Updated: Mar 15, 2021
Reforestation to maximise carbon sequestration, biodiversity recovery and livelihood benefits
"Planting the right trees in the right place must be a top priority for all nations as we face a crucial decade for ensuring the future of our planet."
- Dr Paul Smith, Secretary General of Botanic Gardens Conservation International, in Kew.
Recent research led by Kew has revealed that ‘tree planting that is poorly planned and executed could actually increase CO2 emission and have long-term, deleterious impacts on biodiversity, landscapes and livelihoods’. The researchers have come up with 10 golden rules for reforestation projects to follow in order to maximise rates of carbon sequestration, biodiversity recovery and livelihood benefits to local communities. So, without further ado, here they are.
1. Protect existing forest first
Millions of hectares of tropical forests, an area the size of Denmark, are still destroyed each year, leading to massive carbon dioxide emissions that are not easily offset by reforestation. Each year 15 billion trees are cut down, and only 5 billion planted. Once destroyed, forest ecosystems can take over 100 years to recover. We need more protected areas and legislation to halt the long-term damage of deforestation.
2. Work together
It is essential that local communities play a central role in reforestation projects. Their exclusion is one of the most common causes of an unsuccessful reforestation project. Considering their needs results in better long-term outcomes, since they are more likely to support reforestation projects if they benefit the community through employment opportunities and sustainable forest-based enterprises.
3. Maximize biodiversity recovery to meet multiple goals
Restoring biodiversity by planting native species makes a number of goals easier to achieve. A biodiverse forest will be better at storing carbon emissions, providing habitats to species, delivering ecosystem services such as flood prevention and providing economic opportunities to local communities (e.g. sustainably-harvested forest products).
4. Select the right area for reforestation
Planting trees on land which was previously forested is best practice. This is because non-forested areas such as grasslands or wetlands already store carbon in the soil and so should be avoided. It is important to recognise that restoring an area that is used for agriculture could push deforestation to other areas. An effective plan is to connect reforestation projects to existing forests. This helps the new forest to regenerate naturally and benefits biodiversity.
5. Use natural forest restoration wherever possible
Natural regeneration without human intervention can be cheaper and more effective at combatting climate change than planting trees. It has been suggested that naturally regenerated areas can store 40 times more carbon than plantations. It is best to use this approach in slightly degraded areas near to existing forests, where natural regeneration will work.
6. Select tree species that maximise biodiversity
Pick the right tree. Planting should include a mix of species, particularly native and endangered species where possible. A mixed-species forest is better at conserving biodiversity and creating habitats. It is also more resilient to disease, fire and extreme weather. Invasive tree species should be avoided, because they can compete with native species and reduce biodiversity.
7. Use resilient tree species that can adapt to a changing climate
Think about the long-term viability of the forest. With the climate changing rapidly, it is important to plant trees with genetic diversity to ensure better chances of survival in both the current and projected climate. Genetic diversity also increases the resilience of the forest to pests and diseases.
8. Plan ahead
It is important to set up local infrastructure so that seeds can be banked and propagated. This is the time to work together with local people too, providing training on seed collecting and planting, since they are valuable sources of labour, while also using their expertise on appropriate local trees.
9. Learn by doing
Every area and project is different, but it is important to look to existing knowledge to make decisions such as choosing tree species. Small-scale trials should proceed any large-scale applications of the project. During the trial phase in particular, it is important to monitor the trees and other success indicators, such as how endangered species are faring, so that tweaks to the project can be made.
10. Make it pay
Reforestation projects become sustainable when they are economically productive for a wide range of people. Sources of income to keep reforestation projects viable include:
· Carbon credits.
· Sustainably-produced forest products.
Projects We Support That Implement the Rules
It is important to us at earthrhize that our projects have a positive impact on the climate at a global scale and on ecosystems at a local scale. Therefore, we try to select projects that implement these rules where possible. Our current projects have been selected on the basis of their adherence both to the Kew objectives and their contribution to the earthrhize HALO.
In Madagascar, where 90% of original forest cover has been destroyed, our partner Eden Reforestation Projects plants a range of mangrove species. This project implements a number of the ten rules, involving the local community (rule 2), planting a genetic mix of species (rules 3 and 6). Eden have been restoring mangrove forests in Madagascar since 2007, so have excellent infrastructure (rule 8) and a wealth of experience (rule 9).
In Papua New Guinea, we fund a REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) project to conserve the existing rainforest (rule 1). The project works closely with the local people (rule 2), who receive over half of the profits from carbon credits (rule 10). A further benefit of REDD+ projects is that it allows natural regeneration to take place (rule 5), since the forest is no longer exploited.
In Peru, we fund another REDD+ project, Nii Kaniti Forest Management, which preserves and protects 120,000 hectares of rainforest (rule 1). 7 indigenous communities are involved in the project (rule 2), which promotes sustainable incomes in the form of the first FSC indigenous programme in the world (rule 10) among other enterprises. As with our project in Papua New Guinea, the project will allow for natural regeneration of the forest (rule 5).
Forest conservation and reforestation are centrepieces of our work at earthrhize. On our Sustainer plan, you will fund the planting of 200 trees a year (in addition to cleaning up 72kg of ocean bound plastic and offsetting 12 tonnes of CO2e). Your trees' impact will go beyond carbon too. Because we strive to make sure our projects meet a number of these golden rules, the trees you plant will have long-term benefits for biodiversity and nearby communities.
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
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