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Why trees really matter in the race to decarbonization

Autumn colours are seen on foliage at Oetscher Nature Park near Wienerbruck, Austria October 14, 2018.  REUTERS/Lisi Niesner - RC1CF4803600

Trees are a cost-effective means of carbon removal and storage Image: REUTERS/Lisi Niesner

Dan Lambe
President, Arbor Day Foundation
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SDG 13: Climate Action

This article is part of: Race to Zero Dialogues
  • When implemented correctly, trees are currently the most cost-effective and best technology for carbon removal and storage;
  • Healthy forests also improve air and water quality, provide wildlife habitat, stabilize soils, provide opportunities for recreation and stimulate local economies;
  • Yet, natural climate solutions have been overlooked by many investors, corporations, and governments.

Companies around the globe are working to reduce and offset carbon emissions. It’s a critical move to help curb the devastating impacts of climate change, but, as has been said time and time again, there is no silver-bullet solution to this problem.

In all the different strategies being implemented, however, natural climate solutions should consistently be part of these sustainability portfolios. For many organizations, the most effective natural climate solution is planting trees.

Have you read?

Why trees?

In addition to rapidly avoiding and reducing emissions, carbon removal and storage are what will ultimately begin to stabilize a changing climate. Natural climate solutions — reforestation in particular — have lately gained tremendous momentum and awareness for this reason. A proliferation of new global, regional and local tree planting and forest restoration initiatives including the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, the World Economic Forum’s Trillion Trees Platform, the Time for Trees initiative and others have been announced in the last few years. When implemented correctly, trees are currently the most cost-effective and best technology for carbon removal and storage.

Climate mitigation potential of 20 natural climate solutions
Climate mitigation potential of 20 natural climate solutions Image: Bronson W. Griscom et al. PNAS 2017; 114:11645-11650

Beyond that, planting trees provides myriad additional benefits for our planet that other carbon credit strategies cannot. Healthy forests improve air and water quality, provide wildlife habitat, stabilize soils, provide opportunities for recreation, stimulate local economies and more.

The potential for progress

Research clearly shows the importance of trees as part of a well-rounded approach to decarbonization, yet forest restoration is getting the least amount of investment. In fact, the National Academy of Sciences states that natural climate solutions have been overlooked by many investors, corporations, and governments even though they are the most cost-effective and scalable technologies to help slow and reverse climate change.

It’s time to change that and more effectively tap into the use of trees as an important part of the climate change solution.

Forestry carbon credits offer more than a means to reach corporate sustainability goals. They help us protect, manage and restore forests which are our carbon sinks with the highest potential.

Our vision is that together with corporations, we can expedite a climate-positive economy that restores forests and communities, while simultaneously empowering people.

There are tangible steps companies can take right now:

  • Use the “Protect-Manage-Restore” framework to guide your nature-based business strategies and actions.
The Protect-Manage-Restore framework for business
The Protect-Manage-Restore framework for business Image: Arbor Day Foundation
  • Think of forests as a proven technology: for 3.8 billion years, forests and oceans have always been the best carbon removal technologies around, naturally creating balance for our planet. Invest in these proven solutions.
  • Put egos and perfection aside to co-create natural climate solutions at scale: according to the UN, nearly 2 billion hectares of land are seriously degraded globally — an area twice the size of China. The need for restoration is so urgent and the opportunity is so big that we must find common ground to collaborate more effectively at scale versus competing for short-term individual and organizational wins.
  • Join working groups and engage with platforms for change: for example, we engage with the World Economic Forum’s Natural Climate Solutions Alliance and the US chapter’s Carbon Finance working group.

The time for trees is now. Trees provide the necessities of life. They clean our air and water while improving biodiversity, soil, health, food production and economies. Trees connect us all. We at the Arbor Day Foundation challenge leaders in the climate-positive movement to take this transformational opportunity to not only work toward carbon neutrality and net-zero, but to also utilize forests and natural climate solutions to stabilize our changing climate.

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Forum InstitutionalClimate ActionNature and BiodiversityLeadership
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