Forests: Natural Climate Solutions

Protection of our forests and natural lands plays a critical role in fighting climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and storing incredible amounts of carbon. As the window to rapidly draw down greenhouse gas emissions closes, corporations and governments are increasingly eyeing forests as a natural climate solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by drawing them from the atmosphere and storing it in biomass, soil and other organic material.

Zero deforestation and forest degradation

Forests loss — especially tropical and boreal forests around the world — emits incredible amounts of carbon into our atmosphere, while also reducing these ecosystems’ abilities to sequester and store carbon above and below ground in the future. Some studies show that through photosynthesis, forests currently remove around a quarter of the carbon dioxide humans add to the atmosphere; yet with every acre of forest destroyed or degraded, we are losing this critical help the planet is providing us to address climate change. When left intact, primary and old-growth forests are the most carbon-dense in the world, making their protection critical to our survival.

Restoration and proforestation

Adding more forests to lands where it was lost can be a powerful tool in restoring the natural functions of forests, including storing carbon. While growing existing forests to their ecological potential (known as “proforestation”) is one of the most efficient natural climate solutions due to its increases carbon storage, proforestation also maximizes other benefits like protecting the habitats of thousands of species, safeguarding air and water quality, and providing flood and erosion control. It is critical that restoration or proforestation is done in a way that respects human rights, Indigenous Peoples, and local communities.

Land Use

Soil health and an agricultural system that works for the planet and people are critical to fighting climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that human activity directly affects 70% of the global ice-free land surface on this planet; and this impact accounts for 23% of global human greenhouse gas emissions. Changes to our global food system and abandoning bio-based fuel and energy sources is critical to returning natural lands and soil to their carbon sequestering potential.

Indigenous Peoples’ Rights

Forests around the world have been home to Indigenous Peoples since time immemorial. Evidence shows that when Indigenous Peoples’ rights to traditional lands and self-determination are respected, forests — along with the natural climate solutions they provide — stay standing. But too often, corporations and governments overlook or intentionally trample the rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Avoiding False Solutions

Not all forest protection schemes are created equal. Both at the jurisdictional level and at the global level, there are false solution pushes for ‘pay to pollute’ systems where big emitters— like oil and gas companies— would pay a region to protect its forests, in order to allow them to keep polluting. These offset schemes too often fail to protect forests, while ignoring Indigenous Peoples’ land rights, exacerbating climate change, and continuing the legacy of pollution around local disadvantaged communities.

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