offsets for both mandated and voluntary reasons. Regardless of your motive, ours is to plant as many trees as possible in as many places as possible–as fast as possible. If our motives meet, we should talk about emerging opportunities around the world and make them a reality as quickly as possible.
It’s estimated that each tree in the tropics removes about 50 pounds of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year. In temperate zones, where the growing seasons are shorter, carbon uptake is lower.
Depending on the climate and the tree, the equivalent of one hundred hectares of plantation trees (181,500 trees) will absorb about 30 tons of carbon dioxide per hectare/year. Meanwhile, each hectare of primary rainforest absorbs about 30 tons of CO2 per year.
The agricultural aspect of some urban forestry projects will offset additional carbon as fruit and vegetable production will absorb additional carbon dioxide. Meanwhile, many of these urban trees will lower energy demands in buildings, which will reduce carbon footprints of buildings by varying amounts. The carbon dioxide availability is higher in urban areas than surrounding areas, which should add to the uptake potential of urban sites.
- Absorbs carbon dioxide to reduce climate change;
- Improves air quality;
- Preserves biodiversity;
- Controls flooding by minimizing runoff and topsoil loss;
- Provides habitat and nutrition for wildlife;
- Creates jobs managing tree nurseries, planting and care;
- Strategically placing more trees near residential and commercial properties will help minimize energy use and carbon emissions, while making them more resilient to extreme weather; and
- Can help educate communities about carbon neutrality and personal energy management.
Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) projects focus on natural carbon sinks such as forests and soil. Deforestation, particularly in Brazil, Indonesia and parts of Africa, account for about 20 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Deforestation can be avoided either by paying directly for forest preservation, or by using offset funds to provide substitutes for forest-based products.
There is a class of mechanisms referred to as REDD+ (Reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation), which may be included in a post-Kyoto agreement. REDD credits provide carbon offsets for the protection of forests, and provide a possible mechanism to allow funding from developed nations to assist in the protection of native forests in developing nations. Almost half of the world’s people burn wood (or fiber or dung) for their cooking and heating needs. Fuel-efficient cook stoves can reduce fuel wood consumption by 30 to 50 percent, though the warming of the earth due to decreases in particulate matter (smoke) from such fuel-efficient stoves has not been addressed. There are a number of different types of LULUCF projects:
- Avoided deforestation is the protection of existing forests.
- Reforestation is the process of restoring forests on land that was once forested.
- Afforestation is the process of creating forests on land that was previously deforested, typically for longer than a generation.
- Soil management projects attempt to preserve or increase the amount of carbon sequestered in soil, including the use of biochar.
Carbon offsets have gained momentum among consumers in western countries who have become aware and concerned about the potentially negative environmental effects of energy-intensive lifestyles and economies. The Kyoto Protocol has sanctioned offsets as a way for governments and private companies to earn carbon credits that can be traded on a marketplace. The protocol established the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which validates and measures projects to ensure they produce authentic benefits and are genuinely “additional” activities that would not otherwise have been undertaken. Organizations that are unable to meet their emissions quota can offset their emissions by buying CDM-approved Certified Emissions Reductions.
Due diligence is recommended to help businesses in the assessment and identification of credible offsets to ensure offsetting provides the desired additional environmental benefits, and to avoid reputation risk associated with poor quality offsets. Carbon offsets are a form of trade. When you buy an offset, you fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The projects might restore forests, update power plants and factories or increase the energy efficiency of buildings and transportation.
GHG emissions mix quickly with the air and, unlike other pollutants, spread around the entire planet. Because of this, it doesn’t really matter where GHG reductions take place if fewer emissions enter the atmosphere.
Greenhouse gases trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. As you know, cars, planes, power plants and factories all emit green house gases (GHG). Carbon offsets fund projects such as reforestation, conversion to renewable energy sources or GHG collection and sequestration. Offsets support both large-scale and community projects. A company might restore a forest in Tanzania and support the construction of efficient stoves in Kenya and earn carbon credit for such work.
The Kyoto Protocol, an international GHG agreement, defines six troubling types of emissions:
- Carbon dioxide (CO2): When fossil fuels, waste and plant matter burn or decompose, they emit CO2, the most common GHG emission.
- Methane (CH4): Landfills, livestock, agricultural activities and the production of coal, natural gas and oil all generate CH4, an emission far more powerful than CO2.
- Nitrous oxide (N2O): Sewage treatment and the combustion of fossil fuels both produce N2O. However, fertilizer and agricultural soil management release the majority of this potent emission.
- Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6): The electric power industry uses this man-made compound for insulation and current interruption.
- Hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs): Solvents, refrigerants, firefighting agents and propellants for aerosols use HFCs as a replacement for ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs).
- Perfluorocarbons (PFCs): There are relatively low amounts of PFCs in the atmosphere, but they’re hard to get rid of. The estimated atmospheric life of this solvent and component of aluminum production ranges from 10,000 to 50,000 years.
As people and businesses become more aware of their own contributions to global warming, some turn to carbon offsets as a way to go neutral. Offset companies first estimate a customer’s personal carbon output. Offset companies then charge an amount based on their own GHG price per ton. The money can fund programs, such as Sacred Seedlings that offset an equal amount of emissions. Some offset companies allow customers to choose their projects; others do not.
Aside from the physical benefits of offset projects, voluntary commercial offsets make customers look beyond the limits of their own households or businesses. Before buying offsets, people presumably first reduce their own emissions. They may limit travel, choose energy-efficient appliances or convert to renewable energy. After they cannot reduce any more, or if they find it uneconomical to do so, carbon offsets help make up for the rest.
Carbon offsets have also become the mode in corporate responsibility. Companies with green reputations attract a public increasingly concerned with the environment and global warming. Because carbon offsets are voluntary, generous purchases can help strengthen a company’s environmental image. Some companies make real efforts to modify their operations, create fewer GHG emissions and offset the rest. Unfortunately, other companies use offsets to mask a poor environmental record.
Carbon offsets encourage individuals and businesses to take responsibility for their part in global climate change. Offsets don’t excuse excess, but they can be beneficial.