The Ecosystem view
Trees regulate ecosystems and water flow, help fighting climate change and support biodiversity. This has been said often, but the Supertrees article in Vox magazine really shows it in a special way. This multimedia project, supported by the Pulitzer Center, highlights 3 tropical trees in Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Through a great mix of text, imagery and graphics, it shows how they shape the environment and provide many direct benefits to people but, at the same time, continue to be under threat of deforestation. A must see!
Given the role that trees play at the local and global scale, it is not surprising that forest restoration and conservation are part of so-called Nature-based Solutions (NbS). These are actions to protect, sustainably manage and restore natural or modified ecosystems, while trying to that address societal challenges and increase human well-being and biodiversity benefits. Restoring mangroves, as shown in our selected video above, provides effective and cheap natural barriers against coastal floods and shoreline erosion, while increasing the amount of food sources for local populations. For a great example of community-led mangrove restoration, check the Mikoko Pamojo project by ACES, one of our platform members.
Another example of NbS is the protection of forests for water management, also known as watershed forests. This is a key focus of some of our platform members like Vivamos Mejor, in Guatemala, or BICO, in Kenya. Trees conserve water in the ground, purify water and reduce treatment costs downstream. However, as the article points out, 40 percent of watersheds supplying urban areas saw significant forest loss between 2005 and 2015. It is urgent to restore forests but by planting the appropriate trees, since plantations and some non-indigenous species can actually drain water resources.
NbS have attracted growing support in 2019, especially because of their potential contribution to climate change adaptation. But will it become just another buzzword or a variation of the “break first, fix later” approach, where we plant monoculture tree plantations as a “solution” after the damage has been done? As we’ve stated before, mature and healthy ecosystems have a complexity and value that is not easily recreated. This ongoing tension between protecting and restoring versus planting new becomes very visible when we consider how such efforts should be financed.
The last months have seen a huge movement for global reforestation and restoration approaches, with large-scale planting initiatives taking off. Next to the NGOs and citizen movements, there are also commercial projects that are planting trees. Lots of them.
Funding is expected primarily from carbon compensation markets but also through other mechanisms. Bloomberg wrote an interesting piece about Gabon’s forest preservation deal with Norway and some of the challenges behind this effort. More recently, Tortoise Media published “Plant a Trillion trees”, which gives a great overview into the many layers of the current push to plant, and shows how private investors and pensions funds are driving large-scale planting in Scotland (for carbon credits).
Different public and private actors are active, but how do we ensure that there is enough funding overall, for planting and for preserving? And how are risk and reward better allocated, in the interest of actual results and not just financial gain? Will only forests that return a profit to investors be worth – or elected – for restoration?
Forest Landscape Restoration (FLR) also provides a good example for discussion. FLR is an holistic concept with great potential to improve rural livelihoods and, at the same time, halt and reverse forest and land degradation. However, it requires major investments that exceed the budgets of national governments, international donors, and multilateral development banks. To cover this gap, the participation of the private and financial sector has been actively courted, with green bonds, impact investments and other approaches. A Mongabay article explains the role of sustainable finance in FLR and its major challenges. It’s worth asking how forests are supposed to pay for the investments…
Cocoa production in West Africa is another fascinating example. More than half of the global production of cocoa comes from this region, with 30% from the Ivory Coast/Côte d’Ivoire alone. Instead of a few large producers, like in other agricultural sectors, the supply chain involves hundreds of thousands of small-scale cocoa farmers. Companies like Barry Callebaut, the world’s largest chocolate processor, rely on a complex network to source their cocoa from these countless farmers, some of which have never tried chocolate in their life (as shown in this viral CNN article from 2014).
However, the industry is facing a systematic decline of the quality and quantity of cocoa yields, usually coming from monoculture plantations. Agroforestry of shade-grown cocoa is a promising alternative, which also diversifies farmer income and food sources while boosting biodiversity. However, it requires investments that many smallholder farmers can’t afford and so the industry remains under pressure. This link is so important, that Barry Callebaut has made the farmers a key part of their corporate sustainability strategy and even provides funding. In parallel, the UN Environment Programme in Côte d’Ivoire is bringing financial actors and the chocolate industry together to set up mechanisms that will enable the small farmers to access finance solutions.
- Finding the Money – financing climate action (a 0.45 h UN CC:e-Learn tutorial). Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving the resilience and adaptive capacity of societies to the harmful impacts of climate change at a global scale require significant financial resources. This tutorial by the UN Climate Change Learning Partnership provides an overview of what climate finance is and where countries access different sources of financing.
- This time our recommendation goes to the reading list prepared as part of the “Trees: Saviours of the planet“ series published by Tortoise Media, a global network of journalists and writters. This series includes the “Plant a Trillion trees” article mentioned above and several other insightful pieces.