Around the world, forestry teams are hard at work restoring species-rich ecosystems that sequester carbon and benefit us all. Supporting them should be a top priority for anyone concerned about the climate crisis.
When it’s done right, forest restoration can not only maximize carbon capture — it can also safeguard biodiversity and create sustainable jobs and opportunities for Indigenous people and local communities.
But too often, tree planting initiatives and forest carbon projects rely on tree plantations with very few native species, bearing little resemblance to real, biodiverse forests. In the worst cases, these tree farms damage water and soil and displace local communities.
To grow real forests, teams on the ground need real support, and we have an unprecedented opportunity to provide that support in 2023.
Last November, leaders at the COP27 climate conference in Egypt emerged with a landmark agreement aimed at protecting nature. Delegates from 26 countries formed a Forest and Climate Leaders’ Partnership (FCLP), dedicated to halting and reversing forest loss. The partnership aims to mobilize funding, incentivize forest conservation and invest in initiatives led by Indigenous peoples and local communities. The energy continued in COP15, where global leaders adopted the landmark Global Biodiversity Framework, committing to protect and restore our planet’s ecosystems.
Now it’s time to translate that commitment into practical action. By providing tools, training and resources to forestry teams on the ground, we can grow real, lasting forests that sustain life.
This past year, Terraformation spoke with 230 forestry teams across the globe at the forefront of conservation and carbon capture. Here’s what they said they need in order to succeed in 2023:
The FCLP partnership is intended to mobilize public and private finance for forests. To make this commitment meaningful, forestry teams need immediate, practical access to funding, especially during the difficult start-up phase of restoration projects.
Though governments, corporations and other organizations have committed billions of dollars to restoration, very few funds are available for project start-up costs, which begin long before a single tree is planted.
Today, 95% of teams simply don’t have enough funding. A leader from one NGO in Nepal explained: “We feel like we’re always chasing grants, which hinders implementation.”
Several innovations in forest finance can help to unlock the large flows of private capital needed to drive mass-scale reforestation. Bringing more trust and transparency to the high-risk early phases of a restoration project can create a pathway for private capital to support new forestry project start-up costs, helping to scale the industry.
Terraformation’s Seed to Carbon Forest Accelerator goes some way towards addressing challenges like this. The program is designed to provide wrap-around support for forestry teams at those crucial early stages to unlock funding for continued scale, in the same way that tech accelerators have done for start-ups like Instacart and Stripe.
Demand for nature-based carbon credits is on the rise. Carbon credits purchased as part of corporate sustainability plans can finance forests and accelerate biodiverse restoration — but only if they fund real forests. Too many verified carbon credits today go to support low-biodiversity tree plantations, rather than restoration of natural ecosystems.
We need to raise the standard of quality on carbon credits. Before receiving verification, projects should be required to incorporate biodiversity with native species. The growing energy around the nature positive movement as well as rising interest in biodiversity credits could help drive real ecosystem restoration.
To meet global reforestation goals, foresters need several trillion seeds. But right now, the world lacks the infrastructure needed to store and propagate seeds at that scale. At the same time, climate change and extreme weather are making seeds harder to collect.
Beyond supply, the lack of seed storage infrastructure is also a pervasive problem. As a result, nearly half the forestry teams surveyed don’t currently store seeds. This limits the potential biodiversity of reforestation projects and directly impedes their resilience.
Without more seeds, high-level partnerships like FCLP may struggle to deliver quick results on the ground. A decentralized global seed bank network is crucial to solving the seed problem. But to make it a reality by mid-century, anyone with a stake in tree planting — including governments, net-zero companies and landowners — needs to invest in creating this network and training the thousands of people needed to staff it in the coming decades.
Organizations committed to native seed preservation, like Botanic Gardens Conservation International, as well as platforms like Restor.eco that connect forestry teams around the world can facilitate networking of both seed storage facilities and the people behind them.
Forestry teams are highly knowledgeable about local ecosystems, but they’re often less familiar with technical tools that can help scale restoration projects quickly, and 70% of projects don’t have the technology they need to capture field data and monitor and report on progress.
Teams need software that allows them to easily track seed collections, record species and map trees. These tools are particularly important in the early stages of a project, when tracking can greatly reduce risk and increase investment opportunities. Unblocking access to this crucial technology and training will be essential to making reforestation commitments a reality this year.
The bottlenecks facing forestry teams are daunting, but they’re also surmountable.
The world is already heading in the right direction. More public and private funding and partnerships like the FCLP can help focus global efforts, as well as improve seed infrastructure and access to carbon markets.
1t.org, the World Economic Forum’s platform to connect and mobilize the global reforestation community, also has an important role to play in bringing together stakeholders from all sectors to collectively address these restoration challenges and facilitate new partnerships to scale action in 2023.
As we watch the climate and biodiversity crises deepen, we must remember that all of our futures hinge in large part on forestry teams around the world — especially in the Global South — who can turn climate pledges into real forests. Addressing their biggest barriers should be our first priority in the coming year.
This article was originally published on World Economic Forum Agenda.