Perspectives

The World Needs More Carbon Capture — A Forest Accelerator Can Deliver It

Yishan Wong
September 16, 2022
Photo of forest with a bird

We can’t begin to reverse climate change without investing in forests. Even if we successfully transition to a clean energy economy and dramatically slash greenhouse gas emissions, we will need to find ways to remove existing carbon from the atmosphere. 

Trees are the most proven, immediately scalable carbon capture technology we have. The world’s forests already absorb more than 7 gigatons of CO2 every year. The problem is, that’s not enough to counter human emissions and avoid the worst impacts of climate change. 

In order to meet the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius — a threshold below which we can save millions of lives and preserve many of our most precious ecosystems — we must do more than protect existing forests. We urgently need to restore degraded ecosystems and plant new, carbon-thirsty forests. 

Scientists estimate that global reforestation could sequester up to 10 gigatons of CO2 annually — up to one-fourth of all human greenhouse gas emissions. That’s very good news, but we will need bold action to get there. We’ll need to increase the number of teams working on this problem — as well as the land area they touch — by several orders of magnitude every year for the rest of the decade. 

This is where a forest accelerator comes in. 

There’s a forest funding gap

Those working to fight climate change, including NGOs, governments, and corporations, have set a collective goal of planting 1 trillion trees. But several hurdles stand in the way. Most pressing: a lack of financing for early-stage forest projects. 

There is no shortage of opportunity. Around the world, communities are launching restoration efforts that have the potential to deliver significant carbon sequestration — but they often lack the funding, training, and technology they need to get to scale. 

Meanwhile, more and more companies and funders are looking for opportunities to help draw down carbon. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to find those opportunities. 

The first step in scaling carbon sequestration is to make it easier for those who want to help, to help.  

One solution? Create wraparound support to help new reforestation projects expand quickly and responsibly –– and allow investors to go upstream to access carbon capture potential. 

Accelerating innovation and growth

In the tech industry, startups find this kind of wraparound support through accelerators and incubators. The most well-known accelerator, Y Combinator, has launched more than 3,500 startups — including Airbnb, DoorDash, Dropbox, and Instacart. Promising companies that might otherwise not make it out of the earliest stages receive mentorship, training, technology, networks, and financial support from accelerators — and the result is greater innovation and faster progress. 

Yet not enough of this kind of support exists for natural climate solutions, despite a clear need. 

Many new forestry projects face the same pervasive hurdles — like access to seeds and early-stage capital. By bringing Silicon Valley thinking to these challenges and incorporating knowledge from forest creators around the world, an accelerator can improve multiple forests at once. But to meet global restoration goals, we’ll need to go far beyond what has been achieved thus far.

For perspective: the entire tech venture capital industry funded around 17,000 emerging companies in 2021. If we assume an average forest restoration project of 1,000 acres, and around 2 billion acres of reforestable land, then the world will need an early-stage forestry capital industry that funds at least 100x more new forestry teams in the next eight years to meet global restoration potential.

High-quality ecosystems, high-quality carbon sequestration

One of the greatest areas of opportunity when it comes to reforestation lies in planting biodiverse native forests that support local communities. Biodiverse forests can store far more carbon than monoculture tree plantations. They also bring added benefits like wildlife habitat for threatened species, water purification, and new local revenue streams. 

Projects that focus on biodiversity also tend to emphasize healthy communities, gender equality, and sustainable livelihoods. Studies show that when local people are invested in a forest’s success, it is much more likely to thrive in the long run. 

These are the kinds of forests we need to spur. 

Early-stage investment and exponential returns

At Terraformation, we’ve seen what happens when high-quality forests receive support early on.

With an infusion of financing, technical support, and training, our projects and partners around the world have already been able to deliver astonishing results. In the past six months alone, they have planted 350,000 trees and plants of 184 different species, and created more than 400 sustainable jobs. 

We want to see more of this. 

We designed our forest accelerator with the goal of rapidly expanding the number of high-quality forest restoration projects — and increasing the world’s capacity for carbon capture. 

Six ways an accelerator can help carbon-thirsty forests get to scale

  1. Launching more forestry teams. Today the world has fewer than a dozen teams planting new forests at the scale of one million trees per year. We need hundreds more. An accelerator provides the funding needed to launch and train high-impact carbon forestry teams, quickly. 
  2. Connecting promising projects to investors and networks. Projects with high carbon potential need financing. Funders need projects with high carbon potential. An accelerator would bridge the two — helping grow better forests, faster. 
  3. Providing better transparency. Tools like Terraformation’s specialized software allow for highly accurate data capture, which leads to bulletproof project integrity. Foresters need more of these kinds of tools (which is one reason our software is open source). 
  4. Training foresters. By providing training for new foresters and expert foresters, we increase the likelihood that trees will survive and capture carbon in the long term. Demand for training is high — our recent seed seminar in East Africa drew representatives from Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania.  
  5. Improving species diversity. Better resources, technology, and training lead to healthier forests. By offering seed banking support, we’ve helped our partners and projects store more than 8 million seeds of 227 species, which will lead to more resilient ecosystems in the long run. 
  6. Engaging communities. Forests do well when people do well. Our wraparound support encourages partners to promote women’s leadership, offer community education, and provide sustainable, family-supporting jobs.

Learn more about our accelerator and apply here.  

Find out how you can help scale natural carbon capture.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our newsletter to follow us on our journey to reverse climate change.

submit newsletter signup