Why a 1.5°C global climate goal needs responsible investment in trees

Amina Matobu shows trees that were purchased on Italy's Treedom, an e-commerce platform on which customers pay for having trees planted around the world, that has investors including former Formula 1 champion Nico Rosberg and Agnelli's family holding company Exor, in Bokito, Cameroon, July 21, 2021.  Picture taken July 21, 2021. RICCARDO GRANDO TREEDOM PRESS OFFICE/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY.

Natural Climate Solutions could deliver up to one third of the net emissions reductions required by 2030. Image: REUTERS

Gill Einhorn
Head, Innovation and Transformation, Centre for Nature and Climate, World Economic Forum
Betty Cremmins
Lead, Engagement, Nature-Based Solutions and, World Economic Forum
Ian Gunderson
Impact Specialist,, World Economic Forum Geneva
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  • Natural climate solutions (NCS) help companies compensate and remove emissions at a lower cost than technological solutions, while creating substantial benefits when done right.
  • Companies can address areas of legitimate concern through a joint corporate climate and nature strategy, where NCS is undertaken in an ecologically appropriate and socially responsible way.
  • Over 25 companies have committed a total of over 3.5 billion trees to be conserved, restored and grown in over 55 countries – a growth of 40% since the first pledges were announced a month ago.

Securing global net-zero emissions by mid-century is a tall order. COP26 reminds us that rapid decarbonization is needed from all industries with at least a 50% reduction in absolute greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. This includes addressing deforestation and land-use which currently account for about one quarter of global emissions. This global net zero goal only becomes achievable with support from natural climate solutions (NCS) – the ‘net’ in net-zero.

NCS have the potential to deliver up to one third of the net emissions reductions required by 2030 to be on track for no more than 1.5°C degrees of warming. They are lower cost than technological solutions. As the planet enters the Anthropocene and we are faced with an impending Sixth Mass Extinction, natural climate solutions play a key role in maintaining the balance of life on Earth, supporting both climate and nature.

NCS could deliver up to one-third of net emission reductions required by 2030

Source: Consultation: Nature and Net-Zero, January 2021, World Economic Forum in collaboration with McKinsey & Company
Image: World Economic Forum/McKinsey & Company

The role of nature in addressing climate change will be central to discussions at the UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP26), which follows the High-Level Segment of the UN Biodiversity Conference (CBD COP15), where some countries have committed part of their climate funds to support biodiversity. However, government commitments are not enough.

Companies and sub-national governments also recognize that nature is a good climate investment. This includes conserving intact forest ecosystems – which avoid and reduce emissions from deforestation – as well as reforestation commitments that remove and sequester greenhouse gases already in the atmosphere. Nature provides other valuable benefits and resilience, such as: the protection of ecosystems and endangered biodiversity, restoration of degraded lands and the support of livelihoods. This forms the basis of a stable and prosperous sustainable economy.

In both 2020 and 2021, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report lists biodiversity loss as one of the 5 top risks by likelihood and impact. Investing in NCS addresses both risks associated with the climate as well as nature.

Top global risks by likelihood

Top global risks by impact

Image: World Economic Forum Global Risks Report 2021

Addressing common concerns

Some stakeholders have legitimate concerns about tree-related initiatives that disregard climate mitigation or the needs of the local environment and its peoples. What are they, and how can they be overcome?

Concern #1: Companies investing in offsets without credible efforts to reduce and avoid emissions

Investing in conserving, restoring and growing trees without setting a net-zero goal, and swiftly avoiding and reducing emissions in corporate supply chains, is greenwashing. However, when a company commits to an ambitious climate goal, it is appropriate to compensate for current and future residual emissions that cannot be avoided. As trees take time to grow, investing in conservation today offsets future emissions. Companies can learn valuable lessons with pilot programmes, that can inform their offsets strategy in the years to come.

Concern #2: Science-based targets don’t allow for offsets

The new Science-Based Targets initiative Net-Zero Standard, advises companies across all sectors on the need to both halve their emissions by 2030 (including forest, land-use and agriculture emissions) and invest in a portfolio approach to protecting, restoring and sustainably managing land and nature. Natural climate solutions should never become a distraction from efforts to cut operational emissions, and are seen “as well as” never “instead of” emissions cuts. They are essential to achieve “net” of “net-zero” goals.

Concern #3: Companies don’t often show the results of their investments in trees

An integral part of a credible tree investment strategy is monitoring. To make claims on the carbon and socio-ecological benefits resulting from NCS investments, companies need to include a long-term monitoring, reporting and verification system. The use of geospatial data, remote sensing and on-the-ground data collection tools and methods, help to provide more confidence in the additionality of investments, the survival and growth of trees over time, and refine carbon and other measurements. The baseline infrastructure for trust and transparency of is being developed under the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration, through global partnerships.

Concern #4: Investing in nature-based solutions exclusively for carbon

Trees that are irresponsibly planted simply to capture carbon emissions can result in low survival rates, risk bringing invasive species into local ecosystems and provide few long-term benefits for local communities. Monoculture plantations are a striking example. The members of the Corporate Alliance commit to ecologically and socially responsible investments that meet the needs of forests and local communities, informed by local knowledge and scientific evidence. Such fora offer the opportunity for companies to learn and share – reducing the likelihood of making mistakes while better informing future strategies.

Scaling corporate forest conservation and restoration investments

Just a month after the global corporate pledge launch during the Sustainable Development Impact Summit, the total commitments have grown over 40% with over 25 companies committing to conserve, restore and grow more than 3.5 billion trees in over 55 countries.

Companies are aggregating their commitments to NCS through the NCS Investment Accelerator, showcasing the corporate demand signal for 1 Gigaton of high-quality NCS by 2025. This includes identifying aligned partners, investing in NCS and taking strides to ensure it delivers impact.

Meanwhile, pledging companies Amazon, Nestlé, Salesforce and Unilever and others are founding members of the LEAF Coalition to help drive unprecedented financial support to tropical forest governments implementing forest protection, contributing to green and resilient growth through sustainable investments with the highest integrity for both supply and demand.

Join the Movement

At COP26, Bayer, Ericsson, EY, Krystal and Pottery Barn are amongst those adding their names to the growing list of companies committed to conserve, restore and grow trees. The US Chapter announces new pledges from Droneseed, King County, Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Blue Forest Conservation, Viridis Terra, State of Hawaii, Washington Department of Natural Resources, Green Assets, Para la Naturaleza, the Caribbean Philanthropic Alliance, and State of Maryland.

To achieve the 1.5°C degree goal, every tree, every action and every company counts. Companies are invited to set a company-wide emissions reduction target, then join to learn how to invest in NCS that supports their climate strategy and beyond.

The global goal of 1.5°C degrees is ambitious, but it is achievable. And it needs you to get there.

Join the movement now.

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How can companies protect and restore forests in a global climate crisis?

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April 11, 2024

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